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View from Delhi: Will change overtake AAP?

January 15, 2014
File photo
File photo

Aam Admi Party (AAP) leader Mr Arvind Kejriwal has deservedly come in for praise. He worked hard to exploit the mood of the Indian public to garner support for his party. His efforts to expand his party’s base across the country continue vigorously. But it would be a grievous error for him and his senior party colleagues to conclude that they have success in the bag. Few people perhaps, including the leaders of AAP, seem to have appreciated what the success thus far of the new party signifies. It reflects the national mood for a strong desire for change. AAP has up till now exploited this mood to garner support. It has accomplished nothing till now to offer hope of real political reform. Indeed, some AAP decisions have created the opposite effect.

The populism generated by the party up till now could be a mere passing phase. Very soon people will tire of gimmicks and look for real change. Some of Mr Kejriwal’s decisions indicate change for the worse. The decision to conduct administration through forays into the street instead of from inside offices, romanticised by sections of the media, is downright silly. The invitation to the public to conduct sting operations in order to expose corruption is worse. It can lead to criminality, blackmail, entrapment and create a haunted atmosphere of insecurity in the public. Sting operations conducted by greenhorns instead of by experts are an invitation to disaster.

Mr Kejriwal’s most recent decision to hold a public hearing of complaints ended in chaos and farce. He said that arrangements broke down because instead of 500 expected, 5000 people turned up creating chaos. But if only 500 had come, what did Mr Kejriwal expect to accomplish in redressing grievances from a public platform in a period of one or two hours? One hopes the adulation earned through cheap populism has not intoxicated his judgment. The basic principles of good governance are being trashed by the approach he has adopted till now.

One would have thought that with his experience in bureaucracy Mr Kejriwal would have fine tuned the use of modern technology to enable accessible, quick and efficient redress of grievances. Mr Narendra Modi is right to have rubbished Mr Kejriwal’s public hearings of people’s grievances that violate all principles of good governance. In Gujarat, the Swagat system of receiving complaints, processing them, and then addressing them, as established by Mr Modi since 2003 should have provided a leaf to AAP leaders. Technology today allows easy access and quick disposal of grievances and complaints as never before. It would be a folly to ignore this and instead attempt a form of administration favoured by Haroun-al-Raschid, the eighth century Caliph immortalised in the 1001 Arabian Nights who in disguise made surprise checks of his subjects.

The truth is that both Mr Modi and Mr Kejriwal have displayed uncommon skill to win popular support and future votes. Although it is puzzling why neither aspirant has made the most obvious move to attract votes. The public would like to hear hard and direct allegations backed by facts against top UPA leaders for mega corruption scams. But both leaders have maintained a mystifying silence. The first to launch an attack on big ticket corruption would gain votes. The one who might follow would be perceived as a copycat. Nor has either leader offered concrete proposals to address the many burning problems facing the nation. Mr Modi has relied on his record of administration in Gujarat to win support. But Gujarat is not India. He has yet to outline policies to address problems that bedevil the nation. Mr Kejriwal has not gone beyond exploiting public disenchantment with the current lack of governance. To be fair, the experts who mentor both campaigns are presently concerned only with winning votes. Possibly they will open their cards on serious national policy issues at a later, more appropriate, time.

There is urgent need to formulate a policy for affirmative action to deliver social justice which does not splinter society. Even as this is being written, the Jats are on the warpath to get their own quota for jobs which will add one more caste to the over 3000 already listed in the OBC reservation list. There is need to formulate a policy on Kashmir that can defuse public resentment without compromising territorial integrity. There is need to formulate a policy to counter terrorism and stabilise relations with Pakistan . There is need to diplomatically curb Chinese aggression without endangering peace. There is need to accelerate economic growth without increasing disparities. There is need to curb corruption and expel it from our political system. There is need to review the working of our Constitution in order to remove the distortions that have crept into our democratic system. There is a host of problems that beset out nation. These need urgent and practical remedies.

In conclusion one would like to point out to the leaders of AAP that although they deserve high praise for their efforts up till now, they did not create change. Change was created by a new generation, the information revolution, and the stagnating political culture out of sync with youth. Mr Kejriwal did not produce change. Rather it was change that produced Mr Kejriwal. If Mr Kejriwal falls short on performance he will fall by the wayside. Others will emerge. The process of change will not stop. India’s political renaissance is unstoppable.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist. He blogs at www.rajinderpuri.wordpress.com

— By arrangement with The Statesman/ANN