'The Aam Aadmi Party’s moral foundation has hit an all time low.'
'Arvind Kejriwal has been exposed as a run-of-the-mill politician who indulges in double-speak.'
'There is a division of thought in Swaraj Samwad on whether we should continue as a movement or form a new political party.'
Swaraj Samvad national convenor Professor Anand Kumar speaks to Rediff.com contributor Upasna Pandey on the group’s growth in the country’s political space and its future agenda.
How do you react to the recent controversies involving senior Aam Aadmi Party leaders like Kumar Vishwas, Somnath Bharti, and arrest of former law minister Jitender Singh Tomar and now MLA Bhawna Gaur?
AAP’s moral foundation has hit an all time low; the decline had stated during the assembly elections when candidates were chosen on their winnability and muscle power rather than credibility and moral standing. After coming to power, New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been exposing his own credentials.
This was evident in the manner in which he dealt with colleagues (including me), who were expelled from the party. He has been exposed as a run-of-the-mill politician who indulges in double-speak.
Tomar’s candidature was a risk, which the party decided to take despite an alert by Prashant Bhushan on him in a list of 20 such cases during the selection process for the assembly elections.
Two of those were denied the tickets, but there are more ticking bombs. We chose not to react to many actions of the Delhi government, but there are things which cannot be ignored.
The recent television advertisement promoting Arvind Kejriwal is one such case of blatant sycophancy which the AAP is thriving on.
What is your reaction to the damage to the AAP’s image and support?
The supporters are blaming the AAP leadership for the loss of moral content, but there is not any fault with the volunteers.
The result is a moral space, which the Swaraj Samvad team is expected to fill up. We are cited as idealists who believe in institutionalising politics while the AAP team is seen as individualists who are also opportunists.
Interestingly, voters may still be ready to ignore the moral controversies as they hope the government will deliver on the promises and provide good governance.
Swaraj Samvad has moved on to be a nationwide agenda.
Why has the Swaraj Samvad not announced a new political party?
There is a division of thought on whether we should continue as a movement or form a new political party.
Wherever assembly elections are coming up, the supporters cite the need for the formation of a political party and in other parts of the country, where elections are not due, the call is for driving a movement for key issues.
Political parties have compulsion of survival and we would be expected to take a stand on multiple issues; the growth has to be organic.
We are definitely a political party in the making before the 2019 elections. We are still testing the waters. But we need to respond to issues and crisis at national level like a political party.
We have already made a presentation to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the land acquisition issue and will continue to make more public interventions.
So there would be no political debut happening during the Bihar assembly polls later this year?
We would definitely need to step in. We may not be taking a direct plunge at contesting the elections. The state team will decide on forming alliance with like-minded forums in Bihar for the assembly elections.
How do you react to the controversies involving External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani?
Smriti Irani’s educational qualifications need to be investigated. Raje must resign and in case of Sushma, a high-level probe must be constituted to look into the charges vis--vis Lalit Modi.
There are also attempts to pit one messiah against another -- Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi -- which will not work for too long.
The timing is crucial for offering pragmatic solutions and if we fail to respond to the ongoing crisis, people may feel let down.
We have the wisdom and a sense of timing, but we need more energy and preparedness to create resonance and response.
How are AAP supporters and other political parties responding to Swaraj Samvad?
More and more AAP volunteers are showing inclination towards us. We are not urging anyone to resign from the AAP.
We were offered help by top Congress leaders and Left parties when we were expelled.
There are some regional parties are run by single individuals or families, which also commented that we should have been more tolerant with AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal. We really do not want their support.
Are there any chances of a change of heart and rejoining the AAP?
We are not wailing widows. We have no time to stop and take a break.
There is no scope of returning to AAP; there is no home there.
The party has been turned into a dharamshala (free guest house), which belongs to anyone who has muscle power, money and can adapt to lies and double-speak.
The Delhi government has nothing to offer to us. It needs to work hard to put its house in order.
We need to create AAP-like movements at state levels and we are confident that the farmers and middle class will partner in the political discourse.
We have a leadership, which has always walked the talk, led transparent and morally upright lives and have demonstrated unity of practice and principle.
Many supporters of India Against Corruption, who had withdrawn from the movement, are joining us as are many other key social groups such as women, SCs and OBCs, environmental activists, tribals etc. Many fence sitters are also coming forward to support us.
Swaraj Samvad has held many dialogues across the country over the last few months. How has been the response?
The dialogue across 15 states, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Assam and Maharashtra, have been quite comprehensive.
We are organising an all-kisan sangathan (farmers’ organisations) meeting on July 13; there are preparations for a kisan rally covering Punjab, Haryana, western UP and it will culminate in Delhi in the first week of August; there will be a membership campaign in September-end.
An amalgamation of people is joining Swaraj Samvad; those who have been part of the anti-reservation, anti-communal and anti corruption movements.
People want to see if we stand true to our promises, want to know about our roadmap and if we have a methodology of alternate politics.
So this is a critical phase for us.
Swaraj Samvad hopes to work like a thread which will hold the garland of flowers in the form of groups and movements, which need to be weaved together.
What are the focus areas for Swaraj Samvad?
It is a three dimensional engagement.
The first is the kisan question -- the challenges of agrarian crisis. We need to integrate rural India with our plans. We are focusing on the immediate issue of land acquisition, industrial corridors etc.
The second aspect is priority is aman (peace) question, to bring in communal harmony. For this, we plan to set up aman committees, which will focus on inter-religious cultural discourses for creating positive interface.
The third element is to integrate all anti-corruption supporters across the country.
What are the next phase plans?
We plan to set up swaraj kendras, which will work in a multi-pronged way by offering political training and leadership building, encourage welfare activity to support everyday needs of poor and offer literature to create social empowerment through a library.
Our volunteers will run these centres. The idea is to have at least one such centre in every district of India.