Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, despite their chalk-and-cheese differences, have somewhat similar career graphs, especially in the matter of electoral support in their respective states. In their own separate ways both have been disruptors of conventional politics too.
Modi had won convincing victories in all three elections as chief minister of Gujarat and was predictably looking to win a fourth time when he was elevated to the highest government office in the land with another overwhelming majority.
Kejriwal still has a long, long way to go to catch up with Modi in electoral politics as well as governance, but his unprecedented victory in the Delhi assembly elections in 2015, winning 67 of the 70 seats, gave him the kind of preeminence that only veterans like Modi could command.
In another three months Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will complete four years in office. As they move into the home stretch of their five-year rule, Modi and his party must be working against time to make sure that Indians keep faith in them for another five years.
Modi’s repeated messaging from every forum available that 10 years of the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule had set India back by decades economically and socially is only aimed at putting the fear in the mind of the Indian voter that any choice other than the lotus (the BJP election symbol) would mean a return to the alleged UPA misrule. Whether the voter will buy this line of argument or not remains to be seen.
Kejriwal, on the other hand, just completed three years in office and because he does not see the Congress as a worthy rival, has concentrated on Modi and the BJP as the targets of his attacks all these years. These onslaughts had often gone overboard and at times been unparliamentary too, resulting in the chief minister facing a host of criminal and civil cases, most notably from Modi’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
In fact, there was a time when Kejriwal seemed to be doing nothing other than heaping vitriol on Modi and his partymen. In the process he had antagonised not just federal ministers but also the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi who, for all practical purposes, is something like a boss to the chief minister in Delhi’s special constitutional set-up. Many top bureaucrats opted for transfer out of Delhi because Kejriwal would not treat them with dignity.
Now, howsoever magnanimous and good-natured you may be, you are bound to run out of patience if you are criticised publicly day in and day out. Incumbent Lt-Governor Anil Baijal and Najeeb Jung before him are both men of integrity and magnanimity but Kejriwal felt they were simply being obstructive to his ideas of governance which, to put it mildly, were more often than not hare-brained.
In a recent moment of equanimity the chief minister was candid enough to admit that stop-gap solutions like the odd-even venture to reduce pollution from traffic would not work. Yet, when he had initiated it two years ago and Najeeb Jung had expressed his doubts because of its impracticality and ineffectiveness, Kejriwal had some very choice invectives for the then Lt-Governor.
Hopefully, all that is water under the bridge now. Recent utterances of Delhi’s chief minister have been more measured. Even the latest scam to hit the country, that of diamond merchant Nirav Modi, elicited only staid reactions from Kejriwal. Perhaps he has learned on the job that governance is no cakewalk that you can do all alone. If that is really so, it is good for Delhi because more than anyone else Kejriwal knows what the city state wants. He had gone about trying to implement his plans the wrong way. You could put it down to his relative youth as compared to the wizened old politicians who have been lording it over the national capital for decades.
However, knowing what Delhi wants is different from having the wherewithal to effectively implement the plans to satisfy those wants. A welfare state is the ideal for every human. But that’s impossible, especially in a populous democracy like India with its cultural, religious and social diversity from state to state and even district to district. So, while free water and electricity may be good ideas - and Kejriwal, even after three years, is never tired of recounting how he has given those freebies - the government also has to make sure that such populist measures do not impinge on other equally important aspects of administration.
Unfortunately, Kejriwal has been found wanting here. He promised far too much and delivered far too little. Public transport is one glaring example. His Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) election manifesto had declared that the Delhi Transport Corporation will get as many as 10,000 low-floor buses, with CCTV cameras to boot. At the end of three years, not only that not a single new bus has been purchased, several hundred buses from the old fleet had had to be scrapped because they were not roadworthy.
AAP had promised 20 new colleges to meet the ever-growing demand for higher education. Till date not a single college has been established. Some new schools and classrooms have been added but education levels have remained the same, abysmally low. Grand plans to build 1,000 mohalla (neighbourhood) clinics have only met with partial success with about 150 of these functioning in three years.
There was much talk of providing subsidised food through ‘aam aadmi canteens’ much like the ‘Amma canteens’ of Chennai and other towns of Tamil Nadu. But that promise, like the one about cleaning up the waters of Yamuna, has remained an unfulfilled one till date.
Three years is a long time in politics, at least in conventional politics that India has known all this while. Kejriwal may be as unconventional a politician as can be but time is of essence for all. For the citizens of Delhi AAP was an experiment at bringing that breath of fresh air they needed most. Other cities and states were eagerly watching this experiment. If it succeeded, no time would be lost in replicating it elsewhere.
But it has been a disappointment so far although calling it a failure at this point may be jumping the gun because there are two more years to go. A lot can still be achieved in the remaining time if Kejriwal stays the course without getting into unnecessary confrontations with everyone who does not agree with him.
Although they still lapse into ‘oppositionist’ language and stance every once in a while, Kejriwal and his men are certainly showing signs of maturity of late. They are not the rebels they used to be. They are reinventing themselves. Perhaps they have realised that time is running out on them. Perhaps they have concluded that being part of the establishment requires adherence to certain time-tested formalities.
Compared to Modi, who has just 15 months left and the entire nation to placate, Kejriwal’s is a much easier job. It may not be a bad idea for the chief minister to try and look into the future a bit and see where and what he would be up against if Modi retains power in 2019. To be on the right side of Modi could only be advantageous for the AAP when elections come round in 2020. But for that preparations have to begin in right earnest right now!
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