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Atishi Interview: 'Confident AAP Will Win Lok Sabha, Ram Rajya for Us Means...'

On 'Badi Badi Baatein', Atishi discusses AAP's chances in Lok Sabha, women-centric schemes & push for 'Ram Rajya'.

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Camera: Ribhu Chatterjee

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

"Till the time services are chargeable, women cannot access them. It is only because that the Arvind Kejriwal government has provided these services for free that women are able to access them. But the real decision-making power for any woman will come when she has money in her hand," said Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and Delhi cabinet minister Atishi.

The only woman minister in Kejriwal's cabinet, Atishi presented her maiden Budget as the finance minister of Delhi on 4 March with a striking announcement of Rs 1,000 for women under the 'Mukhyamantri Mahila Samman Yojana'.

During the speech, Atishi said that the Budget stands true to the ethos of 'Ram Rajya'. "For us, Ram Rajya stands for the ethos of working for the last person," she said while speaking to The Quint on 'Badi Badi Baatein'.

On the eve of Women's Day, Atishi talks about women-centric schemes in the Delhi Budget, why she thinks voters will trust AAP in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, and the party's outlook of 'Ram Rajya'.

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There was a very peculiar announcement of 'Mukhyamantri Mahila Samman Yojana' under which every woman is entitled to get Rs. 1,000. What does the AAP aim to achieve with this scheme?

If you look at the AAP's journey in the past nine years, several policies of ours have been women-oriented and to improve the lives of women. Some have been targeted towards women directly - like the free bus rides scheme ensured that women step out of their homes in large numbers. When this scheme came in 2019-2020, the ridership of women was about 17 crore. That has now reached 40 crore. That means when you made travel free for women, they stepped out of their homes openly. If you look at the flagship schemes and policies in education, you will see how there are 60% students in government schools who are girls. Why? Because when the family has some money, they think they will invest it on the boys. In mohalla clinics, 80% patients are women. 90% of the teerth yatra scheme beneficiaries are women.

All this is because till the time services are chargeable, women cannot access them. It is only because that the Arvind Kejriwal government has provided these services for free that women are able to access them. But the real decision-making power for any woman will come when she has money in her hand. See, it's the reality of our society today. People like you and me take decent salaries home but even today, a woman in any family has to rely on a male member - be it her husband, her father, or her son if she is elderly - to be able to spend any money. When we talk about giving Rs. 1,000 to every woman, it has a psychological effect - this is my money, I can spend it however I want; I can spend it on my children's education or I could spend it to watch a movie.

In the data that was presented, you said that 17 lakh families are getting water for free in Delhi. But there's also the issue of faulty water bills. How is the government tackling it?

The issue of faulty water bills is going on for the past couple of years. It got exasperated at the time of COVID. For almost about a year and a half, the meter readers did not actually take the readings. So, there were a lot of wrong readings that got recorded. Now, when there's a perception that the bill is wrong, people stop paying their bill. And then, late payment surcharge and penalties that keep adding up.  Then, someone with a monthly income of Rs 1 lakh has a bill of Rs. 1 lakh, they are never going to pay it. So, it not only impacts the citizens, it also dries up the revenue of the Delhi Jal Board. That is the reason why we are looking to bring in the one-time settlement scheme. But like all policies of the Kejriwal government, we don't get anything without a struggle, so the struggle is on. But we will hopefully fight it out and get it passed through.

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What does the term 'Badi Badi Baatein' mean to you politically?

I feel if we don't do 'Badi Badi Baatein' and focus on doing the smallest of the work, we would probably be far more successful. Unfortunately,  politicians are known for big talks. But till the time we don't solve the smallest problems of the people, we cannot consider ourselves successful. 

While presenting the Delhi Budget, you said that it follows the ethos of Ram Rajya. What does Ram Rajya mean to you politically or personally? 

