Delhi Elected an Immature AAP 3 Yrs Ago, Now it’s Paying the Price
“This is scary,” Kejriwal had said after Delhi voted him back to power. AAP’s lack of experience was scary indeed.
A perennial question for political analysts and observers is how to assess the mid-term popularity of an elected government. Without over simplifying, let us identify three or four broad categories:
- What kept the government in the news?
- What was the focus of government propaganda?
- What is the off the record record buzz among the media about the important men and women of the government and the party?
Just when most pundits had written him as a non starter, after the appalling naïveté he exhibited in his 49-day stint in power in 2014, Arvind Kejriwal bounced back to power in 2015, winning 67 of 70 seats and securing 54.3 percent votes, surprising his admirers and critics in equal measure. When he reached the Gole Market office of the AAP to meet jubilant workers, he said, “this is scary”.
Those of us who have worked in the government in Delhi were even more scared for the National Capital. How could the voter give this mammoth mandate to a team so clearly wet behind the ears?
We were to get our answers in the subsequent months.
Kejriwal’s Penchant for Manufacturing ‘Villains’
For most of his tenure as Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal stayed in the news for his confrontations – both with leaders within his own party and with the Center. Within the Aam Aadmi Party, there were several avoidable ego clashes with Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Kapil Mishra, Kumar Vishwas. Intra-party squabbles are not of major concern to the voter, but the AAP’s confrontation with the Centre is what the voter of Delhi is paying a heavy price for.
There are two ways to ensure that you emerge a hero in any situation – one is by actually carrying out heroic deeds, and the other is by creating a villain, be it real or mythical. Arvind Kejriwal chose the latter. He entered into politics by making a villain out of the Congress government in Delhi. Autorickshaws bore posters featuring photographs of Sheila Dikshit, embossed with allegations about her time in power. His wild allegations against her, fuelled by sensational rumours, kept him afloat in the news cycle during 2012-13. Having won the elections, he continued with the same strategy. Just that he changed his 'villains', choosing to lock horns with Arun Jaitley over the DDCA case – an issue that is irrelevant to the citizens of Delhi.
Delhi Government Does Not Have Full Power
Government is not exactly the place for the highly ambitious. With just seven Lok Sabha and three Rajya Sabha seats, the Delhi government is certainly not.
The traditional culture of political patronage does not work in Delhi, what with the municipalities and the police being left out of its ambit. The MCD and the NDMC run independent empires and it requires deft handling on the part of the elected government to get them to work. In fact, Delhi is not even a full state. And as the Balakrishnan Committee – on the recommendations of which the Government of National Capital (GNCT) Delhi owes its existence – sagely said that the Delhi government cannot be given full powers as it can paralyse the central government.
Chief Ministers know what their powers are under Article 239AA, Delhi NCT Act. They are also aware what the Transaction of Business Rules say about distribution of powers between the elected government of Delhi and the Centre.
So if Arvind Kejriwal decides to selectively send the file on the MLAs’ pay hike to the LG, but raises a storm if he is asked to send the file on circle rates for agriculture land, for mandatory clearance from the centre, there is more than what meets the eye.
Deliberate collision to grab eyeballs has been Kejriwal’s topmost priority. The Joint Cadre Authority in the Ministry of Home Affairs is a body represented by all states by their Chief Secretaries. The Delhi government refused to send its CS for the meetings of the JCA, seeking to send the Deputy CM instead. The Ministry of Home Affairs raised objections to this as it would have set a wrong precedent of getting politicians on board. Rearing for confrontation, Kejriwal cried wolf, claiming his voice was not being heard in the JCA.
Kejriwal Undid 15 Years of Sheila Dikshit's Efforts
In her 15-year tenure as the Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit faced hostile LGs, and at times, an interventionist MHA. She would ignore protocol and personally meet Minister of State of UD to find solutions to the demolition drive, or she would approach the Water Resources department to demand Delhi’s share of water. Under one Home Minister, bureaucrats of the Ministry suddenly transferred her personal staff out of Delhi. She wrote to the minister and spoke to his officers, but the decision could not be reversed. She did not waste her time on battles that had no direct bearing on the people of Delhi and decided to make do with whatever officer was available.
