Just days before the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi completed a year in office, it asked the people whether they approved of another round of the odd-even scheme of regulating vehicles on the roads. MLAs were told to ascertain the views of their constituents. One of the dates proposed for launching a second spell of the odd-even scheme was February 14, the first anniversary of the AAP government. The survey was in keeping with the party’s promise of involving people in decision-making. Even as it highlighted the government's efforts to clear Delhi’s air, a mighty stink rose: workers of two of three municipal corporations in Delhi went on strike over non-payment of salaries. In no time, piles of garbage accumulated in the city's streets.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was undergoing his annual naturopathy treatment in Bengaluru for chronic cough. Breaking an important rule of the treatment—seclusion from the outside world—he addressed a news conference, alleging that the strike was part of a conspiracy by the Central government to impose president’s rule in Delhi. Close to the anniversary, the two faces of the Kejriwal government were on display, one representing a new idiom of governance by taking people along, and the other pretty much in tune with the leitmotif of its clashes with the Centre.
Even its critics admit that some commendable steps have been taken by the Kejriwal government. Its budget for 2015-16 is described as a balance between populism and reform. With an outlay of Rs 9,836 crore, the funds for the education sector showed an increase of 106 per cent over last year. Rs 4,787 crore has been earmarked for health care, an increase of 45 per cent.
People did not have to wait for the two key poll promises of the AAP to be fulfilled. One of the first things Kejriwal did after taking charge was to announce huge concessions on electricity and water supply, including a 50 per cent subsidy on monthly power consumption of up to 400 units and 20,000 litres of free water per month to every household. The government also launched neighbourhood clinics, introduced local budgeting and initiated measures to protect the environment.
Kejriwal's decision not to hold any portfolios is now seen as a smart move. The chief minister, however, closely monitors the functioning of all departments and holds weekly review meetings. He also keeps tabs on the popularity of the party, meeting MLAs in groups and conducting a survey every 15 days. It was his idea to form the Delhi Dialogue Commission, which would function as a generator of ideas for the government.
According to an AAP source, Kejriwal’s forte is communication. The phone call advertisement in which the chief minister is seen appealing to the people to follow the odd-even formula was designed by Kejriwal himself. “He is quick on the uptake and it is not easy to keep pace with him,” says Adarsh Shastri, parliamentary secretary of the department of information technology, Delhi.
Kejriwal has cracked down on corruption in government departments and at the grassroots level. “In his first meeting with MLAs, Kejriwal made it clear that corruption will not be tolerated. And in his first cabinet meeting, he told officials that corruption will be dealt with severely,” says AAP leader Ashutosh. However, there has been a controversy over the Jan Lokpal Bill passed by the government. “A year on, a Lokpal is still not in place,” says retired bureaucrat Shailesh Gandhi.
There have been allegations of corruption and unlawful behaviour against MLAs and ministers. Adding to the AAP’s woes, Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken released the findings of a sting operation, claiming that it showed that Environment Minister Imran Hussain had demanded bribe for regularising illegal construction.
The AAP has also been criticised for making promises that it is now finding difficult to fulfil. “The AAP got an unprecedented, fantastic mandate. But they promised too much. One always needs to read the fine print,” says BJP leader Shazia Ilmi, who was earlier with the AAP.
One such promise is that of free Wi-Fi, for which Delhiites continue to wait. The government, however, says the first phase of the project will be launched by July and that the entire city will be covered within three years. “It was never announced that it would be done, say, within six months of the AAP coming to power,” says Shastri. The AAP government also drew flak for first announcing that there would be no increase in value added tax and then hiking it for petrol and diesel. It has been under attack for its publicity budget of Rs 526 crore as well.
There has been a continuous turf war between Kejriwal and Lt Governor Najeeb Jung. They have clashed on various issues, including appointment and transfer of officers as well as movement of files. There have also been regular altercations between Kejriwal and the Delhi Police, which comes under the Union home ministry.
AAP leaders say the Centre, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, creates roadblocks for the Delhi government. It is alleged that Modi is trying to micro-manage Delhi and a senior officer in the PMO keeps calling up bureaucrats. “The Modi government is trying to instil disaffection in the bureaucracy,” says Ashutosh.
Kejriwal's critics, however, say his government has been spoiling for a fight. “Every step has been characterised by immaturity, ignorance and lack of intention. They have been busy fighting with different agencies,” says Congress leader Sharmistha Mukherjee. Former Delhi chief secretary Shailaja Chandra says the AAP government prefers to take advice from outsiders and when bureaucrats express another point of view, they are threatened with suspension, removal or transfer. “The bureaucracy works on the basis of established systems, processes and precedents. There is a definite style and a time-honoured approach in getting the best support from bureaucrats,” says Chandra.
AAP leaders say the Centre wants to discredit the party. One of them says Modi has displayed personal animosity towards Kejriwal. “For example, in functions where both of them are present, Modi does not reciprocate to the chief minister,” says an AAP leader. Kejriwal met Modi twice after becoming chief minister, taking up the issue of the Centre's interference in the affairs of the Delhi government. “He did not get a reply. Modi simply said he knew about it and that he thought the chief minister would have something different to say,” he says.
As the tussle continues, Kejriwal has emerged as Modi’s biggest challenger. “Surveys have shown that he is the most popular chief minister. And Modi looks at him as a challenge,” says Ashutosh. Ilmi says Kejriwal is in competition with the prime minister. “The prime minister never mentions him. But he always mentions the prime minister,” she says.
Kejriwal’s evolution as a political leader has seen him joining hands with regional leaders such as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. He has taken up every issue of national importance, trying to spread the AAP's wings across the country and repeat the Delhi miracle, especially in poll-bound Punjab.
Kejriwal’s opponents grudgingly acknowledge his political shrewdness. When the CBI raided the office of his principal secretary, he turned it into a raid on his own office and then lost no time in shifting the focus on to the scam in the Delhi and District Cricket Association, turning the tables on the Centre and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Shakuntala Gamlin’s appointment as acting chief secretary was only an interim change of guard, but Kejriwal successfully projected it as a case of the Centre not allowing him even to choose his own officers.
Shortly after its government took charge, the AAP ousted founding members Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. Leaders from other states also quit, and Kejriwal was accused of running the party in a dictatorial manner. Says Gandhi, “Now, AAP is Kejriwal and Kejriwal is AAP.” However, Kejriwal’s supporters say had he been dictatorial, the extremely outspoken Pankaj Pushkar would not have continued as a party legislator.
So far, the AAP seems to have played its cards well, tackling the challenge from the Centre and managing some innovative governance measures. It has been smart, but it has to watch against losing its idealism.
PROMISES KEPT <br> * 50 per cent subsidy on monthly power consumption <br> * 20,000 litres of free water per month per household <br> * 106 per cent increase in budget for education <br> * 45 per cent increase in budget for health care <br> * Setting up of local clinics <br> * Helpline to tackle corruption <br> * Scheme for free medicines <br> * Local budgeting
WAIT CONTINUES <br> * Free Wi-Fi <br> * Swaraj Bill <br> * CAG audit of electricity distribution companies <br> * 20 degree colleges <br> * CCTVs in buses and public areas <br> * Induction of more buses <br> * 9.2 lakh public toilets <br> * No increase in VAT