AAP Delhi performance

Mixed bag

Print edition : March 15, 2019

The Aam Aadmi Mohalla Clinic at Yamuna Bazar area in Delhi, a 2018 picture. One of its flagship programmes, the AAP had promised to build 1,000 mohalla clinics by December 2016. But the number of fully operational mohalla clinics is anywhere between 160 and 180. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at the function (right) to lay the foundation stone of 11,000 new classrooms at the Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in New Friends Colony, New Delhi, on January 28. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

At the function to lay the foundation stone of 11,000 new classrooms at the Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in New Friends Colony, New Delhi on January 28. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

A foggy morning in Delhi in February. The AAP has received flak for not being able to arrest pollution. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Aam Aadmi Party and its government in Delhi have not done enough to coalesce people’s initial fervour towards them into long-term solidarity.

FOUR years ago, in February 2015, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looked confident of winning the Delhi elections riding on the “Modi wave”, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won by a thumping majority with 67 seats in the 70-member Assembly. This victory was driven by a consolidation of the lower income group and the middle classes who placed their trust in the AAP’s promise of a new model of governance based on transparency and accountability. The perception was that the party’s leadership was clean; hence, despite the reverses the AAP suffered in the 2014 general election, when it failed to open its account in Delhi and won only four of the 432 seats it contested, Arvind Kejriwal and his party once again emerged as a symbol of alternative politics that is immune from corruption, nepotism and controversial politician-corporate nexus.

However, four years down the line, an objective assessment of the AAP government would reveal that it has not lived up to people’s expectations. What the party and its leadership have been able to present before the country is a mixed bag of achievements and failures. In terms of governance, the AAP government has shown some concrete results in areas such as education and public health. That the AAP could chart this governance record despite the virulent and sustained manoeuvres by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre to sabotage and hinder the State’s initiatives is creditable. But as many AAP leaders themselves admit, the government’s work is incomplete and the party has not been able to make organisational or electoral gains out of it.

Parallelly, the party is also seen to have been steadily repudiating its commitment to alternative politics for the sake of increasing its presence on the electoral map. This got reflected within the party too, with the result that the once-celebrated inner-party democracy of the AAP is in a shambles now. Kejriwal’s lack of tolerance of dissenting voices within his own party has become a talking point among his supporters who had pledged their allegiance to him to end, among other things, the culture of coterie and authoritarianism in politics. The effect of all this is that the party’s fortunes are on the wane despite its early spurt in growth, particularly in States such as Punjab and Haryana.

Put simply, the AAP and its government in Delhi have not done enough to coalesce people’s initial fervour towards it into long-term solidarity.

But the AAP maintains that it has fared better in Delhi in the past four years compared with what the BJP claims to have achieved in Gujarat when Modi was Chief Minister in that State from 2001 to 2014. On the occasion of the AAP’s seventh foundation day on November 26, 2018, Kejriwal said people should compare the records of the two governments with regard to schools, hospitals and sewer lines. “Modiji always talks about the Gujarat model of governance. But the AAP government in Delhi did much more than what he did in Gujarat in 12 years,” Kejriwal said. “The people of Delhi are proud of their honest Chief Minister. I want to ask the people of the country if they feel the same about their Prime Minister,” he said.

Health and education

Despite the tall claims, many party workers and political observers believe that much needs to be done. For instance, when it came to power in 2015, the AAP made the Aam Aadmi Mohalla Clinic project one of its flagship programmes with the aim of providing free medical consultation and care and promised to build 1,000 mohalla clinics in the national capital by December 2016. The deadline was extended to March 2017, but the project is far from complete. According to media reports, the number of fully operational mohalla clinics is between 160 and 180.

Early on in its tenure, the AAP laid emphasis on affordable education for all. In its 2018-19 Budget, the education sector was allocated Rs.13,997 crore, or 26 per cent of the Budget. In March 2017, the AAP government claimed that that year’s allocation for education was the highest anywhere in the country. The government has also credited itself with opening a record number of classrooms in the past four years. On January 29, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who holds the Education portfolio, inaugurated 11,000 new classrooms in government schools.

