To understand how and why Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government have let the people of Delhi down, one would do well to have as much of an understanding of the man himself and the dynamics of his brand of politics as possible
An IIT-ian and a left-leaning political maverick, Arvind Kejriwal admittedly feels more comfortable holding dharnas and rallies than occupying a position of responsibility. He takes pride in calling himself a street fighter and a man of the masses. Yet he fought elections twice to become the Chief Minister of Delhi and once to become a Member of Parliament; if he had become an MP and his party garnered enough seats, he would not have fought shy of becoming the Prime Minister of our country.
He does not, however, truly believe in operating by the rules and norms of the system. He is a rabble rouser and a demagogue par excellence, given to dramatics. As a first-time Chief Minister, he had participated in dharnas and rallies organised by his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). During the course of one such dharna just days before the Republic Day in 2014, he demonstrated that he had no compunction about holding up the traffic on a busy thoroughfare in the heart of the Capital city and slept on the roadside from where he signed files, much to the amusement and bewilderment of political observers and the common man alike.
Without any qualms, he proudly declared on camera that he was an anarchist. He openly hinted at a startling proposal to thwart the traditional Republic Day pageantry due shortly, by continuing to sit with his coterie and supporters on the road. He pooh-poohed the significance of the prestigious Republic Day celebrations and claimed that his theatrical display of power of the masses would make the occasion the best Republic Day celebration ever. He exhorted the policemen who were controlling the crowds to shed their uniform and join the demonstration. Nothing short of an open invitation to rebel!
The preposterous nature of the call made the people of the nation feel aghast with a sense of revulsion. That Kejriwal was not taken seriously came as a reflection of the people’s sagacity and political maturity. It could not, however, be denied that he had brought matters to the precipice of anarchy on that momentous occasion.
A quick rundown on his brief track record as an active politician reveals beyond doubt that he lacks abiding faith in the democratic form of governance. His party lacks a clear-cut ideology. “Ideology is one for the pundits and the media to pontificate about,” says the party’s website facetiously. He acts more like a fly-by-night politician whose concern is restricted at any given time to the burning issues of the day than like the responsible leader of a political party. He evidently lacks a vision, a game plan and a roadmap for the development and progress of our nation.
No Room for Dissent
His statements and activities smack of a remarkable degree of intolerance towards his political adversaries as well as his own party colleagues who have divergent views. He has used harsh, nay foul language, while talking about senior party colleagues like Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and others who had protested against his autocratic style of functioning and had them unceremoniously thrown out of the party purportedly for indulging in anti-party activities. A classic case of equating a criticism of the party leader with an attack on the party itself, thus identifying the leader with the party and making the two synonymous—an egregious act of megalomania that did not exactly contribute to shoring up glory Kejriwal’s way as a democratic leader!
Politics and Corruption
However, none of his inadequacies proved an impediment to Kejriwal’s ability to bluster his way through and win the trust of the people of Delhi with the ease and élan of an experienced con artist or a mountebank. Exuding an air of moral superiority, he called every political party in the country corrupt and every politician a thief regardless of his political affiliation. These politicians and their parties were selfish and self-serving entities and beneficiaries of the largesse of rich industrialists, big business tycoons and unscrupulous hoarders of black money, he elaborated. Such people and parties would only serve their paymasters and never the common man, he sermonised.
Kejriwal pronounced them guilty of carrying on a sham democracy and held them squarely responsible for all the ills of the common man and the sorry state of affairs that prevailed in the country. He scoffed at the political system, which he said was incapable of producing good governance. He wanted a complete transformation of the system and transfusion of new blood into the body politic. He offered to revamp the system by becoming a part of it, rid it of corruption, give clean governance, improve the lot of the common man and make Delhi a model State.
