On Sunday, Arvind Kejriwal took oath as the Chief Minister of Delhi for the third consecutive time. Only Sheila Dixit has achieved this feat before in Delhi. While its 2013 performance as a political greenhorn was promising and its landslide victory in 2015 historic, it’s AAP’s 2020 victory which is arguably the most politically significant. For it has proven that 2015 was not just a flash in the pan, rather it represents something that has deeper political roots. The significance of winning more than half of the vote share and about 90 percent of the seats twice in a row simply cannot be wished away.
Initial analyses of the election results highlighted how the almost identical contrast between the results of the Parliament and Assembly elections in 2014-2015 and 2019-2020 indicates how Delhi has discerning voters who distinguish between these elections. However, Kejriwal’s strategic silence or ambivalence about divisive national issues like the CAA-NRC protests has split the opinion of political commentators. While some have appreciated AAP’s tactic of focusing on its governance record, others have argued that by not taking on the BJP on larger issues, it has forfeited the ideological battle.
Beyond these debates, it is important to examine the political import of these electoral results. Does AAP represent an alternative or new brand of politics? What is the relevance of such politics in other parts of India?
- Does AAP represent an alternative or new brand of politics? What is the relevance of such politics in other parts of India?
- If we look at the underlying dynamics driving AAP’s victory, a new form of politics driven by service delivery comes to the fore.
- The term “deliverology” was introduced by the Sir Michael Barber who headed the Government Delivery Unit in the UK Government under the Tony Blair administration in the early 2000s.
- AAP’s single-minded focus on “getting things done” seems to tide over all other ideological differences that otherwise dominate politics.
- It’s not easy for the politics of service delivery to go beyond municipal confines.
- A renewed form of welfare politics that is better implemented with more focus on universal public goods like education and healthcare can work at regional level.
AAP Politics Driven by Service Delivery
Kejriwal has constantly referred to AAP’s politics as “kaam ki rajneeti” or “the politics of work/performance”. In his speech at the Ramlila Maidan following swearing in, Kejriwal said “Delhi’s people have given birth to a new politics of work, schools, hospitals, free and 24-hour power and water supply, good roads, safety of women, and that of making an India of the 21st century.” While such superfluous statements by politicians should never be taken at face value, considering the Delhi government’s record and AAP’s election campaign, it’s hard to dismiss it merely as political rhetoric.
If we look at the underlying dynamics driving AAP’s victory, a new form of politics driven by service delivery comes to the fore.
This may be called as the politics of “deliverology”- the ability of the state to effectively deliver services to its citizens. This is how politics ought to be contested and is hence not unique.
However, in the Indian pollical context, it does seem pathbreaking. At some level, this is not entirely a new form of politics since other state governments that have overcome anti-incumbency have also banked on their record on service delivery. However, in those states the electoral victories have been less comprehensive and service delivery was mostly just one component of the victory.
What is ‘Deliverology’?
The term “deliverology” was introduced by the Sir Michael Barber who headed the Government Delivery Unit in the UK Government under the Tony Blair administration in the early 2000s. It is essentially a public management idea that has been described as “the art and science of successfully executing the campaign promises and important goals of an administration.” The UK Government under Blair’s was a fertile ground for trying this idea since it adopted a centrist or “third way” politics that went beyond the conventional ideological spectrum. Barber has also helped various other leaders including Justin Trudeau in Canada introduce the idea of deliverology in their governments.
While the Delhi Government does not have a similar Delivery Unit or directly invoke the principles of deliverology, the focus of the AAP government as well the party in the election campaign was on service delivery- the traditional Bijli, Sadak, Pani, joined in by Shiskha and Swaasthya (Electricity, Roads, Water, Education, Health).
AAP’s politics of service delivery is best captured in its unique “home delivery” model of governance whereby a set of 70 different services- ranging from issuing birth certificates to providing water connections- are provided through a network of Sahayaks under its Doorstop Delivery of Public Services scheme.
A single-minded focus on “getting things done” seems to tide over all other ideological differences that otherwise dominate politics.
Limits of the Service Delivery Model
What is the scope and limitations of such post-ideological service delivery politics? Globally, the politics of service delivery seems to work most effectively for city governments. Teddy Kollek, the legendary Mayor of Jerusalem, is quoted to have told quarrelling religious leaders “Gentlemen, spare me your sermons and I will fix your sewers.” Kollek served as the Mayor of world’s most religiously contested city for 28 years. Avoiding sermons and focusing on sewers also captures the non-ideological service delivery-driven politics that AAP embodies.
The success of such a pragmatic form of politics also defines its limits.
It’s not easy for the politics of service delivery to go beyond municipal confines.
However, it would also be a mistake to undermine AAP’s victory in Delhi by viewing it merely as a municipal election. In fact, AAP performed poorly in Delhi’s municipal elections in 2017. This indicates that the dynamics driving municipal elections are somewhat different from service delivery politics. While globally most of the key civic services are delivered by the municipal government, in Indian cities much of these are still under state government-control. Hence, the politics of deliverology is most amenable to be played out at the state-level.
Why Performance Based Politics Needs to Travel Beyond Delhi
Pragmatic performance-based politics is, hence, something regional politics should give more attention to. While the absence of strong caste-based cleavages in Delhi might have allowed AAP to run the entire campaign on deliverology, it would be wrong to assume that such an approach will not work in other states since we do not have enough examples of success or failure.
For it to travel beyond a city-state like Delhi, a modified version of such politics that’s also grounded in the concerns of rural India and has a stronger ideological core might be needed. This may be a renewed form of welfare politics that is better implemented with more focus on universal public goods like education and healthcare. The unprecedented success of AAP has shown that Indian politics can still throw up new modes of political engagement.
(Mathew Idiculla is a lawyer, researcher and writer based in Bengaluru and a consultant with the Centre for Law and Policy Research. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)