But the BJP alleges that the government has failed to prevent the escalation of the school dropout rate.

The opposition questions the government on policy implementation, in particular on the increased number of dropouts from government schools—98,000 according to some media reports. AAP leader Atishi Marlena, who is a member of the political affairs committee of the party, admitted to Frontline that the high dropout rate was a serious challenge impeding the government’s education-for-all programmes but said that the Kejriwal-led regime had been successful in checking that trend. She blamed the malady on the inept and irregular teaching regime in schools run by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the general atmosphere of neglect that left students with limited elementary education when they moved to government schools in Class VI.

Said Atishi Marlena: “Since there is no provision for annual examinations and everyone is promoted from one class to the next without assessment of their learning, students are not prepared to take a test which is mandatory in Class IX.” According to her, this is the basic reason why the school dropout rate suddenly explodes in Classes IX and X. She credited the AAP government with registering a marked improvement in the quality of educational infrastructure and fixing accountability of the teaching staff.

The AAP has also received flak for not being able to arrest pollution. The Delhi government was recently fined Rs.5 lakh by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for failing to check noise pollution in West Delhi. Earlier, in December 2018, the NGT directed the Delhi government to deposit an environmental compensation of Rs.25 crore with the Central Pollution Control Board for failing to curb air pollution. Specific to air pollution, the Delhi government’s innovative odd-even scheme (to restrict vehicular movement on the roads) has failed to take off. Experts have denounced it as a short-term measure with little impact, while other experiments, including cloud seeding and sprinkling water from choppers, were seen as unnecessary. Not much progress has been made on cleaning the Yamuna either, although the Delhi government recently announced that it was contemplating installation of at least 16 more plants for treating sewage that flows into the river.

Sheila Dikshit, who recently replaced Ajay Maken as Delhi Congress president, criticised Kejriwal for failing to honour his electoral promise of providing electricity at cheap rates. In March 2018, the Delhi government reduced power tariffs by up to 32 per cent. But Sheila Dikshit reminded people that Kejriwal had promised electricity at half the rate. “In the Assembly election the AAP made the false promise that electricity will be provided at half the rate and is using the same strategy for the Lok Sabha elections. Power has become more costly than ever before,” she said.

Free Wi-Fi connection is another unattained goal of the AAP government. The ambitious project is still on paper, although there is speculation that it may see the light of day just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The government has also failed to provide 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras in Delhi even as women’s safety continues to be a major concern in the national capital.

Anupam, Delhi chief of Swaraj Abhiyan led by Yogendra Yadav, told Frontline that the government was not sincere about implementing the plans it had envisaged for the security of women. “In 2015, AAP leaders said that if voted to power, they would ensure round-the-clock patrolling of Delhi’s streets and that all dark spots in the city would be cleared. Whenever Kejriwal is questioned on his failure to do so, he comes out with the oft-repeated excuse that the Delhi Police falls under the Centre’s jurisdiction. But wasn’t he aware of the same when he made these promises? In any case, you don’t need the Centre’s nod for eliminating dark spots in the city.”

The Rs.5,000-crore plan to redesign 10 roads to decongest them also stands delayed because of bureaucratic hurdles. The government’s plan to bring 3,000 buses on the road by the end of 2018, too, has not been fulfilled, not to talk of its promise to introduce 1,000 electric buses.

Alternative politics

Anupam, however, is of the view that the AAP has delivered better results than earlier governments in Delhi. “The AAP benefited from its energised cadre, and being a young party also meant that there was at least some fresh zeal and determination to anchor welfare initiatives and programmes,” he told Frontline. Had the AAP maintained its USP of alternative politics, Anupam said, it would have by now won over the Congress’s traditional electoral base, and the grand old party would not have been able to emerge as the pivot of the anti-BJP axis in the Hindi heartland.

