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The Kejriwal Phenomenon – Part 1

29th December 2013 would be remembered as a history in the history of Delhi and Indian politics for at least two reasons. One is that a representative of AAM ADMI became the Chief Minister of Delhi and the second it is that AAP is going to be major threat only for Congress party and its fast shrinking voters base across the country but is also going to throw cold water on BJP’s plans to make Narendra Modi as India’s Next Prime minister.

The triumph of AAP in Delhi could be compared to. Lawrence of Arabia’s long march across the desert to assault on the port town of Aqaba. The Turks had expected an attack from British ships patrolling the waters of the Gulf to the west. But Lawrence decided to attack from the East. The Turks simply had not thought that their opponent could be crazy enough to come at them from the desert.

Arvind Kejriwal’s team had the audacity, endurance, individual intelligence and a clear vision and knowledge on the strength and weakness of both- BJP and Congress and what they achieved was spectacular. On the other hand both BJP and Congress party never thought that while the Congress would be decimated the BJP’s dream of coming back to power after a gap of 15 years would turn into a nightmare.

As it could be seen during the last 14 months, Narendra Modi had always concentrated on hitting the Congress where it hurt the most- the Gandhis and the Prime Minister and his every speech was laced with the hardest
jibes and jeers at them. Even in his Delhi speech, Modi did not even find AAP worthy of mention. But now, he has to take a closer and serious look at Kejriwal and his AAP because his
unquestioned charishma and aura has been snatched by AAP’s success in Delhi and the public reaction to it has established Kejriwal as the new hope of India. The people’s reaction at Ram Leela Maidan today bore ample testimony to that.

The most interesting part of the post- Delhi assembly polls is that those people who had started looking beyond congress and reconciled to the fact that Modi is the only option in the post-Congress era, have got a new hope in AAP. They have suspended their disbelief and have started thinking that if AAP could create a history in Delhi, it would do at national level too in near future.

Unlike Modi who has been hailed as a mass leader, a proven administrator, a master tactician and a great orator, and the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate and its only hope for 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Kejriwal has been seen as a rookie who became a giant killer overnight and who has started on a clean slate.

Narendra Modi’s past in spite of the clean chit he got recently, is his biggest weakness while Kejriwal’s past record as a relentless crusader, is now his biggest strength. Kejriwal has just started his innings and he can achieve a lot through his hard work and his pro-people agenda but Modi can not turn the clock back and he would have to live with the taint of 2002 riots.

Secondly, Modi has always swung into extremes in the realm of opinion and even today, he is not acceptable to a significant portion of the electorate. But Kejriwal is the darling of the middle class and even the down trodden because of earthy approach and statements , his agenda with his ideals, ideas, promises and symbolism. That is how the focus of a huge number of onlookers has suddenly shifted from Modi. People are now watching Kejriwal with great curiosity and expectations and even if he succeeds in delivering some of his promises and creates a difference, he would suddenly emerge as competition for Modi and his biggest poll planks which include Development and good governance.

The Congress leaders were invidious in their invective towards AAP which was mostly see in the remarks of their senior leaders but they could never imagine how smartly AAP had managed voters both at macro and micro level. They could never imagine that a grassroots party, not connected with a region, religion, caste or secessionist movement could challenge established party in the national capital. The BJP was equally smug in underestimating the power of “ Jhadoo” which could sweep away the popularity of Modi and put a big spoke in the dream of Dr Harshvardhan to become Chief Minister of Delhi. Neither of these national parties actually gauge the mood and rapidly changing political landscape of Delhi.

Now, both these parties have been forced to draw a few lesson from the sudden emergence of AAP. One take away from this phenomenon is that our social and political landscape is changing and a new large middle class is emerging with different values. As a senior commentator wrote” The present middle class had developed a long memory aided by internet. It had re-visit earlier developments and refresh its memory.

This segment, although diverse in its composition and space, is educated, prosperous, aware of the world and aspires high. It is socially responsible and progressive and it has low tolerance for corruption and incompetence”. It is precise those things that AAP has been espousing.

Secondly, it also reveals that while societal changes are irreversible, political parties can either resonate and lead or become increasingly irrelevant and whichever political party fulfills the needs of the new middle class would remain a potent political force in the coming years both at state and national levels.

This has put old and bigger political parties at odds with the emerging reality since Old school politicians have become prisoners of their own carefully cultivated image meant to exploit the traditional divisions among voters.

Third, the aversion and growing hatred of the new middle class has surprised our politicians because they did not expect their voters to change well-entrenched positions so quickly. AAP’s bold and brilliant positioning on so many issues was a welcome break from those thick-skinned politicians whom people distrust by default due to their association with corruption, nepotism and incompetence. The Congress party got comprehensively trounced in Delhi because of corruption, nepotism and bad governance while AAP changed the rules of the electoral game through
its promise of 700 litres of free water supply to every Delhi household, legislate a powerful anti-corruption Jan Lokpal bill, try and cut power tariffs by auditing the books of power companies and start regularizing illegal colonies.

Having formed the government today,
Team Kejriwal knows it very well that both its existence as well as agenda would be short-lived, thanks to Congress party. The Congress party was the one to publicize its concern for being the real AAM AADMI( mango man) while Arvind Kerjiwal simply stole the name as the Congress failed to register it as a political trademark. That is why it has set an agenda
whose implementation would be a mind-boggling experience aimed at doing long-term damage to both BJP and Congress party in the next round fof Assembly polls because by then, it would have made the common voters aspirations sky high. If the Congress party under Shiela Dixit ran the government like a feudal conglomerate, AAP is going to be more like a KHAP( Panchayat of Haryana) with political prudence and direction beyond popularism.

