Saurabh Bhardwaj, the three-time MLA from Greater Kailash, has just assumed charge with seven portfolios in his kitty, including crucial ones such as health and water. In an interview with News18, the new minister speaks about his priorities, challenges and possible threat to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the government amid the Manish Sisodia crisis.
You are taking over at a time that is very critical for the party and the government. How do you perceive the timing?
Yes. It is a very challenging time for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as the central government, per se, is using all its might against us. They want to crush us, eradicate us from the political scenario and can go to any limit to do that. Probably, they will put many of our leaders in jail under frivolous charges. They would want that the government’s work in Delhi does not proceed. They want to create chaos in Delhi, they want to put a stop to all our flagship programmes, whether it is Mohalla Clinics, schools or hospitals.
There are big challenges but we hope and believe that when your intentions are good and you want to do good for the people, God helps you. God is always with good people and the people who are evil will use a lot of force, a lot of might against the good ones. But, in the end, it will be the victory of good over evil.
Do you think the government is weakened? Both in terms of its moral capital and strength? After all, two of the biggest names are in jail today.
A government always derives strength from people. I was an MLA till yesterday and have been meeting a lot of people, almost daily. I believe that people love us more, people are standing with us. They say they understand everything that is happening. So I believe that the strength that the party derives from its intent and blessings of people is far greater than what it probably was a year back.
It is our analysis that people are not in favour of what the central government is doing and there is a lot of discomfort among people over the way the Centre is dealing with the AAP and the Delhi government. This is unprecedented. People do not want governments to fight like this. People have given the mandate to the Centre to enable state governments to work. However, the way the Centre is trying to stall work in different states is very visible and evident. People don’t like it.
Today, former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia is being presented again in court. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has already sought remand for 10 days. How do you see this? First it was the CBI and now ED.
I think CBI has its own handicaps as they function under the Prevention of Corruption Act and that Act cannot keep Sisodia under judicial custody because there is no documentary evidence against him. No money was recovered from Sisodia or his associates. So, CBI does not have a case against Sisodia.
Now, you need an Act which can work or where you can still keep somebody in jail even if you don’t have evidence. For that, the answer is Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), which was basically created to curb large terrorist networks and their funding. The terrorists used to get a lot of money and could execute political assassinations and bomb attacks like in Mumbai. To curb that, an Act was brought in that said even if you don’t have full-fledged proof and evidence, you can put a suspect in jail. It is very unfortunate that now they are using this Act against people like Manish Sisodia. This is a travesty of justice. I think people are watching, they understand what is happening in the country and I think the Centre’s popularity is going down fast.
BJP is staging protests even as we speak. They have released posters with Sisodia and Satyendar Jain, calling them Jodi No. 1. They are clearly targeting the chief minister now.
The kind of shamelessness which BJP is showing has never helped the party in Delhi. Whenever they have stooped to such tactics and below-the-belt attacks on AAP, it has helped our support swell. I think very small-time leaders of the BJP, who have no political capital or people’s support, orchestrate these campaigns to take out a grudge. This does not go well in politics. People don’t like it.
Do you feel there is a threat to your government because two ministers are in jail? There could be discontent among MLAs, they could be divided into various camps. Somebody like an Eknath Shinde could emerge in Delhi also.
(Laughs) Look, we are not the Congress, we are the Aam Aadmi Party. The BJP had been singing that several of our councillors would help it, they were in contact with the saffron party and would win the Mayor’s post. Did they do that? No. It was a breeze for us. We could easily win an election for Mayor or Deputy Mayor despite the fact that there is no anti-defection law in the municipal corporation. We cannot even disqualify someone (for cross-voting). It was an open game. Still, none of our councillors voted for the BJP. I think BJP understands that this is not the Congress, this is AAP.
You have been given crucial portfolios of health and water. What will be your priorities and initiatives?
I believe providing healthcare is something that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal believes in. Even the most developed countries in the world — European and Scandinavian counties — offer free, world-class health services to their citizens. In a country like India, where we have huge unemployment, where people are below the poverty line, where the economy is falling, I think one of the apprehensions that even middle-class people have is that if someone has a serious disease, how will they pay hospital bills? We, as Delhi government, are working towards that goal and want that everybody in Delhi — whether they are rich or poor — should get good health services free of cost.
What would be your specific interventions?
There have been cases where remuneration to doctors in Mohalla Clinics was stopped for no reason. The OPD services were stalled. I think our priority will be to see that their functioning is not halted due to mischievous officials and if they still do so, we will request the honourable L-G to act against them.
You have already said there could be a water crisis in summers. You are holding that portfolio now. What steps will you take so that Delhi does not go through shortage?
We have always raised the point that in Haryana, there are about 32 sites quite visible in our satellite images where thousands of trucks are illegally mining sand across Yamuna. They have created dams so that water does not reach Delhi. We have raised the issue and hope that the Haryana government acts against these illegal sand miners so that water from Yamuna can reach Delhi.
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