A frontal assault against corruption was the main plank of his manifesto in 2014. He then promised to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill within 15 days of assuming office, and spoke of bringing about Swaraj and reforms in key sectors like education and health. In actuality, however, he resigned after a brief 49-day period, complaining about non-cooperation from the Congress and the BJP in the passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Apparently, his strategy of governance was woven around the thumb rule that he would have everything or nothing. In short, being conscious of his inability to carry out his poll promises, he threw away the responsibility of governance giving the flimsiest of excuses and left the people of Delhi without a government.
Back to Delhi
Though he had been unable to discharge the duties of Delhi chief minister competently, he had started aspiring to become India’s Prime Minister. So he shifted his focus to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and filed his nomination in Varanasi to contest against Narendra Modi, who was the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. After suffering a humiliating defeat in the Varanasi challenge, he returned to Delhi and profusely apologised to the electorate in his campaign for the state polls in 2015, for abandoning the trust they had reposed in him.
He also categorically told them that he would not let them down again. He held a series of rallies and jan sabhas for this purpose. People believed he had a change of heart and was now a transformed man. Besides the people’s readiness to believe that Kejriwal had changed and spoke from his heart, the combined support extended by India’s mainstream media, NGOs as well as the Muslim and Christian communities, enabled him clinch a clear victory in the Delhi elections.
To dwell briefly on one of the tactical maneouvres of the anti-BJP forces, there were as many as five mysterious attacks on Churches by unidentified people in Delhi between November 2014 and February 2015, when Delhi went to polls. On every one of these occasions, there were protest rallies against the purported failure of the BJP-led NDA government to protect the religious rights of minority communities and the mainstream media merrily went to town with the story. These developments had their benign effect on the “repentant” home comer’s victory.
Promises and More Promises
While he was at the serious business of revamping the system and fighting corruption, he promised he would give the people of Delhi reasons to rejoice and a cause for celebration. The promises he made in his party manifesto included several people-oriented schemes like the setting up of 500 new schools and 20 new colleges, making the Capital city drug-free, filling up of 55,000 immediate vacancies in government departments, special reservations for all senior citizens and youth, providing loans to young entrepreneurs at low interest rates, enforcing an education loan scheme, making Delhi safe for women and turning it into a manufacturing hub.
Over and above all this, he promised freebies ranging from a slash in the power tariffs to supply of free water and free Wi-Fi throughout Delhi. The most intriguing aspect of these promises was that he had no idea either before the polls or after getting elected as to where the required funds would come from for financing the populist schemes. He just went ahead and made reckless promises.
His apology and promises went down well with the people who thought that his “repentance” was reflective of his humility and common man image and gave his party a landslide victory. Apparently, they thought that an overwhelming mandate would give Kejriwal and his fledgling party a much-needed breakthrough and facilitate them to focus on governance and make Delhi a model State as he promised, without having to depend on the support of other parties for survival.
The voters believed that with its massive electoral victory, AAP had got not only the opportunity but also a hassle-free political environment that was required for doing all the good work that the party had promised. Apparently, the people of Delhi had not bargained for Kejriwal’s prodigious capability of making a series of reckless political moves and apologising to the people for his “mistakes”. How else could one explain the people’s act of returning him to power a second time in less than a year?
Power and Water Woes
No sooner had his party returned to power than Kejriwal announced the catchiest populist scheme of his. He slashed electricity tariff by 50 per cent for consumption of up to 400 units per month and announced free 20,000 liters of water to every household per month. There is, however, no provision in the budget for the increase in subsidies. Furthermore, the government has a running feud with power discoms over optimum power procurement and distribution and the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission over the proposed increase in power tariffs.
A new power plant for Delhi has been promised. However, not much has been done about the allocation of funds. Nor has any action been taken towards land acquisition. The AAP manifesto also spoke about optimising the Rajghat and Bawana plants for power generation with no indication as to how the government planned to do so. There is no sign of the proposal taking off anytime soon. Meanwhile, the people continue to suffer power outages.
