I begin with a disclosure that I voted for the Aam Admi Party (AAP) after being disgusted and dejected by the present class of politicians and their politicking. My expectation from the AAP victory was just that it would, at the very least, shock Indian politics into some much needed realism and sense. A corruption-free society, I understand will take time. However, the AAP modus operandi has left me a more than a tad worried.
One of the first decisions of the AAP was ex-gratia payment of Rs.1 crore to a Delhi Police constable killed during a raid on the local liquor mafia. The act was commendable, providing a healing touch not only for the grieving family of the constable but also for the entire Delhi Police force.
However, the AAP chief minister’s compassion has also put into shade the relief package the government has laid down for those killed on the country’s borders or fighting Maoists. Would a similar gesture be forthcoming for the paramilitary personnel from Delhi? Given its proclivity, the AAP should be able to understand the importance of equity and discretion in governance, probably more than any other political party. Discretionary powers, when used, must adhere to existing norms and when they do not, they must either redefine the norms or qualify the circumstances as being of exceptional nature.
Let’s look at the AAP Janata Durbar. After its chaotic conduct, there has been talk of the inexperience of the AAP, about how other parties have been conducting such meetings much before and more efficiently than the AAP. I feel these are non-issues. What is of concern is that it comes from a party that professes to decentralise decision-making and bring about a paradigm shift in local governance.
What is the chief minister doing by taking a durbar in first fortnight of his government? Why were people initially not asked to approach the local AAP legislators and party representatives, who would then send serious and urgent cases to the chief minister and deal with the balance at the district level?
Why has a party that has just read the riot act to the bureaucracy and local administration not evaluated the impact of its missive by asking the people to approach the same administration afresh with their grievances, at least for the minor and not so urgent ones? Why are the departmental and administrative grievance channels being rendered defunct (as opposed to being revived) and a parallel and informal system managed by the AAP being put in place?
Promoting this form/style of governance will create a culture that will encourage defunct non-functional redressal systems and more disturbingly, require a continuous supply of aggrieved. The head of a department or a government should address grievances which the governance system has failed or is not designed to address; and of course those of urgent nature which the system processes but will not handle with urgency required.
Next, take the case of Delhi’s auto drivers. Understandably, they have some grievances. Their union was first off the blocks in encashing their IOUs with the AAP (they carried AAP posters on their autos in the run-up to the elections) and demanded designated auto stands and relief from police harassment. The AAP government is reportedly considering some corrective action, including preventing police from challaning them for certain offences.
So be it, but we did not hear a word from the auto unions, the government and the AAP functionaries that the auto drivers will wear uniforms, display their licence and identification, install a GPS system, regularly get their meters inspected, charge by the meter, keep their autos roadworthy – including the headlight and the indicators and, most importantly, not decline to carry any passenger. Some of these were measures that the previous government was trying to enforce after the public outcry – in which the AAP was very active – post the Nirbhaya incident over a year ago.
There appears to be some confusion among AAP functionaries over a mandate and manifesto. A manifesto contains poll promises which the party once voted to power shall strive to fulfill. However, the public mandate does not make these poll promises the law of the land; promises still have to pass legal scrutiny. Also, when an elected representative strives to fulfil his poll promises, his methodology is open to questions by the public at large irrespective of whether they voted for the party or not.
A political mandate and a party’s name does not make it the sole guardian of the interest of the common man. It was disturbing to see an AAP representative on a TV show, when intensely queried about his party’s methods, retort that if you question the ways of the AAP, you are against the wishes of the common man.
One could also ask what message has been sent by the AAP government by attempting to set aside penalties and outstanding electricity dues of all those who had taken part in its civil disobedience movement against the power companies. What does this say to the AAP supporters who chose to follow the law and pay the bills? A party that peddles the idea that rules that are perceived as discriminatory can be flouted is placing society on a slippery slope.
Monday’s developments leading to the protests before the union ministries have been even more disturbing. Delhi’s law minster in his speech to the protestors suggested that the opponents of the AAP will face violence from AAP supporters. The chief minister went a step ahead and called upon his government employees to leave their place of duty and join the stir. Even worse, he made the same suggestion to the personnel of Delhi Police.
AAP supporters use two arguments to support their inadequacies and contradictions — paucity of time and inexperience. They are both incorrect. AAP is setting its own pace for its decisions. First it was the need to create public pressure on the Congress party to ensure the AAP government wins the vote of confidence, subsequently it is the need to put in a good performance prior to the Lok Sabha elections.
As regards their inexperience – it appears to be more of a case of lack of confidence and respect for institutions: Take the case of the AAP law minster. If there was an illegal activity going on in his constituency (reportedly for months), as the local representative, he should have walked into the police deputy commissioner’s office and asked him for his plan and timeframe for tackling the issue rather than leading a posse to the scene himself.
Lastly, the AAP has received our votes to change a governing system that has been bent and twisted by corruption. We hope AAP would straighten it and not bend it in some other direction.
(21.01.2014 – Monish Gulati is a research fellow with the Society for Policy Studies. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)