Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari’s rise in politics has been meteoric. Bhojpuri film starturned-politician Tiwari joined the BJP in 2013 and contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election from the North-east Delhi constituency and won easily. In the 2019 general election, he won from the same constituency by another huge margin, defeating Congress stalwart and three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit.

Tiwari was appointed Delhi BJP chief in November 2016. Under his leadership, the BJP won the Delhi civic bodies polls in 2017 and went on to sweep the national capital in the Lok Sabha polls. He now faces the toughest challenge of his political career as the BJP gears up to take on the ruling Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi Assembly elections slated for early next year. In an interview with APARAJIT CHAKRABORTY, Tiwari spoke on a range of issues. Excerpts:

Q: The Kejriwal government is frequently coming up with major public schemes such as water bill dues waiver or free rides for women in buses and Metro or regularisation of unauthorised colonies or installation of CCTVs across Delhi. How will your party counter him in the upcoming Assembly elections?

A: Kejriwal made poll promises in his election manifesto in 2015 about “Bijli half, Paani maaf’ (half power tariff and free water). He did not implement his promise of fifty per cent power subsidy over the last four-anda-half years. Many people have already paid their water bills. Now only four-five months are left for Assembly polls. So, he has waived water dues of some people who did not pay their bills. So, what will Kejriwal do for those people who have already paid their water bills? He had earlier announced free electricity up to 400 units, now he has again announced free electricity up to 200 units. He always makes false promises and never fulfills them. Why did Kejriwal not announce free bus and Metro rides for women earlier? He could have announced it in 2015 if he had been really concerned about the welfare of women. Now, he has started to make false promises ahead of polls because he wants to grab power again through false promises.

Q: But there seems to be a widespread public perception that the AAP government has done “good work” in the areas of education and health. The standards of Delhi government schools and hospitals are reported to have improved and then there are innovative programmes like Mohalla Clinics or Happiness Curriculum.Your comments.

A: Why was the AAP decimated so miserably in Delhi in the recent Lok Sabha polls, if the Kejriwal government made significant developments in education and health sectors? Even their candidates’ deposits were forfeited in three Lok Sabha constituencies.

Five lakh students studying in government schools have dropped out. The Kejriwal government has spent Rs 25 lakh to construct a semipermanent school room that is now collapsing, whereas its actual expenditure should have been Rs 5 lakh. The Muncipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has spent Rs 9 lakh to construct a permanent school room which is more beautiful.

Q: What will be the BJP’s main issues for the 2020 Delhi Assembly elections?

A: We will supply clean drinking water through pipelines to every household. Now people have to purchase drinking water. We will improve transport system. We will deploy many electric buses to curb pollution in Delhi and regularise unauthorised colonies. We will improve the education system; we will clean Yamuna river ~ all these issues will be our poll plank. We want to make Delhi the best place to live in the country.

Q: Don’t you think that the upcoming Delhi elections would also be a battle of personalities at the state level? And given that Kejriwal is a high-profile leader, it would be politically appropriate if the BJP projects its CM candidate to take him on more effectively.

A: In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the AAP was in second position in Delhi. In 2015 Assembly polls, it had won 67 out of the total 70 seats. But in 2015 it was routed in MCD polls even under the leadership of the so-called “high profile CM”. And, then it was routed in the recent Lok Sabha elections.

Our Parliamentary Board will decide when it is the right time to finalise the name of our CM candidate or whether it is to be decided after the election. Our central leadership is very mature and astute ~ they will take the right decision at the right time.

Q: Don’t you think as Delhi BJP president you’re the principal rival of the incumbent CM?

A: CM candidate is not our issue and is not my concern. “Kamal” (lotus symbol) is our candidate. Our concern is not who will be our CM candidate. Our prime concern is to ensure the BJP’s victory. Somebody will be the chief minister but that is not my concern and I am not working for that. We will fight the election under the leadership of PM Modi.

Q: You have demanded the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Delhi.Why?

A: We are fighting against terrorism. We are working hard to ensure the security of our citizens. People who came from various parts of the country have been staying in Delhi for livelihood. There is infiltration here from Bangladesh too. We want to implement the NRC in national capital to identify those who had crossed the border illegally to stay here permanently.

Q: On major national issues, whether Article 370 or slowing economy, Kejriwal has surprisingly backed PM Modi in recent days. How do you look at his transformation?

A: Delhi Assembly polls are round the corner. To get political dividends, Kejriwal can change his colours frequently. He has understood that his defeat is inevitable and that if he extends his support to PM Modi’s programmes, he might get political dividends. That’s why he has turned 360 degrees now and has started supporting the abrogation of Article 370 and various central government policies. But people of Delhi are very intelligent. They will judge him for his fiveyear work.

Q: The BJP has not been able to win Delhi for the last five Assembly elections since 1998. Why do you think it would be different in 2020?

A: In 2015, Modi ji’s government had completed just one year and during the then Assembly polls the people of Delhi could not witness various welfare schemes initiated by the Central government. This time they have witnessed them over a long period and benefited from them and will take their decision accordingly. So, this time election in Delhi will be different.