Their is a profound transformation underway which is not getting the notice it deserves. 10 Feburary 2015 saw a political tremor of sort with Arvind Kejriwal led AAP winning the Delhi election in one of the largest mandates ever given to any government.
A new dawn for alternative politics it surely was, but the question was; would this new politics lead to new governance?
As the government completes one year today (14 February), lets examine whether the expectation of new government has been realised or not.
Headlines belied hope of the transformative governance
Even when the celebrations of the gigantic victory had not got over AAP was rocked by unprecedented infighting with its leader Arvind Kejriwal on one side and founding members Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan on the other.
The tussle led to a prolonged and nasty drama which ultimately climaxed with Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav being shown the door.
The bad blood led to premature end of AAP’s romance with liberals who felt disappointed and bitter that Yogendra Yadav an archetypical newsroom liberal was ejected in a manner he was.
The constant tussle between AAP government and different arms of centre further created dismay with an assumption gainning ground that government was more interested in confrontation than governing.
The success of odd-even created an important positive news-point for the beleaguered AAP dispensation.
But the positivity generated by it proved to be shortlived as MCD staff went on strike against alleged delay in payment of their salaries.
MCD blamed Delhi government for not releasing funds while AAP in turn blamed the situation on MCD’s corruption and mismanagement.
Irrespective of who was at fault, the mess in the MCD was another instance where AAP found itself in news for reasons which do little to furnish its image of a party serious about government.
But if one takes the pain to go deeper beyond what makes it way to the headline, one will discover that AAP’s government is nothing less than revolutionary.
It has embarked upon profound changes both in terms of issues that forms centrestage of its governance and the approach to governance. In our obsession with the political slugfest between BJP and AAP, we are missing on this silent revolution underway.
So as I seek to evaluate the government’s first year below, I discuss how AAP has made a bold break from the past in terms of issues and approach.
India is a nation with the paradox of the largest troop of job seekers who don’t have jobs on the one hand and companies who want to employ people but can’t find enough qualified applicants on the other. Our inability to create educated workforce is a direct consequence of a crumbling public education system.
The defunct public education system is impeding India’s industrialisation. China, Japan and South Korea, all have industrialised and developed rapidly on the strength of educated workforce. A well functioning education system is also a must to ensure inequality doesn’t become persistent, our citizens are more aware and civic values are deeply ingrained in psyche of common citizens.
India’s tragedy has been that our public education system is shambles. We have far too less schools, even less classrooms, untrained teachers, schools lack autonomy and parents have no say in school management.
In short, our education system is in dire state and this has only worsened because of our political class, who have given up on the system and use it only for their private benefit and as an instrument of patronage.
AAP on the other hand is a story in contrast. Seldom has India seen a government more committed to fixing the dysfunctional education system than the current AAP government. It has placed education at the centre of its governance agenda. It began by doubling the educational budget to nearly 10,000 crore, making it nearly 25% of government’s spending.
But important as this doubling of budget was, AAP’s sincerity to improving education is truly borne by the array of measures taken by the government. It has started the process of hiring 10,000 new teachers, is building 8000 new classrooms, which will be complete before new academic season, has activated the school management committee comprising of parents to ensure accountability of schools, devolved powers to principals, freed public schools from excessive control of education directorate, reduced non teaching duties of teachers and last but not the least is changing focus of education from rot learning to an enterprise for development of holistic personality through non conventional learning,sports and cultural activity.
This last bit is being implemented in the selected models schools from where it has been planned to be extended.
The dysfunctional health system pushes many people into poverty as they don’t get treated quick enough, their conditions get worsened, lessening their productivity, increasing their treatment spending and reducing their capacity to work and earn. This not just aggravates inequality, it also reduces our economic growth as the labour productivity is less. Also innovation suffers due to stunted children.
Thus India pays dearly but our politicians can’t care less. Like education, healthcare too figures low in political priorities of most parties. Here again, AAP has cleverly recognised how healthcare is among the most important concern of the common man.
It increased health budget by 50% from over 3138 crore to 4787 crore and approved construction of 1000 mohalla clinic which will ensure healthcare is at the doorstep of most people.
These clinics will ease pressure at large hospitals, be the first contact point of citizens with the healthcare system and as they have facilities to deal with all the ordinary ailments, it will mean that the common ailments are pulling down the poor due to absence of resource.
The government has also pledged to double the number of beds in Delhi government hospitals from current 10,000. The government has also begun the process of appointing additional doctors to address shortage of doctors.
Kejriwal on Sunday also announced building 150 polyclinics, which will have specialists of different ailments take pressure off the hospitals.
Also, AAP MLAs have been asked to regularly check health facilities in their constituencies to ensure the system is responsive and the health functionaries perform their duty properly.
Thus it is evident that the government’s commitment to improve healthcare is beyond reproach and the commitment is manifesting in actions which gives hope of a turnaround in healthcare to be around the corner.
Revisiting the feigned helplessness of past government in fighting pollution
Delhi like most other Indian cities suffers from chronic pollution. The problem of pollution has been around for a long time, yet not much has been done about it by different governments. This has made the situation worse.
Today in Delhi the pollution is such that its air is not breathable. But AAP government has broken from the past in not being in denial of the problem. Infact Kejriwal has been leading from the front in creating awareness about how bad the problem of pollution is.
