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Dissipating Goodwill

Dissipating Goodwill

A few years ago, when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came into being, many saw it as an alternative to the Congress and the BJP. Some, including this writer, hailed the development and felt that, finally, we have a party which will look into the issues the aam aadmi faces. Small wonder that in the elections in 2015, the party won with a huge majority, leaving behind the ruling BJP with only three seats. It was just one year after the BJP came to power at the centre.

The AAP had arrived with a bang, like an IPO (initial public offer) from a renowned corporate that gets fully subscribed much before the due date. And we all thought that it would build on its unique selling points (USP) — honesty, zeal for serving the general public and transparency.

Lo and behold, in less than a year, we could realise what a spectacular and depressing implosion it has been! We could see chief minister Arvind Kejriwal criticising everyone from the Lieutenant-Governor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Initially, people believed in what he said. 

But, later on, they came to know that the AAP leaders had little idea of governance. The actual test of a government is to work in trying times. All we could see was dharnas and protests against the LG or the BJP. If the crime rate was high, Kejriwal had only one statement to make — his government had no power to control the police.

The party which came with a bang soon crashed like a stock market. People who stood by Kejriwal, too, started leaving him as they felt that they were no longer wanted. Some were thrown out, including some founders, who acted as a guiding force during the initial years, simply because they could not toe Kejrwal’s line.

Kejriwal could not control his words and was slammed with a slew of defamation cases. Worst, he started apologising to almost everyone to wriggle out of the cases. The man who purportedly came with an ideology was found to be lacking in substance. What a pity!

The latest was the nine days’ sit-in dharna which started with an accusation that the bureaucrats did not turn up for meetings. “They are on a strike for four months,” Kejriwal said at a press conference on June 11. And “it was orchestrated by the PMO and coordinated by the LG.” He wanted the LG to intervene.

While the LG’s office refused to give him an appointment, Kejriwal along with his colleagues deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, health minister Satyendra Jain and transport minister Gopal Rai went to his office and started a sit-in protest at Raj Niwas. Never before had anyone heard of such a protest by the elected chief minister and his team!

Meanwhile, everything came to a standstill as the political stalemate continued. A report in a leading daily showed how work suffered while Kejriwal and party decided to continue the protest until their demands were met. Apart from the initial demand of intervention in the standoff between the IAS officers and the government, Kejriwal also gave a statement that the party would support the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in case their demand for a separate state for Delhi was accepted!

The sit-in protest turned into a hunger strike soon. Amidst all this drama, Anil Baijwal, the LG, continued to work from his office.  The opposition leaders, Vijendra Gupta along with Manjinder Singh Sirsa, Jagdish Pradhan, Parvesh Verma and suspended AAP MLA Kapil Mishra started a parallel hunger strike outside Kejriwal’s office in the Delhi Secretariat. Public interest litigations (PILs) were also filed in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court as work piled up.

A report pointed out that around 180 files were pending with seven ministers of the Delhi cabinet. The cabinet meetings, that used to happen every Tuesday, were not conducted for around a month. Certain matters were pending for the last four months. Two board meetings of government agencies were also pending. None of the parties budged from their stand. The LG did not intervene, nor did the prime minister, to end this political impasse. 

Probably, for the first time, the IAS association held a press conference on June 17, refuting all the claims made by Kejriwal against the bureaucrats. “We are not on strike, at times we also work on holidays”, said Manish Saxena, secretary of the IAS association. The association also said that they attended crucial meetings convened by the government but avoided routine ones as they felt scared in view of the alleged assault on Delhi Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash by AAP legislators at a meeting held at Kejriwal’s house on February 19.

After the Press conference, Kejriwal gave an assurance that their concerns would be addressed. Meanwhile, the Delhi High court after hearing the PIL, questioned who allowed Kejriwal to protest inside the LG’s office. The stalemate ended with the IAS officers attending the meetings convened by the Delhi government.

The situation could have worsened if all the three mayors also went on dharna as three municipal corporations – north, south and east – did not receive funds from the Delhi government for releasing salaries and meeting other expenses since April this year. 

And who came to their rescue – the Delhi High court which ordered the Delhi government to release funds within a month. It is a sorry state of affairs. A man who came to power, presenting himself as the one who belongs to the common man and understand their problems, is actually trying to cripple the services that people get from these municipal corporations.

Be it as it may, the point is that neither the LG came to the rescue nor Modi thought it necessary to intervene. The issue which could have been resolved by sitting across the table was made a big problem by both Kejriwal and the IAS association conducting Press conference to make their anger public, stalling work and then thinking of resolving issues.

The fact that the Kejriwal government does not find any other way out for resolving issues apart from protesting, stalling work and going on hunger strike, shows the intellectual crisis that the party is suffering from. Or, do they have any vested interest in making a mountain out of a molehill, grabbing media attention, presenting themselves as victims for gaining public sympathy? Perhaps, this has always been their strategy and a way for hiding their governance crisis.

The sit-in dharna could have been showcased as a run-in with the bureaucracy, but the crisis is deep-rooted in understanding the constitutional limits of the elected government. Be it the police or the LG’s power to appoint the Chief secretary, the AAP has not tried to work in coordination with the government, something that previous Sheila Dixit government could do, even during the BJP rule. Even the Modi government has not kept its words of “cooperative federalism” through the LG.

Kejriwal may like to present himself as a victim, who has struggled to bring good governance in Delhi but the fact is that he is more eager to put up a bigger fight on a higher platform, for grabbing power than to fulfil his constitutional mandate.

A day after the political stalemate ended, Kejriwal asked his party workers to get ready for a campaign seeking full statehood for Delhi. In other words, we should get ready for more protests, dharnas and hunger strikes, putting the common man and his needs aside, little knowing that full statehood may give him more power but it shall withdraw the special status that Delhi enjoys.

Also, the fact is that it is not as simple as the AAP thinks. Its own idea of what Delhi should be is ambiguous. To quote the draft law on statehood it drafted in 2016, it allowed the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) to remain in control of Parliament despite the fact that it wanted land ownership in other areas of the city. It showed its willingness to forego a huge amount of tax revenue that comes from NDMC for grabbing power, without thinking whether the arrangement would be viable to sustain the city.

Also, Kejriwal has been saying that Delhi generates Rs. 1.3 lakh crore as tax revenue but gets only Rs. 350 crore in return. The fact is that Delhi is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Centre’s tax revenue allocation model. The special status that it enjoys gives it preference over other states. For instance, 30 per cent of the union urban development ministry’s budget is allocated for infrastructural development in Delhi alone, a luxury that no other state enjoys. Would it not lead Delhi towards a financial crisis?

All said and done, the standoff may have ended for the time being, but the underlying cause of the crisis will not disappear without the Centre and the Delhi government agreeing to work together through the LG. As for the AAP, it should learn to make the best of the system, without fretting, before asking for more autonomy, something that has not happened so far. Otherwise, Delhi will end up with no governance despite having a popular government.

(The writer, a company secretary, can be reached at jassi.rai@gmail.com.)

(Published on 25th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 26)