This time in the Assembly, we didn't just present the Budget for 2024-2025. We also presented the report card of the Arvind Kejriwal government in the last nine years and show how the lives of the people of Delhi changed in the past nine years under the Arvind Kejriwal government. For us, Ram Rajya stands for the ethos of working for the last person. What is the idea of Ram Rajya? That nobody will be poor, nobody will be destitute, nobody will be ill, all families will be prosperous and taken care of. That really is the ethos with which we will be running our government in Delhi for the past nine years. And I think that it would not be an exaggeration to say that the lives of the ordinary people in Delhi have been transformed in this last decade.

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Data shows that per capita income of Delhi's people has doubled. The GSDP has also more than doubled. Do you think these factors will weigh on the minds of voters while voting this time? 

I think the people don't really remember numbers as to how the per capita income or the GSDP has improved. But they definitely see a change in their daily lives. I am from Delhi, I have spent my life here. I remember how long the power cuts in Delhi used to be. I have spent the childhood using hand fans during power cuts. And this saga isn't very old. There used to be 8-hour long power cuts till the summers of 2014. There used to be hefty electric bills despite long power cuts. Today, there is 24X7 electricity and 22 lakh people have zero electricity bills. In fact, studies show that when a poor family gets even an hour extra of uninterrupted electricity, their family income increases by 14-15%. Today, there are water pipelines in every household. Government schools are at par with swanky private schools. There is a school in a resettlement colony where 32 students cleared NEET. This is a big change in people's lives.

So, if you look at the lifestyles of families of middle class and lower middle class, there has been major transformation. So, I don't see a reason why the people of Delhi will not vote for us.

As you said, you have been in Delhi all your life. You are the only female cabinet minister in the Kejriwal government. We are speaking on the eve of Women's Day. At a time when there is financial security being propagated by the government, if you look at the NCRB data, Delhi still records highest crimes against women. As a woman and a resident of Delhi, what more do you think needs to be done?

Unfortunately, law and order and the police is not under us in Delhi. We have made efforts in whatever comes in our domain. Delhi has the largest network of CCTV cameras in the world, even more than London and New York. Street lights and dark spots used to be such a big issue. Today, on Delhi's main roads that come under PWD, 25,000 more lights were installed over past 10 years. There are at least 60 lights per kilometre. DTC buses used to be a big issue when it came to harassment of women. Our bus marshals policy has made buses more safe and secure. Unfortunately, even that scheme is stalled amid the tussle that we have with the L-G and Delhi's bureaucracy. But we are taking the matter to the High Court to restart that scheme. 

But at the end of the day, it is the policing system that can stop crimes against women. If people know that a PCR van passes from a particular area every 10 minutes, people will be careful. If they know that in case of a crime, an FIR will be filed speedily, you cannot bribe your way into watering down FIRs, people will be careful. Till the time there isn't speedy justice, there isn't proper police surveillance, there isn't proper police patrolling, we cannot reduce crime. I would like to stress this for the L-G that he pays visits to sites to oversee work of the PWD or the Jal board that comes under our domain, he should visit police stations to take stock of facilities there too. He should see how at times the roads become unsafe for women in the night. The Constitution has given big responsibilities to the L-G. If he does just this one job better and safeguards women better with better policing, the city of Delhi will not forget him. Till the time there's no fear in the people, the fact that there will be an FIR if there is a crime, arrests will take place, and there will be speedy justice, everybody will become careful. There isn't much difference between people living in Delhi and Mumbai but the policing system is much stronger in Mumbai.  Hence, crimes against women are lesser there.

What's your message for female politicians for the upcoming Lok Sabha election?

I feel it is our responsibility to work for the last person in the queue. And if you are a woman, your responsibility to do that is even greater because if you look at poor families, the women are still the last person in the queue. If we are in a position today that we have been elected by the people, are associated with a political party, and we are heard, we have a greater responsibility to fulfil towards the country's women. I am personally happy that the party that I belong to, the state that I represent, and the cabinet I am a part of has always prioritised women in terms of our policies. And I hope that all women politicians do the same in their own  parties.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Atishi Marlena   AAP leader Atishi   Atishi 

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