What Arvind Kejriwal's First Year In Office Looks Like

by Swarajya Staff - Feb 19, 2016 09:59 PM +05:30 IST
What Arvind Kejriwal's First Year In Office Looks Like

Kejriwal’s first year as Chief Minister of Delhi has been marred by much political mudslinging at the cost of governance.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who completes one year in office on 14 February this year – incidentally, also the anniversary of his stunning resignation in 2014 – has had a turbulent tenure. The enduring memory of his reign is the clash between the Delhi government and the Centre, as attested by the perpetual clashes with Lt Governor Najeeb Jung and the Delhi Police. On occasions, he has not hesitated to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.

With an idyllic start to his second innings (67 of 70 seats), Kejriwal began to implement his populist promises, such as 50 per cent subsidy on power bills for households consuming up to 400 units per month and free water for those consuming up to 20000 litres per month. Later, patients were given free medicines in government hospitals.

These measures attracted the lower middle classes and residents of resettlement colonies to his side and helped him overcome the potentially destabilising conflict with founder members Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. Emboldened, Kejriwal was soon clipping the wings of dominant AAP leaders to maintain complete control over the party. He then took on the Central Government and the Lt Governor demanding full statehood for Delhi, though he knew full well that this was impossible as the Central government cannot be a tenant of the state government. He continued sniping at the Lt Governor on various issues and questioned the Centre on issues like the Land Acquisition Bill.

There was a famous spat with Najeeb Jung over the appointment of an acting Chief Secretary where he tried to convey the impression that the Lt Governor was working in cahoots with the Centre to destabilise the AAP government. Prime time television was soon absorbed in dramas over the appointment of the Chief Secretary, chief of the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) and others.

The Delhi Police were soon drawn into the spat between the Centre and the state, with Kejriwal at loggerheads with the Union Home Ministry over the Delhi Police. Recently, he publicly proclaimed that the latter was trying to hound his MLAs by digging up old cases. This took an ugly turn when it became a direct clash between Delhi Police Commissioner Bhim Sen Bassi and Arvind Kejriwal after the AAP chief ordered a probe by the ACB against Bassi. Now, the spectre of a new confrontation hovers on the horizon as Bassi retires at the end of the month and a new Police Chief is appointed by the Centre.

In an interview to The Times of India (11 February 2016), Kejriwal said, “the lower level police staff is very happy with us. We announced a Rs 1 crore compensation for police personnel (who died in the line of duty).” During his first tenure, he announced this gigantic compensation to a policeman who died, and in January 2014, a few days before Republic Day, he urged people to assemble at Rajpath and incited the police to remove their uniform and join him. Squatting near the Rail Bhavan, he taunted the Union Home Minister saying, “we will decide where you will sit.” Was he preparing for an uprising against the elected government, as has happened in some countries, or did he just want to test his power to rouse the mob?

The dharna politics model suits the AAP leader as a means of diverting attention from the failures of the government. Recall how in its 49 day avatar the AAP government had filed an FIR against Reliance Industries (RIL) chairperson Mukesh Ambani, former Union Petroleum Ministers M Veerappa Moily and Murli Deora and former DG Hydrocarbons, for an alleged scam in the KG-D6 Basin, which cannot by any stretch of imagination be regarded as within the territorial jurisdiction of the Delhi Government. He resigned a few days later, ostensibly on the issue of the Lokpal. The KG-D6 is currently in the news over gas pricing and extraction, but the matter lies outside the purview of the Delhi government.

In Kejriwal’s second avatar, there has been talk of free Wi-Fi, more schools and hospitals, and a CAG audit of power distribution companies. But now, suddenly, a Delhi government owned news channel attempts to regulate non-aided private schools, car free day and odd-even type of awkward ideas.

Matters have worsened after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the Delhi Secretariat to conduct a raid at the office of Arvind Kejriwal’s principal secretary Rajendra Kumar. The move sent the AAP into a tizzy. Directly accusing the Prime Minister of using the CBI to intimidate him, Arvind Kejriwal defied all norms of civility in public discourse, calling the Prime Minister a “coward” and a “psychopath”.

Throughout the day, the AAP kept alleging that the CBI was sent to look into the files of the Chief Minister. Later, in the evening, it dropped its bombshell allegation that the CBI was looking for files pertaining to massive corruption charges against Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during his tenure in the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA).

Ultimately, Arun Jaitley filed defamation charges against Kejriwal and other AAP leaders. Public discourse was further degraded when senior advocate Gopal Subramanian, asked by the AAP government to head a probe panel on the alleged DDCA scam, shot off a letter to National Security Adviser Ajit Doval calling for officers from the IB, CBI and Delhi Police to assist the probe. When the alleged scam could be exposed by analysing account books, there was no merit in asking for IB assistance or even sending such a letter to the NSA!

Come December 2015 and the sharp rise in pollution in the national capital owing to large scale paddy residue burning in Punjab and Haryana, the Delhi government announced an odd-even car scheme starting 1 January 2016 for a 15-day trial period. The scheme was criticised by many as making no substantial difference to pollution levels.

Most commentators overlooked the fact that commuters who routinely relied upon taxis and three-wheelers suffered the most, while car owners descended upon their chosen modes of travel. After enduring a 15-day nightmare, it was sincerely hoped that the scheme would never again see the light of day. But with Kejriwal announcing the next set of dates (15-30 April 2016) and announcing that the scheme would recur frequently, it is almost a given that a significant section of Delhi will buy second cars to beat the odd-even trap.

Indeed, this would be a professional imperative for professionals like doctors, lawyers, journalists etc who need to travel to different venues, often unplanned, at any time of day. The second odd-even is set to be an even more frightening fiasco since the so-called ‘success’ of the January scheme was partly due to schools being shut. Parents who pick up children from school will now be the first to hunt for second cars.

Had the Delhi government been serious about curbing pollution in the National Capital, it would work on efficient schemes to tackle road dust and industrial pollution on priority basis. Besides road sweeping and vacuuming machines, this requires concerted efforts including planting grass, herbs and bushes at pavements, road dividers, and curbing industrial units in the city. Stringent measures must be taken against units defying pollution norms, including action against the institutionalised corruption that allowed such units to continue operating. Finally, adding thousands of new buses and three-wheelers to the city traffic will only make vehicular pollution worse and add to traffic snarls.

However, hoping to fly on the strength of an effective propaganda machine, the AAP regime has announced plans to start a Delhi government owned news channel for the State Assembly. This may seem like a regular channel broadcasting assembly proceedings, but there is much more to it. It would highlight the success of the Delhi government’s plans and policies, hold regular debates on socio-political and socio-economic issues and become a propaganda tool for the government. As this militates against the guidelines of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on independent news media, the proposal cannot be cleared by the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry. And that, of course, gives Kejriwal a perfect opportunity to target the Prime Minister once again!

Instead of helping the municipal corporations function efficiently, there was a needless controversy over clearing dues which led to a prolonged strike by municipal health and sanitation workers over non-payment of salaries. Blissfully unconcerned, Kejriwal suavely announced a loan to the corporations!

There were many short-lived charges of corruption against Kejriwal in this first year, ranging from a ‘sugar scam’ to an ‘auto-rickshaw permit scam’ and an ‘onion scam’. That these quickly faded away can only be attributed to an inept opposition.

On his part, Kejriwal has left no stone unturned in his campaign against the BJP and especially Prime Minister Modi, even joining the orchestrated ‘Intolerant India’ campaign by old Congress loyalists.

And given his handsome majority, Kejriwal is entrenched till 2020 and has meanwhile set his sights on Punjab. Only time will reveal the destiny of his brand of politics in a post-Congress India.

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