Home » FII Interviews: AAP National Spokesperson Reena Gupta Talks About Opposition And Dissent, Women’s Political Participation and Environment

FII Interviews: AAP National Spokesperson Reena Gupta Talks About Opposition And Dissent, Women’s Political Participation and Environment

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FII Interviews: AAP National Spokesperson Reena Gupta Talks About Opposition And Dissent, Women’s Political Participation and Environment

Reena Gupta is a politician and currently the National Spokesperson for Aam Aadmi Party. She also is a member of the State-Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority in Delhi (SEIAA). She writes regular columns on air pollution, the environment, and social justice in Indian newspapers such as the Hindustan Times, The Times of India, and The Indian Express.

Reena Gupta left her notable career at the World Bank in 2013 to join the 2011 Indian anti-corruption movement in Delhi as an activist and then as a volunteer with the Aam Aadmi Party.

In a conversation with FII, Reena discusses the problems with the current central government, the significance of the Women’s Reservation Bill, and women’s political participation. She also emphasises the growing environmental issues and the need to address them.

FII: You have worked with major organisations like Oxfam and World Bank, how and why did you switch the career path entirely? 

Reena Gupta: Most of my life, my work has always been about trying to make a positive impact in the country. One of the reasons why I moved back from the US was also because I wanted to be in India and I have always felt that a lot of people like me, who come from privileged backgrounds, have had the good fortune to be born in educated families and, you know, be resourceful, need to make sure that there are people who don’t have access to these resources, how can we have a positive impact in their lives.

First I was living in a village, working for a small group on issues of agriculture and farming and natural resources. After that, I went abroad, and I studied a little more because I wanted to understand more about policymaking. I studied in an international development programme. So I wanted to see what are the other countries doing. What is it that we can learn from them, and, that’s how I ended up at the World Bank. And it was a good life. I mean, I was still doing what I liked doing. But I always kept feeling that I was not doing enough. And, of course, we were advising the government.

But at the end of the day, it was up to the governments to take our advice or not to take our advice based on what they thought was right. And I kept feeling that one of the best ways to make a difference in the country would be actually to get into politics.

Source: Reena Gupta’s Instagram

I had a small stint with Congress. I didn’t agree with the ideology and the way they functioned. And I was part of the India Against Corruption movement, as well. So when we decided to form a party, that’s when I resigned from the World Bank, and I said I want to get into politics and be able to make a difference. Also, Mr Kejriwal’s journey has been very inspiring. He was also in this position where he could have remained a bureaucrat all his life. And if he wanted, he could have made a lot of money as well. But he gave up all that because, in some ways, he also felt that people like us need to get into politics.

Also Read: Why Are Women Under-Represented In Politics?

We always keep feeling that it’s very dirty, it’s very messy, I don’t want to get into it, but in some ways, then we are also really giving that space away. Because then you have people with vested interests only getting into politics. And if only those kinds of people get into politics, then how will we ever clean up? This has been the journey where I felt that I have to do it, and I have to get in, get my hands dirty and see how it is. And that’s where I am.

FII: So as you mentioned that you were working briefly for Congress. What made you decide to join AAP, what was so striking about AAP that you left Congress?

Reena Gupta: AAP was a small group. And also what I felt was that it was a very proactive group, a group that really believed in doing things, and implementing programmes and projects for the people who are last in the queue. At that point, I felt that even though Congress was in power, Congress was almost behaving like an opposition, it was not taking decisions that it should have taken quickly. It was just like wheels inside wheels, you convince one person that this is what the country needs, and then again, there was somebody else that needs to be convinced.

So I thought it had become just a very big party, and it had lost connection to the ground. Whereas in Aam Aadmi Party, I felt that it was very connected to the ground, it was very connected to the people’s voices, and their needs, and also focused on delivering what people needed.

FII: So as you mentioned that AAP started as this small party with the agenda of fighting against corruption. So referring to the present scenario, many AAP leaders are questioned in corruption cases, for instance, Manish Sisodia, why do you think that the party is being targeted right now?

