Good intentions are not enough

The AAP has scored poorly on basic governance and sound policy.

Updated: February 24, 2014 9:31 am
Only anarchy can result when ministers behave like stormtroopers, or when the head of government behaves like a petulant child denied his favourite toy, threatening to resign whenever he is not allowed to do exactly what he wants.  PTI Only anarchy can result when ministers behave like stormtroopers, or when the head of government behaves like a petulant child denied his favourite toy, threatening to resign whenever he is not allowed to do exactly what he wants. PTI

What has been the most important event of 2013? Many in north India and in other parts of the country will single out the stupendous showing of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi state assembly elections. The main point on its manifesto was to cleanse the political system and to eliminate the VIP culture that dominates every walk of life in the capital. These goals obviously appealed to a large section of the electorate. How else could virtual non-entities defeat established stalwarts?

Most of its supporters, and perhaps an equally large number of those who were watching from the sidelines, must have hoped that the AAP’s victory would have a salutary effect on Indian politics. Surely, the older generation politicians would now gauge the anger and disgust of the voters and change their ways in order to have a fighting chance of getting back their coveted positions in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies?

Of course, in order for any of this to happen, the AAP would have had to prove that it is a viable alternative, able to govern for a long time. Unfortunately, the AAP and its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, have failed to pass this litmus test. Kejriwal had declared more than once that he would resign if his government could not pass the Jan Lokpal bill sooner rather than later. His self-imposed deadline was unrealistic, since there seemed to be several legal hurdles that had to be crossed before the Delhi Assembly could even consider the bill. His attempt to table the bill was defeated and Kejriwal submitted his resignation.

Where does he go from here? In his resignation letter, he recommended that the Delhi assembly be dissolved and fresh elections be held as soon as possible. It is likely that the elections to the assembly will be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections. Will the AAP come back to power? Perhaps the more important question is, should the AAP come back to power?

Consider the second question first. Consistency, though not prudence, demands that Kejriwal stick to his stand that he will resign again if the Jan Lokpal bill does not find its way into the statute books. But, even if the AAP wins an absolute majority in the state assembly, there is virtually no chance that it will have a sizeable presence in the Lok Sabha — every recent poll gives it only a handful of seats outside Delhi. So, in the best of scenarios for the AAP, the state assembly can “pass” the bill. This will be, at best, an empty victory. Surely, the ruling coalition at the Centre will insist that such a bill needs prior approval of the lieutenant governor of Delhi. And why not, since implementation of the bill would require at least some expenditure from the Centre. So, the most likely outcome if the AAP comes back to power with an absolute majority is a constitutional logjam.

We will know soon enough about voter reactions. But, there are signs that the AAP has lost some support during its short stint in power. The AAP has disillusioned many of its well wishers by demonstrating that it has no intention of respecting established legal processes. Only anarchy can result when ministers behave like stormtroopers, or when the head of government behaves like a petulant child who has been denied his favourite toy, threatening to resign whenever he is not allowed to do exactly what he wants.

There are also questions about whether it has a coherent set of policies. Consider, for instance, its economic policies. These are laced with a liberal dose of populism — one aspect in which the AAP has mimicked other political parties. Its manifesto promised to slash water and electricity charges in the capital. One of its first steps in office was to waive water charges up to a stipulated amount for all households. One of its last acts was to waive half the dues of all those who did not pay electricity charges between October 2012 and March 2013.

It has sought to justify the latter by alleging that the distribution companies have inflated costs by manipulating its accounts. But there is no concrete proof that the extent of manipulation is so large as to allow for a 50 per cent reduction in charges. The AAP’s economics team does not seem to be aware of the grave long-term consequences of such subsidies. First, there is the serious allocative problem that such subsidies will result in overuse — a potential disaster in water-scarce Delhi. Second, someone has to pay in full for the cost incurred. When users are not charged fully, non-users have to pay a part of the cost, perhaps indirectly because other welfare schemes are starved of funds. This can often be inequitable if the latter are poorer. This may well have happened in the case of water, since a large number of poorer households in Delhi do not have access to piped water.

The AAP’s earlier manifesto also lists several schemes such as building new and better government schools and colleges, increasing the number of hospital beds to the “international norm” of five per thousand patients, improving sanitation and so on. These are all laudable objectives, but they do require large sums of money. At no point was there any mention of how these were to be financed, in particular whether new taxes would be imposed or existing ones increased. Of course, the AAP has only followed the practice of other political parties — list benefits but do not mention increase in taxes. But then, the USP of the AAP is to be different from the others.

