In the last post, we left the discussion on Kejriwal at a very tantalizing point. [Picture courtesy Hindustan Times]
Even if we can discount Kejriwal’s comically overplayed honesty card, and his “sab bike hua hai to Ambani and Adnani” (the more Youngistan-friendly version of “You Maoists”) persecution narrative, and much of his camera-bait antics, can we still consider Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party to be a viable national alternative, at least conceptually (conceptually since they are not likely to get more than 5 to 7 seats), given that they have never presided over deadly riots nor have they been accused of stealing hundreds of crores nor of mismanaging the country for decades?
In other words, are they provably better than those they claim to oppose?
On the subject of corruption, it is very difficult to say what AAP would have done since Kejriwal and his men have never held power. It’s like a man who has never married claiming that he has taken a stance against dowry. The stance will only be validated if he gets married and then does not take money and never again asks for it.
Well okay. Kejriwal and his men did hold power. For, some 49 days.
It is perhaps then appropriate to look at these two months and see what Kejriwal and his men did, as a means of gauging how they behave when in power as compared to other parties, for it is only when you are in power that the proverbial rubber hits the road.
One of the first things Kejriwal did in power was to transfer, hold your breath, 800 Jal Board officials. Actually on day one itself, he transferred nine bureaucrats, including the finance secretary, power secretary and chief executive of Delhi Jal Board. Now Kejriwal, since 2005 when he stopped an attempt to privatize Delhi’s water supply system, has had a running beef with the Jal Board. So it was but in the order of “Abh chakayenge maza” that he would transfer hundreds of Jal board officials the moment he held the power pen. In that respect what he did is nothing different from the Mayawatis and the Mulayams and the other provincial tinpots that we elect . They do exactly the same thing on coming to power, often on day one, which is to initiate wholesale transfers that bring in stool-pigeons, regardless of what such massive transfers might do to morale and efficiency and continuity.
Then he decided to reward his supporters by giving them a 50% waiver of people who refused to pay for their electricity, apparently in protest. Now if you go to a store and refuse to pay for something you bought, in protest because the price is too high, I am pretty sure that you would still get arrested or somehow be made to pay for what you bought. Except that Kejriwal decided to reward his core constituents, in the same way that politicians reward their base, by handing out a freebie. This of course made no kind of fiscal or moral sense whatsoever. And to rub salt into wounds, Kejriwal also never allocated funds for this from the budget, maybe because he left before that, and hence even this has now been stayed by the Delhi High Court. Which in the broader scheme of things is perhaps a good thing. But nevertheless, this was about as horrible a policy decision that one could have taken.
Then following in the footsteps of the worst protectionism of BJP and crackpots like TMC, he also withdrew the Delhi government’s decision to allow FDI in retail. And we wonder why the investment climate in the country is bad and growth is poor, where governments can come and roll back critical decisions the last government has taken, jeopardizing investment plans. Again here, Kejriwal did not show any significant maturity over and above what in India has come to pass for decades.
When Kejriwal was campaigning, one of his USP’s was that unlike other parties who played caste and religion cards, AAP was focused on policy. Not appeasement but policy. That sounded nice, especially when it came in the dulcet tones of Yogendra Yadav. But then what did the government do? Well it rewarded one of its most vocal cliques, the notoriously unpopular autowallahs of Delhi. How?
According to sources, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal wants to withdraw the Delhi Police’s power to fine auto drivers for refusing to take passengers, go by meter and violating permit laws, including wearing uniform and badge, and give it back to the transport department.The CM has held several meetings with senior transport department officials to work out the modalities for the change. The final nod would have to come from Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, who would then decide if the issue should be referred to the Centre, said officials.
Confirming the move, Kejriwal said: “All auto drivers of the city had joined hands with us in our fight against corruption, and we are committed to resolving their issues.” “The transport minister is working out details of what comes under the purview of the transport department and what should essentially remain with the police”.
However, Kejriwal’s move has been resisted by the transport department, which claims it does not have the manpower to take over the job.
Following a heated argument over the issue, transport commissioner Arvind Ray was replaced by Gyanesh Bharti on Monday. [Link]
Leaving aside the small fact of the last sentence, of the sheer autocracy whereas anyone with a dissenting opinion is replaced, the critical sentence is “All auto drivers of the city had joined hands with us in our fight against corruption” (i.e. voted for AAP) and hence they must be rewarded. Policy ki aisi ki taisi. When the final policy was announced, Kejriwal did give police the power to fine, but only Rs 100 (which as we know isn’t much in Delhi),
Complaints of misbehaviour, refusal or overcharging will no longer lead to suspension of permits by the Delhi police, even if challans have been issued against the offending vehicle earlier.
Similarly, while Kejriwal’s move to audit the power companies could be supported as a sound and necessary measure (governments have the right to audit public utilities since they do not operate in a true free market), his decision to cut tariffs before he could prove his claim of financial herapheri was again an example where political considerations overrode basic common sense. By arbitrarily slashing power tariffs, he ticked off a campaign sop, but then, again, never planned ahead beyond March 31, which is when the tariffs would, as I understand it, get rolled back because no funds are available for the subsidy moving forward.
