No Delhi Model, Just A Kejriwal Model, And It Is The Road To Bankruptcy

by R Jagannathan - Aug 10, 2022 10:36 AM +05:30 IST
No Delhi Model, Just A Kejriwal Model, And It Is The Road To BankruptcyDelhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Snapshot
  • If Kejriwal wants to use the same tricks that won him Delhi and Punjab to expand to nine new states, he will be pushing these states towards bankruptcy.

    Here’s why.

Arvind Kejriwal, the man thrown up by the anti-corruption movement and catapulted as Chief Minister of Delhi for want of better alternatives, is a man in a hurry. For someone whose party currently rules one urban half-state and another agricultural one, he seems to harbour dreams of making it to the top of the political totem pole, when he actually has nothing more than “freebies” to offer as his political USP. He now wants to expand to nine more states, and one can assume that he will use Delhi’s ample resources to propel his party.

Let us start with two things he is right about: one is his party’s intervention in the Supreme Court saying that the courts ought not to intervene in deciding which freebies can be distributed and to whom. Second, he has been right to focus on public schools in Delhi. This has been the Indian state’s abject failure, where state schools were ignored and private education encouraged till we reached the point where we shifted the burden of educating the poor to private schools.

But he is being too clever by half. He has, first, sought to define freebies as subsidies only on education and health, but these subsidies can be justified anywhere, since these are public goods, where society at large is benefited by having an educated and healthy population. What he has missed out is the emphasis on universal free water and electricity, without restricting them only to the poor, in Delhi. This is what he has promised in poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. These are non-merit subsidies, and can only lead to wastage of state resources. What is free will always be overused and wasted.

There is also another point worth making. While one can applaud the effort to invest in public schooling, one cannot but underline the point that what you can do in rich Delhi you cannot easily do in poorer states, unless you make a choice about shifting resources from bad freebies to good ones. But that will cost votes.

In Punjab, which is reeling under huge debts, his strategy is to offer free power when it is already the biggest beneficiary of agricultural subsidies. Power is a bad subsidy to offer without targeting. Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann has now launched a probe into the government’s massive debts. Clearly, he is looking for someone else to blame for his problems. Kejriwal has no solutions here.

If Kejriwal wants to use the same tricks that won him Delhi and Punjab to expand to nine new states, he will be pushing these states towards bankruptcy. Here’s why.

One, there is no replicable Delhi model, but there is a Kejriwal model which can sell snake oil using state resources. He wants us to believe that what can be done in Delhi can be done elsewhere. Delhi has huge tax resources, but its costs are much lower that other states as many of the bills are paid by the Union government. As the Comptroller and Auditor General noted in a recent report, Delhi is revenue surplus because the pension liabilities of its staff are borne by the Centre, and so is the policing cost.

Two, the Kejriwal model is to spend unlimited amounts on advertising himself, using resources from five Delhi corporations. According to an RTI reply, over the last decade, Delhi’s advertising expenses have mounted 4,200 per cent, to reach a massive Rs 489 crore in 2021-22. It is obvious that Kejriwal is using Delhi’s resources to expand his rule to other states. Most of his advertising is national, which means it is not about communicating just with his Delhi voters.

Three, the Kejriwal model is based on a shrewd understanding of media interest. Delhi is always the centre of coverage, and thus his initial win in Delhi enabled him to gain more national traction and coverage than stronger regional leaders in other states. He is now spending Delhi government’s wealth to make himself national. Delhi citizens should protest.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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