In the present situation, he said, it is not certain that the AAP can improve its 2014 tally of four Lok Sabha seats, all of which came from Punjab, which is now ruled by a resurgent Congress party under Captain Amarinder Singh. “The AAP was the manifestation of people’s rage against traditional politics infected with nepotism and corruption. But its lacklustre performance coupled with the abandonment of its core principle of accountability in politics and governance has left people disillusioned. This is why even a party like Swaraj Abhiyan finds it difficult to persuade people to give it a chance,” he said.

The AAP, however, has gained on account of populist measures such as the doorstep delivery service scheme for 40 public services that was launched in September 2018. The government has now announced that it will add 30 more services in its ambit, allowing people to apply online for services such as driving licences and marriage certificates and have them delivered at home. The scheme is popular across all age groups, in particular among senior citizens.

Kejriwal has had to run into roadblocks placed by the Centre as well, and his public confrontations with Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor have remained one of the flashpoints of his tenure. Recently, the Delhi government was in for a rude shock when the Supreme Court decided to refer to a larger bench the matter of whether it is the Centre or the State that gets to decide appointments, transfers and postings of bureaucrats. In a further embarrassment to the Delhi government, the Supreme Court said that since Delhi was a special State, matters of land, services, and law and order came under the purview of the Union Home Ministry and the Lieutenant Governor. On February 14, while a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court gave a split verdict on the question of who should control administrative services, there seemed to be agreement that the power to take the final call would be vested in the Centre.

Roadblocks

Kejriwal has accused the BJP government at the Centre of creating roadblocks for his pet projects. Frontline’s report “Under close watch” (January 20, 2017) details how the Centre has been keeping an eye on the Delhi government’s activities since the AAP came to power. “…Evidence gathered by Frontline through multiple right to information (RTI) applications to the MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs] and other institutions and interviews with government officials reveal that the PMO [Prime Minister’s Office] has not only been monitoring the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) but also closely following up on matters linked to it since March 2015, barely a month after the new Delhi government was sworn in.... In April and May, the PMO appears to have retained extraordinary interest in Delhi’s matters. The second instance concerns the contentious issue of the jurisdiction of the AAP government’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB),” the report says.

However, some political observers believe that the AAP’s perception management has not been adroit and Kejriwal has come across as someone who plays the victim card rather too often instead of taking challenges head on, an attribute a leader striving to expand his party’s electoral map must exhibit.

But for Kejriwal, whose party is expected not to do well in the Delhi Assembly election next year, this battle of political supremacy between the State and the Centre may prove to be a boon in disguise. It has the potential to convert the elections into a mandate for full statehood for Delhi, which would give the AAP enormous scope to leverage public sentiment in favour of it. On expected lines, Kejriwal’s statement soon after the Supreme Court verdict read: “The judgment is against the Constitution and democracy. We will seek legal remedies. The elected government has been left with no powers. How will an elected government function when they don’t even have the right to transfer non-performing officers?”

But Sheila Dikshit has been citing her own experiences as Chief Minister to float the message that the current row between the Lieutenant Governor and Kejriwal is an outcome of the latter’s political immaturity and unwillingness to be a harmonious player in a shared power structure. She advised Kejriwal to resolve his differences with the authorities rather than make a public spectacle of it aimed at gaining political capital.

“Delhi is a Union Territory and the Constitution specifies its powers. It does not have unlimited powers. The office of the Lieutenant Governor, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Government of India also look after several things. If they [the Delhi government] want to change this situation they should approach them [the Centre] explaining the difficulties faced by them. It cannot be rectified through fights,” she said recently.

The AAP is planning to contest 100 Lok Sabha seats, which is a sharp drop from the 432 seats it contested in 2014. With alliance talks with the Congress failing to take off, the party is likely to contest all seats in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Goa. The AAP’s Delhi convener, Gopal Rai, recently told the media that “we will contest all seats in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Goa in the 2019 polls.” The party has already sounded the poll bugle in Delhi by appointing election managers in six of the seven constituencies. In Haryana, where the Assembly election is due this year, the AAP has pledged to oust the “CBI”—the Congress, the BJP and the Indian National Lok Dal.

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