New Delhi: “Why are we doing this?” Arvind Kejriwal asked while answering a question during a press conference organized by his India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign that disclosed instances of an alleged land-grab by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari.
It was a rhetorical question, but true to style, Kejriwal insisted on answering it.
“They are all the same,” he said, referring to political parties and rattling of the names of several, BJP, Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. “Part of the same family.”
And he, Kejriwal insisted, isn’t.
Thanks to blanket coverage by television channels – the 5.00 pm press conference at New Delhi’s Constitution Club may have well been among the most watched on Indian TV—everyone knows what Kejriwal & Co don’t stand for, although not everyone gets the real message, said an analyst.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank, pointed out that people were “misreading” Kejriwal’s achievements. “He has been sharp in conveying that you can’t expect the opposition to hold the government responsible for its wrongful facts. Because the system is collusive, which is a powerful point to make.”
Indeed, Wednesday’s press conference also achieved the objective of distancing Kejriwal from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has so far relished the Congress’ discomfort at his allegations against that party.
Mumbai based political analyst Jai Mrug said that Kejriwal is “absolutely becoming a common enemy” to all political parties which could well “collaborate discreetly” to trap IAC on trivial issues such as “non-payment of taxes.”
Kejriwal’s message, that IAC is different, and that all political parties are the same, is one India is likely to hear frequently, in the run-up to the launch of Kejriwal’s political party later this month, and beyond, as the political activist’s organization prepares for the hurly-burly of electoral politics.
“He has been emboldening the people to come forward and cooperate in his movement against corruption. Maybe lot more people will start leaking lot more corruptions. He has created a momentum,” said Mehta. “The momentum is very powerful as of now. He is trying to keep the momentum of discourse alive and forming a political party depends on the timing and the contingency he would have.”
The specific allegations against Gadkari involve the award by the Maharashtra government, a coalition of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, of excess land acquired for a dam to a trust run by Gadkari—going against rules that clearly stipulate such excess land needs to be returned to the people from whom it was acquired.
“Is the BJP the opposition party of the country or do they have an understanding with the government in centre and states? Whose interest does Gadkari represent?” Kejriwal asked. India Against Corruption also alleged that Gadkari owned five power companies and three sugar companies in Maharashtra and that he had “built a huge business empire in a short period with more than 15 companies in sectors including construction, sugar, distillery, power, coal, agro etc.”
The larger point made by IAC is that there are irregularities in the acquisition of land for dams; and when the dams come up the water is diverted to companies, not farmers.
“Thirty-three new coal based thermal power projects have been given approval as of 2010 and another 38 are pending approval. When these 71 plants come up, they will need 2049 million cubic meters of water per year due to which there will be not a drop of water for irrigation in a region where farmers commit suicide every day,” a release by IAC said.
The allegations against Gadkari are the result of an investigation conducted by activist Anjali Damania, who started looking at irregularities in land acquisition for dams in Maharashtra after the government sought to acquire some land her family owned.
The BJP, which, earlier in the day, sought to make much of a letter written by Damania suggesting moving the dam by 500 to 700 m to save her 30 acres of land, responded to IAC’s allegations predictably. The party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, said Gadkari’s trust had acquired wasteland to grow sugarcane saplings that it sells to farmers at subsidised rates. She also added that his companies get less than 1% of the water in the dams concerned.
The Congress, meanwhile, said Gadkari should resign. The party’s spokesperson also alleged during a discussion on Times Now channel that IAC was representing the interests of a splinter cell of the BJP.
At the press conference, Kejriwal’s demeanour suggested more revelations in coming days. His job, he said, was to disclose details of the deals and dealings of politicians and ministers. Others, including the media, would have to take it forward.
The objective, he said, responding to a question, was to get people to stand up for their rights.
“We want people to rise (up),” he said.
Sahil Makkar also contributed to the story