Let us make the space we share better and bring the change we desire. Author is Indian Muslim, a Public Figure, Social Activist, Blogger and Media Personality. On mission to build a givers world rather than takers.
In assessing a new experiment like that of the AAP government, one must resist the temptation of listing all that is wrong or promises not fulfilled. One year is too short a time to judge any government. Besides, this government has gone through a series of unusual difficulties, both internal and external, that make it harder to assess its intent and outcomes. The benefit of doubt, if any, must rest with the new government, not its critics.
It is only fair, therefore, to begin with positives. If you compare the first year of this government with the last year or last tenure of the Congress regime in Delhi, the people of Delhi have something to be relieved about. Electricity bills have indeed come down, even if through a short-term and unsustainable subsidy. In some parts of Delhi availability of water has improved, even if water scarcity and the water mafia have not gone away. The education budget has gone up, though its meaningful utilization remains a challenge. There has been greater transparency in school admissions, though the hasty route might fail the judicial test. Finally, the odd-even policy may not have reduced pollution substantially but it did reduce traffic congestion and, if institutionalized properly, it can begin to address the problem of excess of private vehicles.
You have to balance these positives against many unfulfilled promises and many unknowns. It is not fair to expect a government to fulfil all the promises of its manifesto in one year, but one must expect the government to have fulfilled those that it said it would in a year. The Aam Aadmi Party election manifesto made the bold promise of regularizing all the unauthorized colonies and handing over ownership certificates to everyone within a year. It promised job skilling of 100,000 people in the very first year. It promised WiFi in all the public places and it was hinted that this would be done in a matter of few months. None of these has seen the light of day.
There was another set of promises where one could expect at least some visible outcomes: 800,000 new jobs in five years, 500 new schools, 20 new colleges, 200,000 toilets (100,000 for women) and 1,000 new public health centres. Failure on these counts is disappointing, but not enough to indict a new government in its first year. Converting good intention into outcomes is hard for any government.
What is more disappointing is the inability to carry out promises that required not outcomes but only paperwork. The cornerstone of the AAP ideology and manifesto was the promise of a Swaraj Act that would decentralize and delegate financial and administrative powers to the mohalla sabhas. The bill was ready during the 49-day government in 2014. Non-passage of this legislation in the many and eventful sessions of the assembly is mystifying. Similarly, not following through on the promise of amending Delhi’s Land Reform Act to release villagers from the clutches of sections 33 and 81 is hard to justify. But the most shocking of all was the brazen substitution of the Jan Lokpal Bill of 2014—the very raison d’être of the party and the ostensible reason for giving up power in 2014—by a toothless Congress-style Lokpal. You might still give the government the benefit of doubt, but you must wonder what the motives of such a U-turn may have been.
My real anxiety lies elsewhere. I am worried not so much about what this government has achieved or not achieved in one year; I am worried about its very approach to governance. Governance requires responsibility. It is an act of careful balancing, maturity and far-sightedness. It requires very nuanced and deft handling of tension points, if any. I’m afraid the AAP government has shown little understanding of what it takes to govern.
There are different styles in which different parties govern but you do not govern by making allegations against your own senior bureaucrats. You cannot govern by demoralizing the entire civil service. You do not create confidence by staging some kind of confrontation every day. You cannot substitute governance with publicity, tamasha and blame-game. And if you do, you end up defeating the very objectives you set out to achieve.
For instance, independent statehood for Delhi is a completely justified demand but this unprecedented confrontation with the central government has reduced the chances of this demand being met at least in the short time-frame. Not to put too fine a point on it, this government does not understand the grammar of governance—and they seem to be making a virtue of this fatal flaw.
This brings me to the final point. The AAP government is not just another state government. This experiment caught everyone’s attention because it promised a new kind of politics; it sought to challenge the rotten ways of the political establishment. It was a political expression of India against corruption. The government must therefore be judged against this expectation of clean politics and ethical governance. Sadly, this is where the AAP government has let itself, its supporters and the country down the most.
It’s not that there has been no decline in corruption. I cannot prove it, but my sense is that corruption at the local level has gone down in Delhi over the past year. This is not because of the corruption helpline or any action that the Delhi government may have taken. The victory of a party which comes to power on an anti-corruption plank is in itself a deterrent against petty corruption for some time. Unfortunately, the government has done little to fortify or institutionalize this popular resolve.
On the contrary, the defence of Jitendra Tomar and Somnath Bharti was too long and brazen to suspend disbelief. The fourfold hike in the salary of the MLAs may not have affected the state budget in any big way but it may have eroded the moral capital of the government to ask others to undergo sacrifices. When you see those at the top lying through their teeth—for example making false claims about large a number of officers having been suspended on corruption charges—it corrodes anti-corruption crusades. No wonder, there are strong and credible reports of return to business or corruption as usual in this government. When you see the government rewarding itself with a publicity budget of Rs.526 crore, and using it to purchase influence, claims of honesty begin to sound hollow.
One year is indeed too short a period to come to a definite conclusion and that too for a new party in power. And we must not give up hope, for the failure of this experiment would dash the hopes of crores of Indians in the very possibility of alternative politics. But as the Hindi saying goes, “poot ke paanv palne me dikh jaate hain” (you get a glimpse of the boy’s feet in his cradle). If I can mix the metaphor, what we have seen in the cradle are not just dirty feet, but feet of clay.
Yogendra Yadav is with Swaraj Abhiyan, a movement for alternative politics.