Monday, 23 March 2015

AAP Government’s One Month

Stink Sting and Shrill

Somen Chakraborty

Two major developments have marked AAP government’s one-month journey from mid February to mid March, 2015. One is, of course, making water free and reduction of electricity tariff with effect from March 1, 2015. The other one is mud-slinging among the comrades followed by ousting of two founder leaders from the Political Affairs Committee, the highest decision making body of Aam Aadmi Party.

Consolidating the traditional vote bank or reciprocating the most valued voters by doling out facilities free or at subsidised rates is not new for the governments in India. Draining off public exchequer to gain cheap populism is common for the parties in power. From rice to computer and even gold has been distributed free in the name of welfare and poverty eradication. Subsidy has become somewhat an eternal feature of India’s party politics. At the same time, the very principle of a welfare state is to enable people access to the basic needs, if need be at free of cost. Therefore, channelising revenue towards the benefit of the weaker sections is a necessity to bring about just and equal social order.

In the case of free water and electricity, the AAP Government has submitted two benign logic. During the election campaign, when AAP’s chances to win were looking bleak, Kejriwal unambiguously argued for free water. AAP believes that every human being has a right over the natural resources. The state regulates the redistribution to ensure that the water stock meets the present need without inflicting crisis to the future generation. AAP has upheld commitment to an ancient human right by enabling people to consume what is scientifically accepted as the minimum need for a decent living. The ‘free life line water’ scheme for domestic use up to 20,000 litre a family a month introduced by the AAP Government earlier in 2014 has now been resurrected. This facility is to stay as long as AAP is in power.

The rise of electricity rate, as they argue, is an artificial construct by the distribution companies (Discom). In AAP’s view, hike of electricity rate at a spiraling speed has no justification but profit motive. An unholy alliance of politicians, the distribution companies and public servants has made this to happen over the years. There is no denying that every person essentially needs some amount of electricity for existence and survival. Its price, therefore, has to be within a reachable and reasonable scale so that even the poor people can consume it up to a limit.

Reconsideration of the electricity charges will depend on the outcome of the audit of the production and distribution cost of electricity. The electricity distribution companies in Delhi seemed to have eluded the audit on one or other pretext and the succeeding state governments have avoided pursuing it. AAP fulfills two objectives by cutting down the electricity charges. The difficulty that the economically weaker sections of Delhi were facing earlier to bear the electricity cost will feel happy for the tariff has been reduced by 50% only for domestic use up to 400 units. And secondly, it will create pressure to complete the audit at the earliest. The Government knows that given the per capita income ratio and consumption behaviour of the middle and upper class Delhites, combined with the compulsion during summer and winter, a large number of the city dwellers will not be able to take advantage of this subsidy. The benefits will be reaped exclusively by the poor and the weaker sections.

Water and electricity aside, the Government of Delhi has important steps on education, health, safety and security of women. The government has served notice to 200 schools for charging exorbitant fees. CCTV installation process in and around the educational institutions has started. The private hospitals are instructed to allow poor people to have access to health services. A cap has been put on the swine flu testing charges. Special e-rickshaw licensing camps have been organised. The police have become cautious in their actions. Prices of the essentials have been stable.

The government is handicapped to go fast because the budget is not yet prepared and approved. Kejriwal’s absence due to ill health has also reduced speed of decision making. Meanwhile, the entire contingent of AAP leadership has diverted energy and time into coterie politics. What has transpired in this self-tarnishing exercise by the party leadership is that a few months before some ambitious individuals challenged Arvind Kejriwal’s command over the decision making process. These leaders could push certain action plans in spite of opposition by the members of the ‘Kejriwal group’. Now in retaliation they have ghettoised those frontline leaders and manufactured dirty tricks to weed them out. As it has appeared, the strategic steps for this had been framed up well-in-advance by the ‘party supremo’ Mr Arvind Kejriwal before his departure for the Jindal Ayurvedic Institute in Bangalore.

Aam Aadmi Party could make a spectacular victory in the Delhi assembly election also because many persons shifted their position against bhagore and whimsical AAP at a later stage. These remotely located volunteers and sympathisers voted for AAP and also mobilised support of the family members, friends and associates for the AAP candidates. If the same principle of revenge is now applied in the case of volunteers then majority of them has no place in the Party. For a larger part of the election campaign these people, in fact, opposed AAP and wanted Kejriwal to be defeated.

Aam Aadmi Party emerged as a party of alternative politics. At the very outset the Party consciously discarded the classical leadership image wrapped in white kurta-pajama. It crafted a political behaviour that aam aadmi could trust, depend on, feel aligned and most importantly, that could diffuse the gap between the leaders and the workers. The Party scrupulously nurtured volunteerism and reached deep into the hamlets and hutments of the poor where development mattered most. So entrenched became its credibility that the downtrodden and deprived people not only mobilised support for the Party but also helped it grow and expand as a powerful alternative.

Later, when within less than two weeks of forming the government, hatred, anger, extreme dislike and sheer antagonism came out pronouncedly in tweets, blogs, stings, press comments, letters, public statements, body language, facial expressions and eye movements of the leaders, it deeply shocked the volunteers, sympathisers and supporters. The appearance of ‘Kejriwal camp’, ‘Maharashtra camp’, ‘Punjab camp’ and ‘Dissident group’ has created doubt if the Party will remain faithful anymore to ‘Lokpal’ and ‘Swaraj’. They are afraid if this leadership will ever encourage the competent, committed, assertive and outspoken people to become leaders in different forums or to be the insiders of the Party. Apprehension is looming large that for different committees and forums the leadership may pick only those who are ready to compromise or show absolute allegiance to the specific camp, leader, coterie or faction.

But then, it is neither Kejriwal nor its leadership alone, but thousands of volunteers, sympathisers and voters have collectively enabled AAP to come to the power. If these faceless volunteers can decide about whom to vote and support, in need they can exhibit their power to bring down the Government too. ‘Panch Saal - Kejriwal’, the key election slogan of Aam Aadmi Party bears a different meaning for the people. The people perceive in it a Delhi where corruption will dwindle to insignificance, every child will attend school and child labour will disappear forever. They expect Delhi will become a clean city soon. The Government will not only recognise people’s reasonable rights and entitlements but also respect it in real life situation. The leadership need to accept that AAP is now much more than a political party. It is a process of change belongs to none but the people. It is a hope for equality and justice. People will expect its leadership to contribute energy more towards development and empowerment of the people than competing with each other to hijack the internal lokpal or to become a political celebrity.

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