Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 12:43:18

Unbecoming Of AAP?

Updated: January 25, 2014 11:34 am

It is well known, including by policymakers within AAP, that discretion in decision-making increases corruption—as do distortions in the pricing mechanism. For example, if the government prices kerosene substantially below diesel, then the policy encourages corruption by making it profitable to mix kerosene with diesel.

One of the most intriguing features of the AAP’s policy on water (and electricity) is its pro-rich stance. How did this happen? The water policy goes significantly against the poor and the lower middle class. One of the most stylised facts about development, incomes and poverty is that larger family households are poorer. Households with a family size greater than or equal to five members have average expenditure levels (NSSO 2011-12 data for Delhi households) only twice the poverty line. These households will pay for all the water consumed because their usage is higher on a per household basis. In contrast, those who need water less and can afford to pay more (with per capita expenditures almost four times the poverty line), will receive water free. The poor will pay Rs 663 crore to the AAP’s water board; the rich will receive Rs 333 crore from AAP as subsidy. What Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP’s water policy illustrate is a perfect inversion of Robin Hood—something corrupt in-the-name-of-the-poor Indian governments have attempted but not succeeded at so perfectly. I challenge anyone to imagine, let alone formulate, a more anti-poor and anti-lower-middle class policy. Phrased differently, can anyone formulate a more pro-rich policy?

Some clues about future AAP policy and prospects are revealed by the identification of AAP supporters: dominantly left-of-centre, disillusioned Congress supporters. Both anecdotal conversations and empirical data support this conclusion. Fully 40 per cent of Congress 2008 voters voted for AAP in 2013; the corresponding number for the BJP was only 9 per cent. There are two ways one can interpret this fact. AAP supporters interpret as follows: if AAP had contested in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and MP, then nearly the same treatment would have been meted out to the ruling BJP as was meted out to the Congress in Delhi. This line of thinking is worthy of empirical testing, an exercise that nevertheless remains to be done. The second line of argument (to which I subscribe) is that there was an overwhelming negative sentiment or wave against the Congress, and the BJP benefited from it in the above three states, and Kejriwal’s AAP benefited from it in Delhi.

AAP needs to be complimented for making its philosophy and ideology so transparently transparent. It is politically clean, its fund-raising policies are devoid of corruption, and its economic policies are considerably left-of-centre, and may even be to the left of the Left. Its slogans, attitude, demeanour and policies are eerily and transparently close to that of the CPM. This means that one of the most interesting elections in 2014 will be those in West Bengal. The citizens of that “intellectual” state will have a clear choice between every version of the Left that is thinkable. How much can the BJP lose by fielding a candidate in at least half the constituencies of that state? A clear appreciation of the fact that city voters, whether poor or middle class, are aspirational voters. Material questions of infrastructure, education, healthcare, efficient delivery of civic services, matter greatly to them, quite apart from the old pulls of caste and religion. It is not enough to roll out Central schemes like the JNNURM—parties must be seen to be agile on these fronts. It is interesting that many of the AAP’s core promises involve water and power, more schools and quality healthcare, and an assurance to citizens that civic decisions will involve their participation. In whatever shape these commitments are kept, there will be valuable lessons for urban politics.

Arvind Kejriwal may spend the rest of his life denying he and AAP are Congress stooges but I doubt anyone is going to buy it. AAP is just another “fence” for the Congress. The Congis know too well they’re going to do badly at the elections this year. They need a “fence” to fight the biggest enemy: BJP and, particularly, Narendra Modi. They have media channels like CNN-IBN, NDTV and their group outlets and also the India Today group to campaign for them. How AAP wants to combat corruption can be measured by the fact the states they have targeted for contesting LS elections are Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP and Tamil Nadu. All of these are “Congress-mukt” states. The only other state chosen by them is Haryana, being a Delhi neighbour and Arvind Kejrival’s home-state. To put it bluntly, AAP is a bench-warmer till the LS elections and based on outcomes of those elections will see which way to jump.

But none of these matter to the Congress or to Sonia Gandhi. This party has a one-point agenda: how to win elections and grab power, no matter what it takes. In the process, it will use and misuse all the powers of the state against its opponents. That’s why the Congress and its crony Mainstream Media (MSM) trashes and abuses Narendra Modi.