Reena Gupta: Bhartiya Janta Party has learned how to manage a lot of parties, especially Congress. We see in the last 7 to 8 years, a lot of people from Congress joined the Bhartiya Janta Party and BJP knows how to manage Congress, but they have not learned how to manage Aam Aadmi Party. And, a lot of media people have told me that in private conversations, both Mr Amit Shah and the senior leaders there, say that we are not able to decipher Aam Aadmi Party. They are not able to understand who these chota chota ragtag activist kinds of people who’ve come together. And have very little money and very little resources. And still, the volunteer base is so huge and passionate.

For the Bhartiya Janta Party, their whole RSS machinery is what helps them but we don’t have machinery like that. You look at our election campaigns, you look at our elections, they are managed with very little resources with a team of volunteers. So BJP is not able to decipher this model, what kind of a model is this, that people come together because they are passionate about issues? So as to say it’s not a Hindutva ideology which is what really holds a lot of the BJP workers together. And what is it that Aam Aadmi Party brings, that all of these people, they just show up, they come they take time off for our elections?

Source: The Hindu

You will see people flying in from literally all over the world to afford these election campaigns coming and helping at their own expense, staying somewhere with friends and, working literally a day in and day out. And these are the people who manage our social media, these are the people who manage a lot of our campaigns, and they always come up with innovative ideas, the songs that we have for all our campaigns, they’re all pro bono done by these volunteers. So, this is what Bhartiya Janta Party is scared of, this machinery which cannot be broken, which cannot be bought.

Source: Reena Gupta’s Instagram

And that is the reason why you will see that they are going to target our leaders even more. And we have all been told by Mr Kejriwal, that all of us should just be ready to go to jail. Because if you really look at what they’ve been doing from the beginning, most of our MLAs have cases against them, some 200 cases against our MLAs none of those cases has ever stood the court of law, they’ve all been acquitted. And the same way now you see that every second person who’s somehow associated with Mr Kejriwal is being called for questioning. And you make people sit the whole day, you harass them, and it takes a big personal toll.

For example, my family has been telling me now, that the whole day you are sitting on TV and, taking on these powerful people, maybe you should take a break and stop doing that because they will come after you but that’s a call that we’ve taken and I’m sure the harassment will only increase as the party becomes bigger, the harassment will increase as we become more successful in such a short span of time now we have governments in two states.

I think the Delhi MCD laws are what really triggered this whole vendetta against the Aam Aadmi Party because BJP really thought that they were invincible in MCD. They had been ruling for 15 years. So if you were to bring a model in front of the people of this country, this kind of politics is possible, as opposed to always getting into hate politics and always creating these internal enemies ki abhi yeh dushman hai abhi woh dushman hai, and really take the conversation away from the real issues of the country. BJP doesn’t want to answer why is it after 70 years, still, a large part of the population is below the poverty line.

Reena gupta

Both the Congress and BJP don’t have answers to it. It’s not like we have a lack of resources. It’s not like we don’t have enough capable people in this country. But why is it that such a large population of the country still doesn’t have access to basic rights? So these are the questions they don’t want to answer. And these are the questions that people will ask when you have a model of where promises are delivered on. So this is the model that that BJP is scared of, and they don’t know how to deal with it. So I just see more attacks on us as we move forward.

FII: You have been an environmental activist before you joined politics, do you think AAP’s politics align with your environmental activism?
Reena Gupta: I feel that we are the only party who are talking about the environment. We’re the only party who’s taking steps to actually solve some of these very deep problems. For example, you talk about the air pollution issue in Delhi, it’s an issue which is sort of cross-sectional, it impacts whether you are rich or you’re poor.

What has happened is that a lot of rich people have sort of removed themselves from the system. They don’t need the government for anything. They have private schools, they have private hospitals, they have private transport, but the air is still an equaliser no matter if you’re rich, or you’re poor. All of us breathe the same air. The rich people have sort of privatised a lot of their services and nobody really cares if the public hospitals are not good, if the public schools are not good, because that’s been the norm. This is the reason why our Chief Minister is very clear that we have to clean Delhi’s air.

