AAP’s Main Challenge

On the eve of AAP’s takeover of the Delhi administration, it is worth pondering over some of the challenges awaiting them. For those who raised hands in the mohalla meetings and sent mobile text messages urging the Aam Aadmi Party to form government may not know the travails of the minority government.

Kejriwal would know. He would know that cannot pass any key resolutions in the assembly without Congress’ support. He cannot pass his much hyped Jan Lok Pal bill. He cannot make new policy decisions. He cannot enact any new legislation. Heck, He cannot even table his own budget. His administration may have been in no better position than the president’s rule.

The problem everyone’s harping on is that AAP and Congress don’t seem to have come to any ‘understanding’ or ‘agreement’. The AAP are going purely based on the letter that the Congress has written to the Lt. Governor, if AAP circles is to be believed. This may be true because, unlike the other parties, AAP seems to be speaking its heart out.

So is Congress’ flimsy support going to be their challenge?

The truth is, once the Congress votes for them in the floor test, they won’t be able to bring in another vote of confidence motion for six months. Even if they withdraw support before that, AAP can continue to be a minority government. And if the Congress pulls down the government on any corruption plank, meaning because AAP took action against some of their ex-ministers, Congress might lose whatever little support they had left. So the chances of this government collapsing within a year appear remote.

Then, is fulfilling the electoral promises going to be their challenge?

Questions remain as to how AAP are going to deliver on slashing the electricity bills or 700-litre water per household. The opposition, BJP and Congress, keep talking about their 18-point agenda as if it’s impossible. Supplying free water is very, very difficult, because, you see, it costs 340 crores additionally to the exchequer! Never mind that more than 100 crores have been spent in refurbishing the ministerial bungalows in Delhi. Never mind that an all-weather, state-of-the-art swimming pool is being built in Sefai, the native village of the UP CM, Akilesh Yadav. This is being built at the cost of, err, 200 crores. And we were being told that UP is the second poorest state in India.

Therefore, it is not fulfilment of those electoral promises that is going to be their challenge.

So what is going to be the real challenge?

When the AAP attempt to fulfil those promises, when they initiate infra-structural and human-development projects, someone is going to come in the way of proper implementation. And it’s not the corrupt politician.

Litter collection, disposal and management are some of the 18 items in the AAP agenda. For starters, many of these promises are not new, except that there’s a renewed hope that AAP would fulfil them. To compare and contrast, answer this question: why is there so much of focus on AAP’s electoral manifesto, which is going to be a minority government anyway, whereas, so far, no one has bothered to ask any questions about what BJP is doing about its electoral manifestos in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Do we even know what those electoral promises are? So, prima facie, we believe in AAP, that much there is no doubt.

To come back to the main point, many of these points are not new and they have been tried before. So what went wrong?

Consider a few examples:

One of the items in AAP’s manifesto is to keep Delhi litter free. In her second stint as the chief minister, Sheila Dixit struggled with this problem of litter pile up across the Delhi streets. The municipality workers weren’t reporting to duty regularly, because, you see, they have other more important engagements. Many of these workers were into what’s generally known as ‘side-business’ in India, common among many government employees. They were grocery shoppers, insurance agents, real estate brokers, etc. When Sheila Dixit’s serious attempts to get them to ‘focus’ on their day-job didn’t yield satisfactory results, she decided that their salaries are ‘bad debts’ anyway and decided to let them be. She set out to tackle the litter problem differently and signed a private company to collect and dispose garbage. And, all hell broke loose. The workers swiftly smelled trouble and swung into action. Not by reporting to duty properly, but organising and staging protests and dharnas (sit-in protests). Media cried foul and, predictably, the left-wing groups joined in to support the ‘victims’, whose jobs are at stake. Eventually, the government caved in and cancelled the contract with the private agency. The proletariat won. And, of course, he returned to do his ‘side-business’.

Another item in the manifesto is that of rehabilitation of slum dwellers. Tamil Nadu is a pioneer in this field. When MGR became the Chief Minister, he dreamed of a slum-free Tamil Nadu. A special board, Slum Clearance Board, was set up which went onto build pucca houses for the slum-dwellers. These were one- or two-bedroom flats in multi-storey apartment buildings very close to these slums. The apartments were completed and the flats were allotted to these households at throw-away prices or, sometimes, even for free. This much was fine. Soon, many of these people who were allotted the flats rented those flats and returned to live in their ‘huts’. And, also, complaints arose that many of those for whom the flats were allotted were really not slum-dwellers, but those who had bribed the officials to get the flat allotments. Then the question arose of who the slum dweller was and how one could identify them. Today, the slums are still proliferating across the city and co-existing happily along with those slum-clearance board apartments.

In both these cases, the problem was that the common man was dishonest and opportunist. And the government employee was a corrupt and selfish slacker. Now the question arises: Can’t we take action against erring government officials?

Another of AAP’s promise includes timely delivery of government services and redressal of problems faced by the common man at the hands of the government employees. This comes to the third, and final, point: That too was tried before. In her major project to overhaul the government services, Jayalalithaa brought in a lot of disciplinary initiatives during her second stint as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. This included salary and perks restrictions, attendance and leave stipulations and introducing performance monitoring processes. All the unions of the government workers called for a state-wide strike. She declared these strikes illegal and warned of serious consequences. Unfazed, the workers went ahead with the strikes. The government suspended, and in some cases, even dismissed many workers. Again, all hell broke loose as the media and opposition parties took the side of the ‘poor’ government employee, who has been penalised by the state government. Jayalalithaa’s party lost in the subsequent Lok Sabha elections and her clampdown of the government staff was cited as one of the reasons for the electoral defeat. Expectedly, she revoked all the disciplinary measures and reinstated, with full pay, all the dismissed and suspended employees .

How would AAP make the municipality workers do their duty properly? How would they make the government employees accountable? When they rehabilitate the slum-dwellers, how would they ensure that fake names don’t get into the list and those who are awarded the flats don’t rent them out and return to their huts. How would they ensure that they wouldn’t have to forcibly vacate them off theirs slums?

When these serious projects get under way, it is not the media or the Congress or the BJP who are going to pose the stiffest challenge to the Aam Aadmi Party. It’s actually the real aam aadmi whose corruption, negligence and indiscipline that’s going to be their litmus test.