On one occasion, after the LG refused to clear the file on circle rates, the matter went to the President. It was sorted out without either side resorting to theatrics. During the trifurcation of the MCD, Dikshit got a clause added to the amended Act, empowering the Delhi government to inspect the files and works of the MCD. The one occasion when Dikshit picked up a battle with the central government was on the removal of a top cop (then Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar) following the heinous 2012 Delhi gangrape.
The legal position for posting of officers in Delhi gives that power to the LG alone. However, the arrangement followed so far was that for posting of Super Time Scale officers, the file would go from the CM to the LG for approval and all other postings would happen at the level of the CM. By going to the court, Arvind Kejriwal ensured that the legal position is now followed in letter and spirit, thereby ceding the powers that Sheila Dikshit secured for the government.
Under the law, a non-cadre officer cannot be posted to a cadre post for more than three months. Arvind decided to appoint an engineer as the HoD in PWD and a revenue services officer as HoD in the Health department. Once the Court order was in place, the LG went ahead to implement revocation of those illegal orders.
Thanks to Kejriwal’s confrontational politics, the age-old arrangement of the CM and the LG posting super time scale officers in consultation with each other got an indecent burial.
And now, even posting of Delhi and Andaman & Nicobar Islands Civil Service (DANICS) officers is done by the LG, because technically speaking, service matters fall under the Union List (entry 70) and DANICS officers too are selected by the UPSC as Delhi does not have its own Public Service Commission. Where Sheila Dikshit was performing despite all odds and working to increase the powers of the GNCT, Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal has compromised even the existing powers of his own government.
An assured tenure is fundamental to the efficiency and accountability of a bureaucrat. Barring two officers imported by Arvind Kejriwal from the Revenue Services, the rest of the bureaucracy in Delhi finds itself playing the unenviable game of musical chairs – with a jarring background music.
Normally, the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories (AGMUT) cadre officers vie for a posting in Delhi. Today, they lobby to get posted out.
AAP Takes Credit For Reforms in Education & Health Sectors – But Ground Reality is Different
The propaganda of the AAP government shows great strides in educational reforms and the health sector. With a monstrous increase in publicity budget, Kejriwal tries his best to peddle such myths about his government. However, the reality is startlingly different.
In November 2017, Congress’ Ajay Maken brought out a report exposing the so-called education reforms of the AAP government. According to this well researched report, the enrolment of students in government schools has gone down by 98,000 students over the last two years. Simultaneously, enrolment in private schools has risen by 1.42 lakh students. Claims of doubling the budgetary allocation to the education sector fall flat when you see the annual lapse of unutilised funds every year. It rose from Rs 387.07 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 1,000.73 crore in 2015-16. In 2016-17, it was Rs 981.45 crore.
The much hyped Mohalla Clinics tell a different story. Besides the report of the vigilance department on the several scams in the name of three-tier health system, anecdotal evidence too point fingers at the efficiency of these health centres.
The under-equipped clinics have underpaid doctors, who receive commission per patient. As per the complaints received by the vigilance department, how can a doctor see 500 patients in four hours? There are serious allegations of doctors manipulating the number of patients in a bid to hike their bills. There have been several reports of adhocism in fixing the rent for these clinics on the premises of AAP leaders and sympathisers.
If Arvind Kejriwal’s politics are confrontational, his administrative response to problems is knee-jerk.
The Odd-Even scheme to counter pollution ran into rough weather with the NGT for its unplanned character.
The ongoing sealing drive is another example of how the confrontation with the MCD has only ended up paralysing governance – and the Aam Aadmi is paying the price.
The public transport sector is rapidly falling prey to neglect. Not one bus has been added to the dwindling fleet of the DTC, nor has any new flyovers been constructed. The AAP government has not yet released Delhi's share of funds for phase four of the metro, or even the Delhi-Meerut high-speed railway corridor. Both these projects are critical if the choked roads of the city are to be decongested. There's a severe shortage of funds – populist measures do not come free.
An important data point from the MCD elections in 2017 shows the mood of Delhi. AAP’s vote share plummeted to 26.21 percent, less than half of what it had secured just two years ago.
With a demoralised bureaucracy, a directionless political leadership armed with expansionist ambition and virtually no opposition in the Assembly, Delhi now realises that the capital’s ‘achche din’ are now a thing of the past.
(The writer is former political secretary to Sheila Dikshit, and is with the Congress party. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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