At New York’s Columbia University, Arvind Kejriwal, the face of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is dressed rather modestly for the near zero-degree temperature on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 07.
In a green pullover and his characteristic muffler wrapped over his head and around his neck, the former chief minister of Delhi is here to fundraise for the Indian capital’s upcoming assembly elections, because, as he put it, “clean politics is not possible without clean money.”
It is a fairly short trip. Kejriwal landed in the city on Sunday morning at 9am, and he will be on a flight back to India in less than 24 hours.
Earlier this year, as a first-time political contender, Kejriwal-led AAP won 28 seats of Delhi’s 70 assembly constituencies. He stayed in power for just 49 days before he submitted his resignation, which he later said was a mistake. Now, he is trying again.
His supporters in the US have been persuading Kejriwal to come and speak to his overseas fans for at least a couple of years, according to Somu Kumar, an AAP volunteer. However, he did not concur until this week when Kejriwal was already traveling halfway to Dubai to receive an award. In the US, the party has a few hundred volunteers and a few thousand supporters, Kumar told Quartz.
A last-minute affair, which was organized by the School of International and Public Affair’s South Asian Association at Columbia University, led to at least two dozens of his supporters to be left in the cold outside due to restricted entry and late registrations.
But Kejriwal prolonged his stay to interact with them after the event, as they trailed him, before he finally left in a car from right outside the Columbia University gate. The event was attended by more than 100 students and party supporters, including a handful who came down from Washington DC and Buffalo, NY.
Here’s what Kejriwal had to say.
“Large number of people turning up at Madison Square Garden is not foreign policy; it was an event. Our prime minister doesn’t go there for entertainment value… Hardcore diplomacy needs to be discussed. In Japan, nuclear issue wasn’t even touched upon. It was the work of the PR company of our prime minister and the PR company of the Japanese prime minister.”
“My mother says, ‘Shiva ji ki puja karo toh sab theek ho jata hai.’ Modi ji ki puja karo, shayad sab kuch theek ho jaye” (My mother says, ‘Pray before Lord Shiva, and everything will be all right.’ So maybe pray after Modi and everything will be all right).
Kejriwal said while the loudest noises were made about the fact that Modi will bring back the black money, it turned out to be “a false election promise.”
“It was just not doable,” he said, “and Modi has taken not even a single step to bring money back.” He also challenged the failure of the incumbent government in making the lists public, since “it has names of some who have funded the party.”
He claimed that he was right because “none of them has filed a defamation suit against me.”
The aftermath of his resignation
“We made mistakes but we did not make any crime,” he said. “If we were quitters, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
Kejriwal claimed that the bribery levels in Delhi declined during his 49 days in power. Talking about the subsidy on power consumption announced during his short stint as the chief minister, he said that Dubai, despite being a desert, has lower cost of producing and distributing electricity than Delhi. “There is something seriously wrong with the power companies, so we ordered the audit of the companies within five days of coming to power.”
He said, “There is no dearth of money. There is dearth of good intent.”
This time around, while the focus is again to work toward a corruption-free India, he promised opening primary and secondary hospitals in all 70 constituencies, as well as free education till Class 12 and 22 new colleges in Delhi. The party will also give educational loans, along with admissions to college students, by making the government the guarantor.
Referring to the Somnath Bharti case, where the then law minister was alleged to have led a raid on houses of African residents in New Delhi, he said that the party has often been wrongly projected by the media.
Kejriwal said while the media said it was vigilantism, it was not. The whole incident was selectively reported by the media.
Similarly, while he drew flak for traveling business class, Kejriwal said that he had told a reporter that his friend and batch mate was sponsoring his ticket, though that bit was removed from the article. He claimed that he said, “Main ticket khareed ke aaya hoon. Yeh mera batch mate hai. Isne mujhe ticket khareed ke diya.” (I’m here on a paid ticket. This is my batch mate. He bought me the ticket).