AAP supporters would say “what could he have done in two months”? Well, the first response to that is if you were going to implement something within the first two months, then at least plan for it in advance. Unfortunately, when you announce major measures days after taking office, in an obscene rush, it is very clear that you have not accounted for the long term implications and sustainability of your decisions in any way. And the second response is that Kejriwal chose to leave after two months. He was not forced out. He could well have stayed and followed through what he felt was right. But he did not. And for the time he was there, he was mostly doing dharnas and appearing in front of television cameras, which I would say must not left him much time for his responsibility of governance.
Which now brings us to his relinquishing government.
If we accept the charitable explanation pushed forwarded by AAP supporters, that Kejriwal left because he could not pass the Jan Lok Pal Bill because of opposition from the BJP and the Congress, one still has to be amazed by the decision. For one, given the fact that Kejriwal believes that BJP and Congress are all agents of evil men, he must have anticipated that the Jan Lok Pal would not pass way before he took power. Surely, he cannot claim that he was caught by surprise by their stance. In any democracy, the opposition will stall your big-ticket bills. If you don’t have an overwhelming majority, the intransigence on the part of your political opponents is inevitable. That is realpolitik. In the US, we have had the federal government close down, multiple times, because the Republicans have stalled budget bills that fund the government (seriously what can be more important than that?). Republicans and Democrats have blown hot-air, saber-rattled and indulged in brinkmanship, and politicians in the US are about as cynical and corrupted as the ones in India are, but no one has ever seriously thought that the President would resign as a result, and gain sympathy with a “Inki neeyat kharab hai” post-stepping-down salvo. The Republicans have killed Obama’s immigration bill, and done the level best that can to kill Obamacare and if the Supreme Court in a controversial decision not ruled in favor of Obamacare, a significant cornerstone of Obama’s signature policy would have been defeated, and yet even if that happened Obama would not have resigned. This inability of Kejriwal to stick it out, to negotiate and reach out across the aisle, which while to his supporters may be proof positive of his awesome incorruptibility, is petulant at best and “My way or the highway” despotic at the worst, and frankly does not behoove a democratically elected chief minister.
Of course, the above paragraph is moot. For compromise and negotiation was never an option. As is becoming increasingly apparent, Kejriwal’s decision to leave New Delhi may have been taken in pursuit of a bigger ambition.
Let’s accept it. New Delhi was never what Kejriwal wanted, in the same way Mamata has wanted Bengal for decades, shouting, stopping life, walking, and almost dying from a blow to the head. He chose New Delhi because it was a small state with almost no rural or backward areas, and where the angry middle class, that is his primary base, form the electorate. Perhaps one of the few states where that is the case. Anywhere else and AAP would have had little chance of winning anything.
Also because it is New Delhi where all the news channels are based out of, and our big-shot “multiple award winning anchors” do not have the stomach for hard news (after all that’s what the small-time junior reporters are for), making a splash there would bring about the kind of national media attention (and consequent donations let’s not forget) that contesting elections in no state this size could ever hope to bring. Of course, this is my conjecture but I believe Mr. Kejriwal never really seriously thought he would become the Chief Minister. His game was to put up a good show in Delhi, get some seats, form a vocal opposition, do “dharna all night” and remain on the nightly news, while boosting his personal brand of uncompromising honesty. Which arguably is much easier done when you are not ruling.
However he won the people’s mandate. Not really because BJP got the most seats, but effectively, he did. Somewhere down the line, he started looking for an exit route, one where he could leave taking the moral high ground, and it was fairly obvious that issue would be the Jan Lok Pal. Hence there was little attempt at negotiating or anything that goes by the name of compromise. Kejriwal took the rigid “will not give them the ground that would fit on a needlehead” approach (even though it was not that he did not occasionally dance with the devil, else he would not have come to power) because it freed him to do what he really wanted to do, without the encumbrances imposed by actually having to follow up on one’s promises and be held accountable to them.When Kejriwal says in this video “Should I save the country or should I save Delhi?” [Video], he clearly shows his priorities, but of course in that moral cocoon that he likes to weave. Of course the question that remains unsaid is how someone who could not save a small state like Delhi, who could not even govern a simple urban population that was well-aligned with his core messaging, would govern (and save) a country as complex as India, with deep schisms of religion, caste, poverty, education and opportunity?
It’s like the old Aamir Khan ad for Leher Pepsi (copied from a Michael J Fox for Diet Pepsi). He runs out to bring a Pepsi to patao a thirsty Ritu (later to be known as Mahima) Chowdhury, but then when the hotter Sanjana (played by Aishwarya Rai) arrives a-knocking, he has to run out again, because he is now onto even bigger game. Of course if he was more like Kejriwal, Aamir Khan would have taken Mahima’s bottle and given it to Aishwarya right in front of her, then given the poor girl the Satyameva Jayate smirk and said, “It is not about you, is samay mujhe Sanjana ki pyaas ko bujhana hai. Yehi hai right choice baby. Aha.”
And because of all this, I posit that with regards to corruption, management, policy and single-minded pursuit of individual ambition, Kejriwal has not really stood apart from any other politician in India. He does a good speech and has a nice easy way about him and definitely has a sense of humor. Beyond that, lies the question mark.
We still have not come to the issue of violence, of communal riots and whether Kejriwal is better than other politicians with regard to the use of targeted violence as a political weapon.
In the next post, we shall look at that.