There are a few areas where the actual test and tenacity of AAP would be visible in the coming days. The biggest issue before the AAP government would be the eradication of corruption. According to many people, Delhi is probably the most corrupt city in India and the only way to bring this down is by steadily increasing transparency in all government purchases and contracts, putting ordinary day-t-day dealings between the citizens and the government on the web and reducing the need for personal interface. But that is easier said than done because
clearing the debris of last 15 years in a few months would be a tall order for the AAP government. Even otherwise, shouting about it at Ram Leela Maidan would be less credible than halting corruption through an administrative fiat and steady implementations skills to plug too many loop-holes in the system.

Secondly, AAP government has promised to bring and implement Jan Lokpal Bill. which would be more stringent than what the parliament passed recently. However, this is again an idealist view and as a senior commentator says” A Jan Lokpal Bill to police the corrupt is a vital part of this drive . But the chances are that if the Lokpal becomes too zealous, it would merely increase the cost of corruption. The systematic changes or transparency have to be combined with an intelligent application of Jan Lokpal law to make things work and people change”.”

Apparently, this is something that AAP leaders do not appear to have their mind on. On the contrary, AAp is also thinking like the Congress party which believes that only a tough law is all that is need and the story ends. The fact remains that India has the toughest law in the world on terror, rape, domestic violence, prevention of atrocities against SC/ST and so on. Yet Nirbahaya and Damini happens in Delhi and Dalits get worst kind of
reprisals and punishment in broad day light in some parts of the country even today.

Third, AAP has also promise to regularize unauthorized colonies . These colonies have for long served as vote banks for both BJP and Congress party. But this time AAP made their prime target and got the support of people living in them.

But regularizing these illegal colonies
with one stoke of pen would be too much. No one is suggesting that those people living in these colonies should be uprooted and their houses demolished. Yet AAP government would also have to understand clearly that illegal colonies are mostly built up by builders, criminals and
land mafias and facilitated by a corrupt administration for the lure of bulk votes. Hence, regularizing those illegal colonies without punishing those people who created them would make little sense. In fact, this would only encourage those land mafias to grab more land and create more problems for the Delhi government. Unless the builders are caught and penalized, they would continue to see regularization as encouragement to build more illegal colonies.

Four, AAP’s promise to bring down the power tariff by 50 percent would be a Herculean task. Delhi’s power requirement at the moment is 7300 MW and it would go up to 8700 MW by the next year. Delhi’s total stalled
electricity generation capacity is of
7163 MW. The centre and state sector constitutes 75 and 23 percent of the total installed electric generation capacity respectively which is mainly from fossil fuel such as coal. The private sector has around 2 percent share in the total installed capacity while renewal power forms 10 percent of this.

The bulk of power needed for Delhi is procured through standing long term power purchase agreements with generation plans in the centre and state sectors. However, several factors including increase in long-term power rates, non-availability of power in adequate quantity and low realization for surplus power have contributed to a massive increase in the cost of power available for distribution.

The larger problem lies in the unregulated electricity market. Delhi’s consumers are paying not only for the regulated guaranteed profits of the state owned generation and transmission companies and private distribution companies but also for the unregulated profiteering of the merchant producers and other market players. Moreover, power tariffs are set by the electricity regulatory commission and not by the State government and any decision of the Commission can be challenged in the court and hence, there is no easy way for the Commission to fulfill kejriwal’s wish.

One of the ways would be to simply subsidize power and bring the rates down. But this would not only be financially irresponsible but also defeat the very purpose for which he has been making all noises so far.
His argument about paying subsidies to power companies that are overcharging, amounts to essentially subsidizing power companies that have been blatantly overcharging.

A sensible way to find the solution would be to set up an audit committee and send that report to regulatory commission to take a holistic view and manage to bring the power tariff down. But even this process would not bring immediate results because then, these power companies would always go to the court and get stay order.

Fifth, Kejriwal’s promise of 700 liters of free water to every household
is going to be all the more difficult to fulfil. At present, delhi’s water requirement is more than 5200 million liters per day. However, the gap between availability and shortage is still very high as the city is able to get approx. 4300 million litres of water per day. Moreover, Delhi’s water supply is highly inequitable with NDMC getting a major portion. Several parts of the city have no connection and no increase in supply is expected in next few years. Much of the pipeline infrastructure is old and collapsing and needs to be changed.

In other words, per person water availability in Delhi is 241 lpcd while the demand sis 251 lpcd out of which 172 lpcd is for domestic purpose. Delhi’s own water resources meet only 15 percent fof total demand and 88 percent water requirement comes from surface water including water from Yamuna, the Ganga river and Bhakhra dam while 12 percent
ground water and 184 MLD water is sourced from city’s tube wells. That means, there is at least24 percent shortfall in water supply even today.

Secondly, what about the monitoring and charges of water from those who use more than 700 litres.? That would mean more corruption since it would call for charging different water rates. That would entail investment in better metering, efficient collection of bills and better policing of water delivery system. Moreover, a fool-proof mechanism would have to be developed to plug water leakage and pilferage enough including actual physical leaks and the leaks encouraged by the water mafia which would be covertly supplying ; free” municipal water to tankers across the State.

Sixth, engaging voters  regularly and responsibly on important issues is the hall mark of a true democracy. But asking voters regularly on what their leaders should do is like outsourcing  responsibility to the mob. AAP started this exercise on the question of whether to form the government or not and if it goes on doing the same exercise, then that is not a good omen. Any government , when it comes to power, sets upon itself the task of discussing serious issues with experts, develop suitable and sustainable policy options and explain why some things would have to be done for the public. Delivery on promises over the short-term without thinking through the long –term consequences of what they decide is  a plain irresponsible stance and practice.  That amounts to rider a tiger which gobbles up its master at the end. Kejriwal’s tryst with destiny has begun today and it would be interesting to see how long it would last.

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