Congress chief Sonia Gandhi recently appointed veteran party leader Subhash Chopra as the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) president. The much-delayed move came three months after the demise of Chopra’s predecessor and party stalwart Sheila Dikshit. It has also come a few months ahead of the crucial Delhi Assembly elections slated for early 2020.

This is the second stint for Chopra as DPCC president ~ a post he had held between 1998 and 2003. A three-time MLA, Chopra, 72, who had started his political career as a student leader, was also Speaker of the Delhi Assembly from June to December 2003. In an interview with CHANCHAL SINGH, he spoke on a range of issues.

Excerpts:

Q: You have been appointed as DPCC president barely a few months before the Delhi Assembly polls. What does the Congress leadership expect from you?

A: This is the most crucial time to head a political party. I think it’s a big honour given to me by my leaders, especially Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka ji, who gave me this responsibility, especially at the time of election. My job is very important at this moment because there were so many groups in the party when I took charge. However, with me being so senior, that is not the situation anymore. I have worked with them for so many years…the Congress is united now, and I am happy that everybody is working so hard.

Q: The Congress party has been in shambles in Delhi since the December 2013 Assembly polls when it was routed after being in power for three consecutive terms under Sheila Dikshit’s chief ministership. Don’t you think you don’t have time to do much to reverse your party’s downslide?

A: No, it’s not right. During the last elections, there was a movement by Anna Hazare about Jan Lokpal Bill and after coming to power Arvind Kejriwal did nothing about it. He just got it passed in the Assembly, sent it to the Centre but never pursued it again. Therefore, people are aware of these things. During that movement also, the crowds that gathered at the Ramlila Ground, 90 to 95 per cent of them were BJP and RSS people. The young boys who gathered there wanted a corruption-free society and worked very hard for winning the election in Delhi. In my opinion, that thing is over. That’s why his (Kejriwal’s) own colleagues like Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Kumar Vishwas and Ashish Khetan have left him. Since all those intelligent people were fully aware that something wrong was going on in the party, they left it.

Q: What are your top priorities in the run-up to the Assembly polls?

A: Our priority is to strengthen the party now and to form the government in Delhi ~ that is our only aim.

Q: What is going to be the Congress’s plank in the Delhi polls?

A: Our poll plank is that we have to expose both the AAP and the BJP. Basically, AAP is a B-team of BJP….During last four-and-a-half years he (Kejriwal) has been cursing Narendra Modi. Now he became close to him to form the Haryana government. He did everything to release the father of Dushyant Chautala. The person who is demanding full statehood for Delhi is supporting BJP in the case of Jammu and Kashmir.

Q: How would you assess the performance of the Kejriwal government, which is widely perceived to be impressive, especially in areas like education and health?

A: He (Kejriwal) is the worst chief minister we have ever had in Delhi. What are the basic necessities of a person? It is that you need clean air, price control and proper drinking water. He has been a total failure on all these fronts. Delhi is the most polluted state in the country. Prices of key vegetables are skyrocketing. He is unable to control the prices of basic items. As regards health, he set up 183 Mohalla clinics. Out of these, 130 were dispensaries earlier. As far as education is concerned not a single new school or college has come up in Delhi. Now you will say he has given relief to women commuters by ensuring free bus rides for them. What about Ladli scheme meant to educate young girls? He snatched away their right to education. Children are the future of the country. If you do not allow girls to be educated, you are the worst person to lead a state like Delhi.

Q: What is your take on the BJP’s state of affairs?

A: The BJP has been in power in Municipal Corporations in Delhi for so many years. These bodies are most corrupt…they have failed to work for public and have failed to control pollution. Therefore, if people of Delhi are suffering, it is because of both the BJP and the AAP.

Q: What is your position on the question of pre-poll alliance in Delhi, although the AAP is now not likely to repeat such an alliance offer for your party as they had done in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year?

A: We can never imagine even in our dreams to join hands with them (AAP). They claimed that Congress would be in third place in Lok Sabha elections. They fell by the wayside instead, but we came second in five of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha constituencies.

Q: What is your roadmap for development of Delhi in the near future? It already has the dubious distinction of being one of the most polluted and toxic cities in the world.

A: We have done so much over 15 years (under Sheila Dikshit’s chief ministership during 1998-2013) for the people of Delhi. When we took over, there were 10-12 hours of power outages and women were crying for water. So, we started with 80 mgd of water, then 100 mgd, then we gave Rs 200 crore to Haryana government for a water canal. Twenty-four hours electricity in Delhi was made possible by the Congress. We brought power, Metro, flyovers, five universities, many colleges and schools ~ thus the Delhi infrastructure was established by the Dikshit government. She had the vision. And that is how Delhi became the best capital of the world. Kejriwal could not even sustain the work done by the Congress government.