Mumbai, Maharashtra - Few understand the complexities of the Indian electoral process and its hidden surprises better than Yogendra Yadav, the psephologist-turned politician.
One of the pioneers of election analysis and an academic by profession, Yadav has served on the boards of universities and national councils related to education.
Yadav, one of the co-founders of the anti-corruption party - Aam Aadmi Party - along with Arvind Kejriwal, has entered the electoral politics as the AAP candidate from Gurgaon, a booming satellite city of Indian capital, New Delhi.
Instead of guiding the Gandhi family - his years long role as political advisor to Vice President of Congress, Rahul Gandhi – he has been charting the campaign course alongside Kejriwal.
Deemed the brain behind AAP's political and electoral strategies, Yadav has dismissed accusations by opponents and critics of the party's overly leftist ideology. He insists that AAP does not adhere to any 'isms' or sweeping ideologies and points to recent endorsements by India's leading corporate houses, including Bajaj and Infosys, that contributed to the party's relatively modest electioneering budget.
While campaigning in Mumbai, a pivotal city for the growth of AAP as a movement, Yadav spoke to Al Jazeera on a range of issues, from the party’s decision to quit the New Delhi government and lessons learned, to current campaign strategies and the future outlook.
Al Jazeera: You are campaigning heavily here in Maharashtra. Why is this region, especially Mumbai important to you? What is the pressing issue on your agenda here?
Yogendra Yadav: Mumbai has been one of the principle sites of our anti-corruption agitation. Mumbai is one of the first places where our party had its unit. It is a place that has generated enormous excitement and enthusiasm outside New Delhi. It is also a place where we would expect a political breakthrough, like it happened in New Delhi. It might not happen all over Maharashtra as we are somewhat unevenly placed, but certainly in Mumbai city. But our concern is that established parties might resort to their old games – distributing money and liquor just before elections. They have already played with the voters lists. These parties are also flouting election commissions' guidelines. The fear is that while people might support us, the system might be tricked into opposing us. We will try our best to guard against this.
Al Jazeera: You just released a Mumbai specific manifesto that focuses on housing rights for all. Why did you feel it was important to delineate a separate document?
Yadav: The entire politics of this country is insensitive to the demands of those who live in slums and what are called unauthorised colonies. When a city is being planned, there is simply no attention towards the poor and working classes. When they come and acquire their housing where ever they can, the state steps in and says this is illegal. Aam Admi Party's view is that when human beings live in a place because of their inherent necessity, it cannot possibly be illegal. We are interrogating the notion of what is legal and what is illegal, especially here in Mumbai where over 60 percent live in slum like situations. Our argument is that all citizens of India, no matter where they live or come from are guaranteed basic rights by the constitution, they are entitled to basics of livelihood and to shelter and water and this is what the existing law does not recognise.
Al Jazeera: How has Mr Kejriwal's resignation after a short stint of 49 days in Delhi as chief minister affected how people in other parts of the country perceive AAP as a viable political choice?
Yadav: Immediately after the results of the New Delhi assembly, our popularity, our ranking, our stock went up suddenly. When the government resigned after 49 days, our popularity did come down. But, this is a differential impact. In a small tier of media consuming upper classes, our popularity sank. But, this is a tiny slice of our population. It has not affected working classes the same way.
Feature: AAP's Yogendra Yadav runs from Gurgaon, Haryana
Al Jazeera: Is there a sense within your party and from your constituents that the decision was hasty?
Yadav: For a vast majority of voters, the reaction was not that of anger, it was of regret. They wanted us to continue a little longer, because they thought we could do things that would be beneficial to them. Those who were angry would not come back to us. But, those who have regret do return. And we do need to speak to them. So yes, that episode left us with many questions, not just in New Delhi but all over the country.
Where ever we go, we do face questions. Some of these have been aided by a huge propaganda machinery by the right-wing BJP-RSS (Bharatiya Janata Party- Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which at the moment is controlling one of the biggest public relations campaign ever witnessed in India. So, yes they made life difficult for us.
But, when we have been able to speak and explain and we manage to put things in the right perspective, people do come back to us.
Al Jazeera: How would you treat the Lokpal Bill and approach the issue of corruption differently if you had another tenure in the New Delhi assembly or any other government again?
Yadav: Let’s remember that we did not enjoy a majority in that House, so there is no question of our tampering with the bill or diluting the bill. Do remember that this entire party came about on the basis of the anti-corruption movement. What were we demanding? We were demanding a strong authority that would be independent and powerful. We stuck to those demands.
What we would play differently, given another chance, is to involve the public a little more in decision-making.
What are the lessons learned from this situation?
YY: I personally feel that when we announced the resignation, it came as a shock. People learned about the decision first and the reason and rationale came much later. That is where we may have made a tactical mistake. I hope we do not get into a situation of a minority government again, but in that case the end game would be played differently. As we did when forming the government, I think we could have gone back to the people and said, “This is the situation, what do you feel? Should we continue with the government when we can’t fulfil our promise? I am sure the voters would have agreed with us, but it would have been a different kind of reaction.
Al Jazeera: You have taken a very vocal, strong stance against the BJP. Aside from securing seats, do you see your party's role as a spoiler to counter the so called "Modi Wave"?
Yadav: Not at all. When a new party comes in, it is bound to affect one party more than another, depending on the situation in different parts of the country. In New Delhi, we targeted the Congress and not the BJP. Then people said, “why are you targeting the Congress? There have to be some deep reasons and conspiracies.” But, Congress was the principle political power at that time. Today in the parliamentary elections, the Congress has simply abdicated its role. The Congress is nowhere and it seems that they have run away from these elections.
Al Jazeera: Is there a strategic idea behind Kejriwal contesting against Modi in Varanasi?
Yadav: Today, the BJP represents the principle political opposition that we have to take on. It makes every political sense to target your main opponent. That is all we are doing and the impact will be different. It would have one type of impact in Gujarat and another in Maharashtra and a third kind in New Delhi. Unfortunately, people look at consequences to derive our intent. We are doing what you simply need to do in politics, namely attack the most powerful opponent. This is what we did in New Delhi and this is what we are doing all over the country.
In Pictures: Varanasi to see BJP's Narendra Modi and AAP's Arvind Kejriwal face off
Al Jazeera: How do you intend to build the experience and know-how needed to implement laws and simply carry out responsibilities at different levels of governance?
Yadav: This is true that we are not experienced. It is not clear whether it is weakness or strength. In some ways it is a weakness. We do not have the experience of running government and being in politics from that vantage point, which is not to stay that we do not have administrative experience.
Many of our colleagues, Arvind Kejriwal included, have had long administrative experience. Many of us, me included, have had experience sitting on government committees and commissions. Many of our others colleagues have had deep managerial experience. Take someone like Meera Sanyal (contesting from Mumbai South) who is from the banking field. We are drawing from experience from all parts of the country, from all sectors of society and yes, we are learning very fast. We make mistakes, but we are learning.
Al Jazeera: You are often deemed the brain of the AAP while Kejriwal is the leading figure. Your comment on this.
Yadav: People do not quite understand that in a political party, brain and muscle cannot be separated as in a human body. In politics, you cannot have that kind of division of labour. Arvind Kejriwal is the face but also the strategist and while I am the brain, I am also the muscle.