When Kejriwal built his politics based on anti-politics, he was accused of being a front for the RSS; being impractical and obstinate; being obsessed with only corruption; being in utter disregard for constitutional scheme of things. Kejriwal is disproving a lot of such fears. First, he has made it clear that all experiments will be within the framework of the Indian Constitution—“mohalla sabhas cannot be like khap panchayats”. “Despite his rebellious image, the fact is that he has worked within the system all through—from clearing an entrance to reach the IIT, clearing the UPSC, and then working on the RTI campaign,” says a bureaucrat who knew him from the days in IIT Kharagpur.

More importantly, Kejriwal has practically destructed the dialectical politics that has always worked in favour of entrenched parties—communal and secular; upper castes and lower castes; Hindus and Muslims; working class and the upper class. The BJP and the Congress have been hit the most due to this—because both were hoping to benefit from the other’s deficiencies. The Congress thought all anti-Modi voters will be forced to gather around it; the BJP thought it would be the only refuge for people tired of the Congress. “AAP has scrupulously avoided whipping up vertical issues, choosing instead to stick to horizontal ones. This is a crucial point of departure since for most political parties in India their very raison d’etre for existence is one or the other vertical issue stemming from the differences of caste, creed, region, language or class,” says Shahjahan Madampat, a political commentator. As a result, AAP support seems to be coming from all castes, classes and regions.

Will power and popularity be undoing of AAP?

Aam Admi Party (AAP) aimed for the sky, the day supported by the Congress it formed the government in Delhi replacing Congress-rule of 15 years. The placard activists and members of AAP waved reading, Today CM (Arvind Kejriwal), Tomorrow PM, which confirmed the soaring ambitions. AAP leaders were in ecstasy noting the whole country seemed to be enthused with their promise of transparency, simple living style and promise of consulting people—a peoples’ democracy. The thousands who lined up to join AAP as members and volunteers across the country, a sight which enthralled AAP leaders and convinced them that they could take another step forward and go national. It was therefore no surprise when AAP declared it would contest 300 Lok Sabha seats.

It might be a risky gamble but in the euphoric state one seldom thinks of consequences. The impact on AAP which is founded on the basis of honesty and clean past could get hit when unknown faces are inducted without detailed scrutiny. Unconfirmed reports are that one person considered in Bihar turned out to be a history-sheeter. Even one tainted person if taken on board would shake the foundation of AAP.

However, AAP’s leader and Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal is currently the toast of the youth but ironically of the rich as well. Most of the wealthy are superannuated or have reached the top and have no future in any party except a new one which naturally has many vacancies. These seniors are eyeing nominations to fight the general elections. Do they believe in AAP’s ideology—one does not think so; it’s the road to Parliament that has developed in them ‘admiration’ for AAP.

And why is AAP taking people who may not live up to its ideals? Possibly, to show how rich and famous are queuing up to join an outfit, whose viability as a political force was suspect only a few months earlier. But despite long lines of people waiting to be enrolled skepticism is creeping in. A few Incidents recently have raised eyebrows. Is AAP also like the traditional parties turning any and all happenings to party’s leaders into advantage politically? This was least expected of a party which claims to be transparent and in sync with people. The ‘incident’ that was given the hue of a political attack related to an alleged attack on Minister Rakhi Birla’s car by some unidentified persons in Mangolpuri area in Delhi. She escaped unharmed.The Women and Child Development Minister, who is the youngest member of Arvind Kejriwal’s cabinet, had gone to a temple in northwest Delhi and was sitting in the front seat of her WagonR car when reports alleged that some people threw a heavy object at the vehicle damaging the windscreen. But after witnesses and inquiry it was reportedly found that some local boys were playing cricket and a shot hit by a 10-year-old boy sailed high in the air and then landed on the Minister’s windscreen.

Anyway, the scale of popularity is unbelievably still so high that such aberrations are not taken seriously by most. For instance, another incident albeit of different genre in which Janata Dal (United) MLA Shoaib Iqbal threatened to withdraw support to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, unless Kumar Vishwas tendered a public apology over his controversial remarks on Muharram. Vishwas did issue his apology.

