The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government led by Arvind Kejriwal has consolidated its position in its very first year in office in the national capital and is eyeing Punjab as its next political objective in February, 2017. The party, which had surprised everyone including its followers by clinching 67 out of 70 Assembly seats last year, and thus securing more than 50% of the total votes polled, has yet many miles to cover. In its march forward, the AAP has virtually decimated the Congress in Delhi and has at the same time managed to keep a check on the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is finding hard to make any inroads. Politically speaking, “Muffler Man” Arvind Kejriwal has emerged stronger and has a complete grip on his organisation that was formed during the campaign against corruption launched by Anna Hazare some years back. He has edged out his detractors like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan from the party and is in firm control of matters, thanks to his large number of loyalists. It is true that many AAP sympathisers have moved away from Kejriwal and the party they backed, but the core group of supporters has remained intact. Therefore, there does not appear to be any danger to the government, which has four more years to go. The BJP, which is the main adversary in Delhi, has a stiff challenge ahead of it and unless the party works with renewed energy, it is unlikely that it will be able to win in the municipal body elections next year.
There has been a lot of debate on Kejriwal’s performance. His detractors have described him as a disruption-ist or an anarchist, who believed in the politics of confrontation rather than that of accommodation. Prior to the polls, he was fully aware that the Delhi government had limited powers and had to be subservient to the Centre on many issues. But having secured an unprecedented mandate, Kejriwal wants to make a political point. How can a middle level bureaucrat overrule the decisions or the desire of elected representatives? Does it not amount to subversion of democracy that elected MLAs have to play second fiddle to unaccountable babus sitting in the Home Ministry and the Urban Development Ministry? Is this fair? Should the Centre not do something to empower the MLAs by having another look at the Constitutional provisions concerning Delhi?
The government model as it exists today was visualised in 1993 by a bureaucrat, Balakrishnan, who was asked to create a new body in Delhi as well as end the multiplicity of authority. Once a babu, always a babu. Balakrishnan, who took over from Justice Sarkaria, ended up depriving elected representatives of powers both in the Delhi government and the municipal corporation. In the process, the bureaucrats have had a field day except when Madan Lal Khurana, a firebrand Delhi BJP leader became the Chief Minister for just a little over two years.
Khurana, easily the most effective Chief Minister the capital has had so far, had acquired a stature during his long tenure as an opposition stalwart during the Jan Sangh and early BJP days. No officer dared to question his decisions and he streamlined the working of the government till his voluntary exit in February 1996. Subsequently, all CMs have heavily relied on the bureaucracy and thus could never grow in political stature. Sheila Dikshi, the longest serving CM, had the dubious distinction of losing by 26,500 votes while being in office.
Kejriwal, in many ways, is like Khurana. He is trying to wrest back the control of the government to the elected representatives and has, therefore, in the process, rubbed many bureaucrats the wrong way. He is determined that Delhi acquires full statehood and has been constantly reminding both the BJP and the Congress that they too had endorsed this demand at various stages, but were now not willing to take the debate forward.
By his own admission, Kejriwal has not kept any portfolio with himself so as to clock in all hours towards political work. Ever since his government came to power, it has been in constant conflict with the Centre, which, through the Lt Governor, the well meaning Najeeb Jung, has been trying to scuttle the proposals made by the elected representatives. For some unexplainable reasons, Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi has also jumped into this strange fight, and as a consequence, comes across as a politician in khaki when he takes on AAP functionaries, temporarily forgetting that this was the sole prerogative of only the BJP and Congress activists.
Unfortunately for his adversaries, Kejriwal moves about in an extremely well calculated and measured manner. His political astuteness shines through, consistently scoring evidently over others. The CM has been able to keep his core constituency intact, while locking horns with senior Central leaders. However, many of the achievements of his government have gone unnoticed as the focus has primarily been on his combative style. In both health and education sectors, he has proved himself leagues above his predecessors. He has acquitted himself very well in the distribution of power and water as well as tackling pollution. Kejriwal is now concentrating on Punjab where his party has created an extensive organisational network. He is step by step working towards expanding the role of AAP. Therefore, he remains a formidable fighter. Between us.