But their is an increased civic awareness about the problem now, the success of odd-even has regenerated confidence among the policymakers that pollution can be tackled. Besides odd-even the government has taken a range of steps from checking dust pollution ,to shutting down polluting thermal power plants.
The biggest take away on this front is that where earlier there was ignorance regarding pollution, now their is awareness. And where earlier there was defeatism in our ability to combat pollution, now there is a glimmer of hope.
Water And Electricity -accessible and affordable
When Kejriwal had promised to bring down electricity tariff and make water free upto 20000 litres, it was dismissed as a pipe dream. It was contended that even if it’s implemented it will bankrupt the state and the availability of electricity and water would be a casualty.
But proving the sceptics wrong the government was able to deliver on the promise without significantly deteriorating state coffers or reducing availability of these services.
To the contrary the Delhi Jal board earned over 1 billion in excess revenue by reducing inefficiencies and lessening loopholes. The water availability also went up and many areas which had been outside the network of water supply also got water for the very first time.
Again, it says something about Kejriwal’s ability of sensing the pulse of people that he has prioritised bringing new areas within the water supply network.
These is an issue which affects the underprivileged in a very profound manner and addressing it is not such a difficult endeavour if political will is there.
It is also a constructive way to win loyal voters. If Kejriwal is able to persist and succeed in this regard, then other politicians in other states too will be forced to follow suit.
And soon water for all will translate from catchy slogan to a reality.
Make in India
The pro poor policies of Kejriwal and his rhetoric against crony capitalism led many to see him as anti capitalist and a closet communist.
But defying such expectations, the new age politician in Kejriwal has embraced business whole-heatedly and committed to making life easier for business. He has embarked upon the simplification of tax reforms, made tax raids information and investigation based rather than routine, has reduced the human interface and requirement of government approvals in multiple fields.
Kejriwal has also sought to make business a partner in his dream of heralding a educational revolution. Thus the true Make In India is happening in Delhi away from the media glare.
Minimum Government Maximum Governance
While Modi gave the slogan Kejriwal is bringing it alive in reality. His government has made most of the certificates available online without any human interface. It has also done away with the requirement of over a dozen affidavits which were no more than a source of bribe for the officials.
It also kept them away from performing their core duties (take any collectorate in India -its swarming with helpless citizen being exploited by the officials in lieu for the affidavits and certificates).
His government is also cleaning up unrealistic regulations which private parties can’t comply and are forced to pay bribe necessarily.
A case in point is the bill the government has passed to do away with requirement of paying private teachers salary at levels which if implemented would have made the private schools dysfunctional.
This will ensure that the system of exploitation and fudging that prevails is done away with. Also it conforms with the notion that government should stay away from deciding the finer details of private organisation and make realistic compliable laws. Thus in terms of issues, AAP government has shown a unique knack for identifying concerns of the common man.
It has addressed these issues with an approach that is novel and merits a careful study. What are the key elements of these approach? Lets examine:
Innovation and not be bogged down by past
The style of Kejriwal’s governance involves a healthy appetite for risk. He does not shy away from trying new things. Odd-even is one prominent example, where the government tried something very unconventional and which carried with it big risks.
Kejriwal’s proposal of replacing generalist bureaucracy with specialist from private sectors is again something which all administrative reforms committees have proposed but no government dared to brake the monoploy of IAS sans Kejriwal.
This approach of not being prisoner of past is very important as many vital and much needed changes in India don’t happen because we lack the imagination and the appetite for risk that such break from the past require.
Kejriwal can be a high profile role model who changes his risk averse culture in a visible newsworthy and usher in transformation of the mindset.
Entice people’s participation- a new civic consciousness
Like in his style of politics Kejriwal’s government has encouraged people’s partnership. It made it clear that government could no longer continue to be the high and mighty entity, which will order the citizen around.
Instead government success is dependent whether it can awaken civic consciousness and entice people’s participation. It was evident the way AAP made citizens active stakeholders in odd-even scheme.
This again has huge implications given that the most critical failing of our public policy has been our failure to get citizen to cooperate with government schemes.
End of contractor Raj
AAP was successful in evolving a new model of funding which was not dependent on fundings from contractors. This has allowed it to end the contractor Raj, where the governments were instrument to enrich contractors who funded the parties.
One area where the menace of such contractor Raj is prominently visible has been in road projects. The projects are often built at a cost much above the real cost and also suffer from inordinate delay.
On this front alone, in past few months, AAP has saved over Rs 350 crore from getting road projects completed below cost.
Not afraid to stir hornet’s nest
AAP’s approach to government does not see controversies and conflicts as undesirable hindrances. It feels that any status quo can only be changed through a process which is not exactly smooth.
So AAP cherishes controversies and is never shy of stirring hornet’s nest. Also, it knows the people at the bottom love it for fighting for them rather than silently accepting injustice for the sake of fake peace.
All in all, the AAP government has embarked on a path which if it persists with can lead to a silent revolution. The prioritisation of human development, reducing bloated government, centre-staging pollution, making government regulations compliable etc are all issues on which AAP has shown that they can break from the past.
One year is usually not an occasion to say much about the government, but the government looks to be on the right path.
If it persists, a revolution in governance won’t be a distant dream but a soothing reality.
Apoorva Pathak has studied in IIT-Roorkee and is a frequent contributor to JKR. Views expressed here are the author’s own.