Sunday, 14 February 2016

KEJRIWAL'S IMAGE MAKEOVER

KEJRIWAL'S IMAGE MAKEOVER

By Biswadip Mitra

February 14 --- yes it’s the Valentine’s Day. But there’s no love lost between Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung. Or for that matter, between Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and the Union government. And that’s the bitter reality which marks the one year of Kejriwal government which entered office on February 14, 2015.  But it’s just one part of the story. There are positives as well.

In the last one year Arvind Kejriwal has done what he is good at: to push the ‘system’ which is otherwise like a clogged drainpipe. Sometimes his tactic worked, at other times it didn’t despite publicity blitzkrieg. But he did try, to be fair, to nudge the government officials to take their job seriously and serve the people for which they have been employed in the first place.  


As he tried to make a difference, Chief Minister Kejriwal faced fierce opposition from the rival parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party. And it seemed that the Delhi lieutenant governor (read Centre) will not let the Kejriwal government breathe easy. At every step of the way, the two sides were at loggerheads --- they still are. Kejriwal voiced his concerns and utilised the perception of being wronged to the hilt, particularly after the CBI raid on Delhi Secretariat in December, 2015. He accused the prime minister of meddling into the affairs of Delhi government. However, the words Kejriwal used to describe the prime minister --- “coward” and “psychopath” --- didn’t go down well with many, including some AAP sympathisers. 

Away from that, the Kejriwal government has taken some populist decisions which seem to be working in its favour. The Delhi government has lowered the tariff of electricity; free water is being provided; and illegal settlements have been regularised. The mohalla clinics are all set to take off, which will offer affordable diagnostic treatment to the poor at doorstep. But more importantly, the Aam Aadmi Party government is working on a universal health insurance scheme, with a ceiling of Rs 3 lakh per person, for all Delhi residents. This will certainly benefit all those who cannot afford quality healthcare now.  

The Kejriwal government is also taking on the education system --- the management quota in private schools was scrapped. The entrenched interests in these schools did complain and the Delhi High Court ordered a stay on the AAP government circular. But one must appreciate that the Kejriwal government tried to clean up the system.  

This is the difference between the previous city governments and the Kejriwal administration --- the poor is in focus. Kejriwal definitely knows that his core constituency in Delhi will remain the poorer lot and if he can do his best to serve them, then the party’s vote bank shall be intact in the future. The more the poor get access to better healthcare and education, the more they will root for the Aam Aadmi Party. This is calculated politics no doubt, but if it helps the needy then one must appreciate the effort. 

However, the middle class too has not been kept out of the government’s ambit. The way the Delhi government implemented the odd-even scheme to curb air pollution showed that even the better off citizens are ready to cooperate with Kejriwal. It proved that the Aam Aadmi Party government, powered by the younger generation, is always keen to do the unconventional thing and engage citizens. A lot of credit goes to Delhi residents no doubt for making the scheme successful, but it also proved that Kejriwal’s appeal can transcend class and make people conscious about the urgency of a matter.  

The strike of MCD workers over non-payment of their salaries was a major issue. While Kejriwal offered a loan of over Rs 550 core to MCD to mitigate the problem, it seemed that the tussle between AAP-ruled Delhi government and BJP-ruled civic bodies held the city to ransom. It is in this regard Kejriwal has to be careful: he cannot be seen as someone who tries to gain political mileage out of rival’s ineptitude. Governance cannot suffer because of petty politicking. 

Beyond Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party is now eyeing the Punjab elections. It seems that AAP will be able to garner enough support of people who are tired with the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine. People are seeing hope in Kejriwal’s promise of a corruption-free Punjab which will be rid of the grotesque drug menace too. If Kejriwal has got the ‘system’ in Delhi to run a bit, then he perhaps can do it in Punjab as well. It’s a tough task, but if others have got chances then why not the maverick? 

So after one year in power, Kejriwal may feel good that there’s been a considerable image makeover --- he’s no longer considered “an anarchist” that his rivals wanted us to believe. He is focusing on governance and his ability to motivate people to support government schemes is commendable, no doubt. But Kejriwal must always remain wary of the corrupting influence of power. And he’s got the absolute power. He has to be careful on that count. Power has to be wielded judiciously, like a people’s leader. Not with the arrogance of a monarch. 

Kejriwal also needs to realise that his style of running the party needs to change a bit. He must accommodate diverse opinions. Democratically-elected Kejriwal has to understand that he cannot run an outfit just by sidelining dissenting voices. He didn’t spare Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Anand Kumar, but such dictatorial tendencies can harm the Aam Aadmi Party in the long run. If Kejriwal is sincere about intra-party democracy, then he must not muzzle opinions.