This was a minor hiccup. But it showed that there are egos which could clash. Another noticeable fact is that Kejriwal alone is the star or say attraction in AAP. Prashant Bhushan could have been liked widely but his remarks about Kashmir were not only inflammatory but sickening. So Kejriwal is the lone star. He has assiduously built the image of people’s man and the one who would rid of corruption and bad governance of UPA. He would replace the dynasty-controlled democracy by people’s rule—the hallmark of real democracy. He was clever in reading the pulse of the people— that motivated huge number of volunteers and members joining AAP all across the country.

Kejriwal has been catapulted to the level of other leaders who have been around for decades, whereas he entered politics barely a year ago. It’s a miracle of sorts. The only explanation for such a meteoric rise is that Kejriwal read the pulse of the people and having been main motivator behind the Anna Hazare movement that brought out thousands of youth and middle class on the streets, knew how to “organise” gatherings and win people’s support. Again, when people protested after the beastly rape and torture of Nirbhaya and demanded the government to listen to them as to how to curb molestation and rapes, the government used water cannons and lathi-charged them. Since then the angst against the government was brewing and people were ready to welcome anyone who would listen to them. Kejriwal did that and then exploited the anti-Congress sentiment to form a minority government.

The Congress Party, knowing that it cannot hope to curb Narendra Modi’s march towards South Block, saw the chance to create hurdles against Modi by propping up AAP— an AAP fence to keep away Modi. Sonia Gandhi must be having horrible nightmares at the thought of Modi coming to power. He is not the one who would forget the person who called him “Maut ka Saugadar”.

Seeing the chances to form a stable government, Kejriwal agreed and accepted the unconditional support of eight Congress MLAs to form the government. Against the backdrop that he is being used, and would be accused of taking support from a party which he termed corrupt and worse, he has taken a big risk. How would people take this unholy alliance once euphoria settles down and nitty-gritty of real politics surfaces as the general elections near.

If in 72 hours Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal implemented AAP’s two laudable objectives—666 litres free water a day and free electricity up to 400 units a day— doubts too have crept in and critics have surfaced. A commentator said, “AAP’s water subsidy for Delhi is a perfect example of reverse Robin Hood engineering—taking from the poor and giving to the rich.” True, water can only be supplied to areas and households that have meters. One hears that only 30 lakh houses have the meters, and quite a few not working. Many areas do not have even pipes. The AAP government ordered Delhi Jal Board tankers to supply water in such areas. But residents complain that generally such tankers never come. The free electricity would be subsidised. This is what the UPA has been doing, heavily subsidising for populist measures—-a leaf out of the Congress-led UPA. Such profligacy has let people suffer the continuous rising inflation.

If proper thought was given and the illegal connections cut, there would have been enough surplus to be able to persuade private power suppliers to give 400 units free.

Likewise, as per an estimate 40 to 50 per cent of water in this country’s urban distribution system is ‘lost’. So is plugging leakages and improving infrastructure more time-consuming and complex than doling out sops—freebies? AAP would dare not cut illegal connections for those who have committed the theft are its constituency. So what’s different from the traditional Indian political parties—they too do bizarre things to keep their vote-banks safe? But, populism that AAP is indulging in would not last long.

But notwithstanding what might the future holds for AAP, Kejriwal deserves kudos, for setting in motion a revolutionary change in political culture which would untangle Indian politics from the tentacles of well-entrenched oligarchs. By forming the government in consultation with the Delhi citizens, Kejriwal has fundamentally altered politics. This is irreversible. All parties will be forced to revise their political ways and take the path Kejriwal has emblazoned.


Despite being anti-politics set by generations of political leader what is remarkable is that Kejriwal has made all radical change within the framework of the Constitution. He is a rebel against the ways of established parties, he has not mutinied against the wishes of founders of democracy in India. But what the country should owe gratitude most to Kejriwal is for exorcising communal and secular; upper castes and lower castes; Hindus and Muslims; working class and upper class from electioneering and for considering these factors while distributing tickets. The BJP and the Congress have been hit the most due to this—because both were hoping to benefit from the other’s deficiencies.

This revolution cannot now be stopped even by Kejriwal. It’s like the genie out of the bottle—people have tasted blood, they have felt a sense of power when Kejriwal asked them about forming the government. Hereafter, they are not letting this power be snatched by any party. The new culture is now here to stay, all parties would have to conform to it. And they would.

By Vijay Dutt

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