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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.

 

Arvind Kejriwal: Disruptive Innovator

 

Disruptive innovation (DI) is a force multiplier in business and technology. Value creation is all about getting there ahead of the competition. DI annihilates the competition, not by doing the same things better but by doing them differently, thereby changing the rules of the game. The recent greats in this line of business are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

The Mahatma and more recently Kejriwal, are our home grown disruptive innovators in the business of politics. Kejriwal’s tactics are uncannily Gandhian. Ram Guha would be well advised to jeep a close eye on him. A squeaky clean record based on public service; deft management of a mass outreach campaign and tactical choice of public interest issues. Whilst the two “big bulls” -BJP and Congress, are going hammer and tongs knocking each other out, Kejriwal is coasting to what is being rated as an outstanding electoral debut in Delhi. Erstwhile Aam Admis and Aurats who deserted him along the way, must be eating their hearts out and cursing their lack of political foresight.   

Of course Delhi is different and it is questionable whether Kejriwal’s tactics can be scaled up nationally. Still there are solid reasons why they could.

First, he is the only person in living memory who has stood up to Arnab Goswami’s harangue and given as good as he got. Last week Kejriwal cannily got onto a one-on-one “hard talk” with Goswami. When the time came for answering what the “nation” wanted to know, Arnab found only Kejriwal (as opposed to the usual circus of views to choose from) smiling sweetly at him, from behind his spectacles and pleading in an attractive, thin voice (similar to the Mahatmas) to please give him a chance to answer. Result knock out win for Kejriwal.

 

 

Second, Kejriwal is a babu with two decades of rich babu experience under his belt, and an additional decade now as a social activist, not a dyed-in-the-wool, clueless, “do-gooder”, like Anna. This makes him practical, administratively astute and flexible enough to be compatible with politics.

Third, there is a vacuum out there for sucking up the votes (young and old) fed up with poor governance and joblessness. Unfortunately, this vacuum exists primarily in urban areas and largely amongst the middle class who want to work their way upwards. This is quite different from the poor and marginalized in rural areas who are still acquiring the “escape velocity” to be sufficiently aspirational enough to demand opportunities for self-betterment. They are  yet to get beyond electoral gifts, like the NREGA and cheap food. Nevertheless, even the urban middle class accounts for around 120 million votes and (15% of the national vote). The key of course would be to leverage votes into seats through strategic alliances.

Kejriwal is likely to use Delhi as the testing ground for his brand before scaling up in 2014. He will also have to chart out whom of the two “bulls” he should support to form a government. One hopes he will not repeat the “historic blunder” of the CPI(M) in 1996 when it made itself irrelevant, by choosing not to lead the United Front national government. In the business of politics, when you get a chance, you have to play. It is only by playing that one chooses ones destiny. If Kejriwal chooses to “play”, as he must, he will have to keep his “young” flock of elected members in the incorruptible Gandhian mould, they are in today. Not an easy task, in the enticing “gallis” of Delhi.

He will need strong local collaborators in the states. The Kejriwal political machine may consequently look more like the Congress did prior to 1939; a coalition of regional forces and strong local leaders with a common brand identity. Of course there needs to be a good business reason for such political franchisees to hang together. Usually it is the future expectations from the brand value that keeps the flock together. The Kejriwal brand still has to be built.

The tool of self-denial (fasting) is passé. Irom Charu Sharmilla (Manipur) was on fast for almost two years against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, but to no avail. More embarrassing was Chandrababu Naidu’s recent, short fast in Delhi and the subsequent desperate attempts by the faster to get someone to end the fast, so he could get on with life. Jagan Reddy’s competing short fast in Hyderabad got more press, but fasting as a political tool seems to have reached its expiry date.

Civil disobedience, Gandhi style, is incompatible with middle class aspirations. In any case the Indian State is so soft and yielding that beyond a short outburst of frustration (as in the Nirbhaya Rape case), continued agitation seems futile because the government looks even more helpless than the citizen. The favorite ploy of politicos and babus at parties, in plush Delhi homes, to which they are still invited, is invariably to play “victim” after the mandatory period spent listening to individual venom-spew or petitions, whilst usefully swiveling single malt all through.

Modi already occupies the “effective government” niche. Rahul is big on “religious inclusion and helping the poor”. This pushes Kejriwal into the boutique market for AAA concerns; urban jobs and livelihoods; succor from the land and slum mafia; social protection, especially for working women and children; targeted and speedy grievance redressal and the citizen’s need to have “reachable” leaders who live with the people they represent, whose families use the very same local facilities and who make a profession out of knowing their electorate.

