governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

Kejriwal’s Governance Debut

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Kejriwal combines Gandhian social skills with canny street fighting ability, backed by a solid record of social activism. In today’s Delhi, this is an unbeatable combination. If we followed a Presidential system, Kejriwal could well have been the Chief Minister of Delhi, instead of having to get into the muck of party politics.

However, India follows the parliamentary democracy model, in which the party vote share matters. Delhi is near equally split between BJP, AAP and Congress in terms of party vote share. This illustrates that Kejriwal is taller than his party, as is the case with Modi. Both candidates would do better than their parties, as Presidential candidates.

What this calls for is some clear thinking from Kejriwal. His supporters have rallied around his plank of a corruption-free government. No one takes his electoral promises of free water and cheap electricity seriously. What everyone is enamored by, is his Gandhian rectitude and sense of propriety. His supporters want to believe that it is still possible, six decades on since 1947, for an honest man to set government right. Modi’s supporters have a similar belief, despite his rough edges, based on his performance in Gujarat. Kejriwal has a huge advantage over Modi. He evokes no antipathy, unlike Modi and has demonstrated this by drawing support across caste, class and religion. He embodies the urban aspirations of modern India.

Kejriwal should not buy into the bogey propounded by his supporters that they cannot “morally” accept support from a “tainted” BJP or Congress. The AAP is not a revolutionary movement. It has sworn to work within the constitution. Our constitution provides for multi-party rule. Parties with a national presence and recognized by the Election Commission, can hardly be termed “tainted”. Leaders may be tainted but a political party cannot. The BJP and the Congress, combined, have more than two thirds of the vote share in Delhi. More than 6 out of 10 voters in Delhi support the “traditional parties”; BJP and Congress. Kejriwal needs to recognize this and work to win over these votes through his performance in government.

Kejriwal must not fall into the social revolutionary’s trap of the zero-sum game. All or nothing is not envisaged in the Indian Constitution and in fact is never a desirable social outcome. This desire for an over whelming mandate is similar to what Presidents of Banana Republics seek. Such mandates often become the root of the social evils of fascism and perpetuate the politics of exclusion of minorities. Neither of these are objectives of the AAP.

Finally a government is known more by its deeds than its composition. UPA 1 was a broader and more unstable coalition, but achieved much more than UPA 2. An AAP government formed with outside Congress support completely insulates the AAP from “external” influence in the day-to day management of the government. A majority is necessary in the Assembly only for new legislation and getting the budget approved.

What is far more important, than new legislation is the efficient day-to-day functioning of the government. The Delhi government is in fact only a glorified Municipal Government. Getting road projects completed, drains built and cleaned, preserving the green areas, improving water and sanitation, education, health and transport facilities is its remit. The AAPs manifesto sought to democratize governance though the wide participation of stakeholders. None of these need a majority in the assembly. Just giving the face of government a new “inclusive” feel and implementing the available instruments of direct democracy, can be a long term, game changing achievement. Delhi Government has never been known for simple living and high thinking. Time to start now.

Political parties need supporters, even in babudom, to be effective. Our babudom is not and has never been an apolitical Weberian artifice. The “golden age” of apolitical babudom, oft cited during the Nehruvian period, dominated by the Congress, never gave babus an option to align with someone else. Both the Congress and the BJP have years of administrative experience. More importantly, they have sympathetic babus. Unless AAP chooses to rule, Kejriwal’s colleagues will never get the experience of hands-on governance nor will they develop a sympathetic cadre of babus to support them. Time to get real.

Kejriwal cannot be daunted by the potential failure of a minority government after having stared “reality” in the face time and again and created his own reality. He is the “Lawrence” of India, for whom nothing is written and who determines his own destiny.

Kejriwal must not be lulled into the reassuring drone of political logisticians, who peddle their own tired theories of how to succeed in politics. Otherwise, the topi he wears, will start to resemble the one worn by the Congress and the BJP.

 

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