AAP’s election manifesto also promised every home in Delhi a water pipeline for supplying clean drinking water. In reality, however, few water pipelines have been laid. Large parts of Delhi are still waiting for water to be made available through tankers, etc. The government does not seem to be doing much more than quibbling over inner-party squabbles, scams and focusing on twiddling of thumbs. Meanwhile in June, his Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar was arrested for faking two degree certificates and sent to Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
Practically, all the other populist schemes enumerated in the AAP manifesto remain just that—promises, with little or no action underway. The government is clueless about ways and means of implementing the schemes including women’s safety and reforms in education and health sectors. The reasons for inaction are many. To start with, Kejriwal does not seem to be reconciled to the idea of continuing as the Chief Minister of the glorified municipality of Delhi as a cynic of a political observer would be tempted to call the government of the Capital city.
He has been complaining of little or utter lack of powers vested in the Chief Minister. He feels hedged between an active and assertive Lieutenant Governor and the Municipal Corporations of Delhi, which are controlled by the BJP. Consequently, he is on a warpath with Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While he holds Jung responsible for pulling him down, he keeps blaming Modi for trying to put him out of the political scenario altogether. He is bitter about having to work with a cramped style. Non-availability of sufficient funds to finance his populist schemes, which are like a resource-draining bottomless pit, is staring him in the face.
He has been sulking over Delhi not having been granted full-fledged statehood. If his current ambitions could be narrowed to a solitary one, it would in all probability be the securing of full-fledged statehood for Delhi and his going down, in the process,in the annals of history as the valiant hero who made it possible. His government is in the process of holding a referendum to ascertain the views of the people of Delhi over the grant of statehood to the city. Whatever the outcome of the proposed referendum, he may quite likely take to the streets in the due course of time to seeking fulfillment of his dream.
Wilting under Pressure
Meanwhile, charges of monetary contributions from bogus companies and hawala operators for the funding of his party activities have caused a serious dent to his own image as well as that of his party. Eviction of senior party colleagues and ideologues has left the party bereft of the cutting edge of ideology. The moral stature of the party as a self-avowed crusading force against black money and corruption is in shambles. Today the Aam Aadmi Party is perceived as a private outfit of an autocratic Kejriwal and a small band of supporters who are too much in awe of his authority to raise a voice in disagreement over any issue.
What has made Kejriwal’s autocratic image truly horrid is his insatiable thirst for publicity. With a publicity budget of over 520 crore, he got a publicity blitzkrieg, singing his paeans on TV, radio and public hoardings, day in and day out, with nothing being subtle about it. The fly in the face projection of the image of a “helpless” Chief Minister who is under constant attack by the Prime Minister, Lieutenant Governor and the Media, orchestrated at a humongous cost met with the taxpayers’ money has already generated much revulsion among the public and a rebuke by the Judiciary.
The disclosure that the electricity bill for his official residence for one month was of a whopping Rs 1.35 lakh has done no good to his image as an aam aadmi in the public perception. Pushed to a corner, Kejriwal is quite likely to take the easy way out and do what comes to him best—quit. Since people would not likely to condone another resignation under pressure, he is likely to force the hand of the Government at the Centre to make it feasible. Hence, his relentless criticism and massive showdowns with both the Lieutenant Governor and the Prime Minister!
The Big Letdown
Be that as it may, there is no escaping the public perception that Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party are no more the vibrant political forces, which people had taken them for. They are more like the mere whiff of a flavour of the season gone by. The trust imposed by the people and the bonding with the common man are things of the past. The icing on the cake comes in the form of support by AAP to the corrupt and decrepit combine of Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar in the forthcoming Bihar elections!
This desperate move of Kejriwal instigated by sheer spite for Narendra Modi is the real whopper to drag his image all the way down in the eyes of the people of Delhi. To support, for political reasons, a leader indicted by the court on charges of corruption and still claim to be a crusader of corruption is unimaginable! It is the bottom of the pits for Kejriwal who has let down everyone who supported him in good faith. That includes his own party men. The worst casualty of this letdown is going to be Kejriwal himself.
(The article was published in weekly magazine Uday India in August 23-29, 2015 edition on page 32-36)