Concrete steps in this direction would be AAP elected members to refuse government houses and the use of government cars and push instead for an allowance for all Delhi MPs and Ministers; once in power they keep the number of hangers-on, helpers and security at a minimal; expand outreach through social media and finally the adoption of a costed and feasible five year plan addressing no more than five key concerns of their boutique constituency. The “Bulls” pander to everyone and everything. Modi departed from this typically Congress strategy by not “appeasing Muslims” but got upped in the outreach war which projected it as exclusion, rather than even handedness. Kejriwal needs to focus his agenda for it to be credible.  

Start-ups with rapidly expanding “top lines” face the temptation of selling-out to global players. The AAP will likely be offered the same opportunities, if it is not already being wooed. Gandhi was pragmatic in taking what comfort came his way but steadfast in his objectives. Kejriwal needs to measure up to high standards. If he manages to do so it would probably be a first for a babu. We wait and watch. 

Enter Rahul the Rudder

There is an ill wind blowing in India which is sweeping away established institutional norms. This is a pity because the Indian political architecture is a copy of the UK system which has no constitution to guide it and works solely on the basis of conventions. Take the convention of sanctity of cabinet decisions or for that matter the broader issue of sanctity of agreement/contract. In the context of the criminal bachao ordinance neither means much. A cabinet decision is being overruled by someone outside the cabinet, albeit in public interest. An agreement between the UPA allies is being broken unilaterally. On the face of it, this is actually a very positive “jhadu” (broom) sweeping the denizens of Lutyens Delhi. Cabinet decisions and agreements, which are against public interest, clearly need to be reconsidered. So who are we aam admis and aurats to complain when this happens? And why?

The devil as usual is in the detail. Had the PM, or any member of the cabinet, done a group rethink and then moved to withdraw the criminal bachao ordinance on their own, we would all have applauded them. Now that they are doing so under the duress of Rahul illustrates two points. First Rahul should be a part of the cabinet if his personal opinion aired publicly is more important than the collective wisdom and integrity of the cabinet. Second, a cabinet which is led by the nose from outside and meekly abides by the decisions of external actors is no cabinet at all. Today the rethink is in public interest. Tomorrow it could be against the public interest. Who shall the national hold responsible for decision making? A puppet cabinet reduces us to the level of a banana republic not an emerging super power.

The Congress party is clearly going through tough times reconciling the sophisticated shadow play between power and position, devised by Mrs. Gandhi on the one hand and on the other the strengthening voice of the party’s natural heir: Rahul Gandhi. Shashi Tharoor, recently reverted to being a writer, rather than a politician, on a TV show when he admitted that the Congress has a special place for the Gandhi’s, no secret to anybody, and anyone who was uncomfortable with that bottom line should either leave or not join the Congress. Frank and forthright as he used to be, perhaps emboldened by Rahul’s “coming out” on the criminal bachao ordinance.

Who are we to quibble about how to manage the Congress party? Or any other party for that matter? The only problem is that we are not talking of Congress party here. The issue before the cabinet of the government is the oath sworn by any Minister in the Government of India. See the oath below

“….I will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favor, affection or ill-will

If the cabinet acted in accordance with the oath in the first instance, when it decided to request the President to approve the ordinance, then it cannot now possibly convincingly argue that the withdrawal is also in the same spirit. Clearly public sentiment is against the ordinance and the President is unlikely to approve, it even if Rahul changes his mind. It is prudent therefore for the government to withdraw the ordinance. The question is what are the implications if it does so?

More significantly it is also clear that the entire cabinet has neglected to act “without fear or favor or affection” In fact it has blatantly acted in a partisan manner twice. Once by clearing the proposed ordinance it decided to protect the narrow interests of criminals in Parliament. Second by withdrawing the bill it acted not in exercise of its wisdom and in an impartial manner but at the behest of a non-statutory but clearly powerful entity. In bowing to the informal power of Rahul the entire cabinet is guilty of betraying the oath they took at the time of joining office.

The only honorable way out is for the entire cabinet to resign led by the PM and for the Congress and its UPA allies to reconstitute the government.

We are luckier than the US where they have a President but no government. We have an entire functioning government of babus working away at their tasks. Is it not time to give them Ministers they can trust and work with? It is difficult enough in government to attribute blame to anyone. The concept of effective sanctions to punish, but also to deter future transgressions, is missing in most governments. With an added shadow play of “informal” power the concept of sanctions disappears completely. More importantly if leaders in positions of authority are perceived to be powerless, “formal” governance systems freeze and its open season for tricksters, scamsters and much worse. This is clearly Rahul’s government. He must act now and take change formally. Dr Singh has already accepted that we would willingly work under Rahul since he is a professional without political ego. Sailing with the wind is pleasant and a good, environmentally friendly, principle but a sail boat needs a rudder steering it.   Image

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