Reena Gupta

But again, cleaning Delhi’s air is easier said than done, because it is also an issue, which is an airshed issue. So unless the central government and the government of the neighbouring states come together and I know that every time I say it, it sounds like an excuse that, you can’t do it yourself, you are blaming others. But the airshed of Delhi is literally a 300-kilometre radius of Delhi. So unless you have all the actors in that airshed working together, it will be very difficult for us to work on our own, still, we’ve done a lot of work.

Source: Reena Gupta’s Instagram

And this year Delhi’s air has been the cleanest in 6 years. And as Mr Kejriwal said, we are very happy with the work we’ve done. But we still have a very long way to go. And we are hoping that as we do good work states around us, and citizens in those states start holding their governments accountable. So just to give you a small example, because we did a big crackdown on the polluting industry in Delhi, I know that industry has now moved to Gurgaon and Haryana, and some of it has moved to Rajasthan and UP. So Delhi then loses on the revenue that we would have received from these industries, but they continue to pollute our airshed.

So unless we have an economic model, where we make sure that environment and ecology go hand in hand, and one doesn’t suffer because of the other, that model will have to be for the whole country, only then we can make better progress. Otherwise, there’ll be very little incremental progress, which of course, we will continue to push we will continue. If Delhi can do a crackdown on industrial and polluting industries, why can’t you do a crackdown on a polluting industry that’s how I see the needle shifting.

FII: So, apart from calling out to all the stakeholders in Delhi’s pollution contribution, what other measures and policies are the Delhi government thinking of taking this year?

Reena Gupta: Earlier, because Delhi has this complex governance structure, there is Delhi MCD, there is central government and then the Delhi government. Now, because Delhi MCD and Delhi government are both being governed by the Aam Aadmi party, there will be better coordination between at least these 2. And garbage management is one big area that we are hoping to work on because a lot of garbage in Delhi gets burned and that adds to the air pollution. So garbage management and landfill management are going to be one big piece.

We are also working on this whole idea of making very decentralised hyperlocal environment plans. So at the ward level communities can get together, can identify in their neighbourhood what is it that is causing air pollution and how do we solve it. Of course, planting more trees that will go on. Also, the Green Delhi App, which we’ve already launched 2 years ago is another tool where we’re actually asking the citizens to hold us accountable if there’s any issue, you can report it on the Green Delhi App, and it gets solved in a time-bound manner.

Source: Reena Gupta’s Instagram

We are hoping that we will have more and more public transport so that people switch from private cars and private two-wheelers to public transport. We also sent proposals to the central government to make Delhi Metro more affordable. So that people are able to leave that transport and move to public transport. All over the world, we are seeing that more and more cities are making their public transport free. And as you know, in Delhi, buses for women are free. We are hoping that we’ll be able to make Metro also free for at least women and we are really working on that.

Also Read: FII Interviews: MP Rajya Sabha Fauzia Khan Talks About Women’s Reservation Bill, Minorities And Women’s Political Participation

FII: It is quite abominable how there are these mountains of waste in Delhi. Those were actually landfills and now they are like mountains. There are people living around those areas. So now that AAP has government in both MCD and Delhi, what are the measures that you will be taking to tackle this big issue?

Reena Gupta: We want to get rid of these mountains. This is all legacy waste, which has been accumulating for decades now. And it’s polluting the air as you rightly said, when it burns it pollutes the air and the leachate from it pollutes the groundwater. And also the whole neighbouring area, those people should not be living there. There are plans to move those people from that area to some of the DUSIB (Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board) shelters or some of the safer neighbourhoods, and then get rid of this legacy waste. And this will become like a beautiful public park, once we get rid of the waste. So that is the long-term solution.

Source: Business Standard

And we’re really working on the whole concept of zero waste so that we don’t continue to add more waste and continue to add to that mountain. And for this, we’ll have to work a lot with Delhiites. Because we are all the culprits, we all produce so much waste and we have to start reducing the waste that we produce. We’re also working on this decentralised composting model where in the neighbourhoods, we will have these composting areas where people like you and I segregate our waste and then we throw the organic waste in the compostable area so that then doesn’t get added to the landfills into the mountains.