The AAP has decided to spread its wings and establish a national presence. Good intentions and honesty are desirable qualities in politicians, particularly in a country where large numbers of this class lack both attributes. Many voters rightly continue to believe that the AAP leaders possess both attributes. Unfortunately, these qualities must be combined with knowledge of some basic principles of governance, as well as sound policies. The AAP has scored very poorly on the latter. Unless its leaders realise the importance of overcoming these shortcomings, it will not be a viable option for voters, certainly not at the national level.

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    Aditya Nikam
    Feb 24, 2014 at 2:19 pm
    It takes real guts to leave a normal life and enter into political arena with only good intentions. Surely there has been a complete mismatch between what the AAP were trying to do while in power, and what we were expecting them. But brushing away the hope they have given to the common middle cl, if not all the sections of the country, merely because it is easy to sit in a comfy chair and type is not the right atude. You and me don't have the guts to stand up, at least support the ones who are doing it.
    Reply
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      Amit Gupta
      Feb 24, 2014 at 6:06 am
      I wish the author of blogs start with disclaimer that this is their personal appraisal. Statements like AAP has failed the litmus test. It is his view not neccessarily shared by all.Subsidy seems to have become the ugly word. BUT I see no one raising it when Congress welfare schemes are launched like MNREGA. Let us discuss AK actions.Water - I believe as he says in interviews LIFE LINE water upto 670 litre is free beyond that people must value water hence pay full. Electricity - Subsidy till CAG audit as they believe malpractise. You have not seen evidence does not mean it may not be happening. Why not wait for CAG audit.Society at large has accepted a certain way of working and change is difficult. It should however be noted that when insution become deaf and dumb to people even elected representative agitation would take place.Economic decision purely based on profit/loss with out due consideration of human life are of no value. Patience is a virtue however Indian people have been patient for a very long time for their lot to improve. On the contrary situation is even justice is hard to get. Youth of this country will not wait and pay the price for the compromises made by thier elders.
      Reply
      1. P
        PeeplVoice
        Feb 25, 2014 at 9:33 am
        Just because he left a normal life and entered politics doesn't make him a man who can be trusted.I don't know about his intentions but I am quite convinced he is a dis-honest man. Hardly 5000-8000 attended Rowthak rally but he is circulating a photshopped image in social media which shows people in lacs. This simple thing shows how power hungry he is.
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          deejay
          Feb 24, 2014 at 7:05 am
          "Good intentions and honesty are desirable qualities in politicians, particularly in a country where large numbers of this cl lack both attributes. Many voters rightly continue to believe that the AAP leaders possess both attributes."Rightly said. AAP has both the qualities - good intentions and honesty, which the other major political parties lack. In addition, the major political parties, even when in power haven't done anything much regarding basic necessities - sanitation, health, water, electricity, women's safety, etc.... AAP is atleast trying to do something about all these issues along with having the above 2 qualities.I believe they should be given a better chance the next time so that they come to power with a majority on their own and a lot of those policies see fruition without being dependent on "outside support".
          Reply
          1. S
            sg
            Feb 25, 2014 at 3:40 am
            This author comes to this conclusion after 49 days? when I take on new job, it takes me 60-90 days just to get settled and learn about the new role. Get serious ...
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              Pavi
              Feb 23, 2014 at 7:51 pm
              Promising freebies to voters without mentioning that these will come at the cost of higher taxes is dishonesty. Hence Kejriwal and rest of AAP leaders do not score high on honesty. Their populist promises are just to deceive semi-literate and illiterate voters. Hopefully the educated middle-cl voters would see through this deception. There are several indications that AAP's support has declined after AAP's misrule of New Delhi and Kejriwal's irresponsible act of resignation.
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              1. M
                Manoj
                Feb 24, 2014 at 7:46 am
                There were never any good intentions, as claimed by AK and AAP supporters. It is just politics with emotional exploitation of people and greed for Lok sabha election. People having good intentions and will to perform always try to set an example with results, not just run away from responsibilities.
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                  Mohan
                  Feb 25, 2014 at 10:22 am
                  MNREGA is not a subsidy but an out right wastage or sop at tax payers' expense. In our place Palakkad kerala) 20 persons are engaged to do the work of 5 and the people are engaged in routine work instead of any et creation
                  Reply
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