Also Read: The Politicisation Of Air Pollution Warnings

We are working on also training a lot of the waste pickers and the ragpickers providing them with space where they can safely recycle some of this material. There’s going to be an E-waste Park coming up in Delhi, where all of these informal sector ragpickers will be given a space where they can bring the waste and it can be recycled in a scientific manner. So you will see a lot of changes to the waste economy of Delhi

FII: What do you have to say to the women who are averse to joining politics? And also, when you look at the political model and the current regime, there is very little room for criticism or dissent. Did you face any challenges as a woman while entering politics?

Reena Gupta: I think the reason we are in such a mess in this country, is because there are not enough women in politics. I actually feel that we have allowed men to govern our lives and take all our decisions for way too long. It’s really high time that we need more and more women in politics and I feel that our country would have been in much better shape had women been allowed to be in politics.

If you look at the proportion of women in Norway and Sweden, in their Parliament it’s much more than men, and you look at some of the fantastic policies that they’ve come out with. That’s really a model that we need to emulate. And politics would not be actually so toxic and so egoistic if there were more women. But I do feel very strongly that we need more women in politics, I have no doubt about that.

Reena Gupta

And also, in some ways, it’s a chicken and egg situation. Because if we keep waiting on the sidelines and keep waiting that’s things will get cleaner. No, they will not get cleaner unless we get in and get our hands dirty. I sometimes I do feel odd that in a lot of meetings that I would participate in, there will be just 1 or 2 women.

But that is slowly changing. And I can speak about Aam Aadmi Party which is a very safe space for women. All the leaders are very conscious about how they conduct themselves and how they speak. We’re all given space to, voice our opinions to take decisions. Unless women get in, it’ll always be a male-dominated society and for how long can we allow men to keep taking our decisions?

FII: What do you think about Women’s Reservation Bill and why is it still pending?

Reena Gupta: If you look at some of the BJP’s old manifestos, they’ve spoken about the Women’s Reservation Bill and they’ve said they want to support it. The BJP wants to support it. Congress wants to support it. Aam Aadmi Party wants to support it. These are the 3 biggest parties right now in the country. Everybody wants to support it.

And why is it that we don’t have the Women’s Reservation? Well, because the Bharatiya Janta Party is not interested in passing it otherwise, they have a majority both in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, they can easily go ahead and pass it.

Reena gupta

So I hope the women in other parties and the leaders of the Bharatiya Janta Party will realise that it is the need of the hour when we have women in leadership positions. The women will have to cut across party lines. And really all of us need to get together. I don’t think the men are going to do it for us, we will have to come together and really demand it.

Also Read: Pink Booths: Is The Delhi Police’s Initiative A Step Forward In Ensuring Women’s Safety?

FII: Gender-based violence and crimes against women are on the rise in Delhi. The present situation resembles that of a decade ago. What steps is AAP taking to address this?

Reena Gupta: The first thing that we plan to fix is that there should be no dark spots anywhere in Delhi. Some of the roads are Delhi government roads, some are central government and a lot of the roads are actually MCD roads, that’s where there used to be a lot of dark spots. Already the plan is together, we just have to go ahead and implement it. There will be more CCTV cameras in Delhi so that women feel more secure.

Again, more reliable public transport, because there have been studies which have proven all over the world that if you have more women in public spaces, then the space also becomes safer for them. And we are hoping that with better lights, CCTV cameras, and better public transport, there will be more women in more public spaces, and they will be able to move about more freely, and that itself will make things safer for women.

Source: Delhi Online

I just hope that the central government does something about policing and that policing gets better. But again, that’s an issue that is not in our hands and we have to keep going back to LG and the central government. We need police presence in areas which are notorious, and areas which are not safe because most of the Delhi Police’s time actually gets spent protecting the VVIPs. We will again send a proposal to the central government that there can be police for Lutyens Delhi, but there has to be separate police that protect the rest of us citizens. So that is one area, we are hoping that the central government will help us the rest we are going to take care of.

The interview has been paraphrased and condensed for clarity, at the interviewer’s discretion.

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