After the Delirium, Challenges Await Kejriwal
By Tarun Nangia and Sumati Mehrishi | ENS - NEW DELHI
Published: 29th Dec 2013 07:18:14 AM
On a weekend afternoon in Ramlila Maidan, which is Delhi’s dramatic theatre where good vanquishes evil, hundreds of white flags showing a beaming Big Brother flew over the heads of a joyful crowd. They had come to see Arvind Kejriwal, AAP chieftain and their beloved leader take the oath as Delhi’s seventh chief minister, bringing a movement full circle—August 16, 2011 to December 28, 2013. Kejriwal had a bad throat. But his voice was strong as he appealed to supporters to take an oath of honesty and even sang a parody of a famous Manna Dey song. Kejriwal and man Friday Manish Sisodia reminded AAP volunteers to remain humble and polite to people. “Topi ka dhyaan aur maan rahey (Be careful about the honour of the AAP cap),” said Sisodia. Supporters displayed banners that described Kejriwal as “Rashtra Mitr”, friend of the nation. Some supporters used jhhadu (broom), AAP’s election symbol instead of poles to wave the party flag. (AAP doesn’t have a flag; an irritated AAP strategist said the idea never struck them). Thousands of supporters sang patriotic songs in chorus and waved the Tricolour. The man who had mocked power had achieved it, and will soon find that power itself would be his greatest challenge. Kejriwal had clashed with the Sheila Dikshit government over power rates, alleging collusion. Power companies claim that their Rs 11,000 crore loss can be recovered only by hiking prices. If Kejriwal acts on his promise, losses could mount to around Rs 4,000 crore yearly. But the CM has an escape hatch: in case BSES cannot supply power at lower rates, Kejriwal has warned that the state government can take over the power grid, buy cheap power from NTPC or other private players.
Many said AAP the move of forming the government with Congress’ support was a necessary evil, though unease was a palpable odor. Kejriwal has powerful challenges to overcome—break the stranglehold of the politically connected water tanker mafia and hand over development work to mohalla sabhas than MLAs. In spite of the promise of 700 free litres of water daily, forty per cent of Delhi doesn’t get water as pipe networks do not exist in many areas. Can he lay thousands of kilometres of pipelines, but even conservative estimates say such a project would take a couple of years to complete. Does he have some much time at hand? Kejriwal would have to successfully negotiate with Haryana’s Congress government to release 80 million gallons, which could provide the Delhi Congress leverage. Kejriwal will be opposed by the political class if he tries to abolish MLA’s grants of `5 crore a year. Under him, Moholla committees would decide what improvement work in their localities rather than the MLA unilaterally taking a decision. In a TV sting operation, Congress MLAs were seen telling that they would not agree to MLA funds being scraped.
At Ramlila Maidan prevailed an air of doubt over the Congress. Neerja (name changed), became agitated seeing a Congress poster outside the Ramlila Grounds. She yelled to an AAP volunteer, “Tear this poster off. We have uprooted them from the capital. They won’t let us stay in the government. They won’t let us work. They are all crooks.”
But the ones who gave AAP the wheels were the autorickshaw drivers of Delhi, displaying the broom posters for free. CNG prices in Delhi went up by Rs 4.50 per kg. Autorickshaw unions, which wholeheartedly support Kejriwal, announced a strike, but cancelled it stating that they would wait to see what Kejriwal does. IGL, the company that supplies CNG to Delhi said that they have acted as per court orders. But, since politics is about perception, the general public may hold Kejriwal responsible if he not able to control runaway increase in CNG prices in the capital. He may face stiff protests from the BJP, which has said that it would protest against the AAP government if it does not control rising CNG prices.
It isn’t going to be easy for the minority government to keep all its promises. Sisodia has a tough job in hand—he controls Education, Higher Education, PWD, Urban Development, Local Bodies and Land and Building. AAP has promised the DDA will build 500 schools, but getting land to build a single school make take up to two years. Sisodia will have to counter power private school managements, who dither on admissions to poor and thrive on ‘donation’ culture. Mohammad Saifullah from Matia Masjid said that people’s expectations from the Aam Aadmi Party have gone up. He said, “People of Delhi want English medium schools in the bastis and jhuggies.”
Schools are languishing without teachers and the recruitment process of 15,000 teachers have to be sped up. Saurabh Bharadwaj, minister for Food and Civil Supplies and Transport faces the sensitive task of making ration shops deliver, keep proper hours and deliver the promised food grains to people. Sheila Dikshit’s grain delivery scheme, touted to be game changer failed to win her the elections, and Bharadwaj would have to prove AAP can do a better job by streamlining systems. To protect its support base among labourers and semi skilled workers, AAP has to ensure minimum wages laws are followed by small scale industries in Delhi. Labour minister Girish Soni has to ensure that labourers are given facilities by companies, builders, contractors as per labour laws. The middle class wants its share of the pie—AAP plans to ensure that a large pool of unskilled youth in Delhi get’s skill training which will help them get jobs. The young Rakhi Birla, minister for Women and Child Development and Social Welfare has a pivotal challenge: getting more working women’s hostels to ensure their safety, while Law minister Somnath Bharati has to keep AAP’s promise to open many new courts and appoint as many judicial officers so that each case involving woman victims can be decided within six months. Satyendra Jain, the Health and Industries minister faces one of the greatest challenges in his career as a first time politician—improve Delhi’s health care. Hospitals run by the Delhi state government are in a mess, and in the age of privatization and big hospital chains moving in with franchise offers, he has to deliver on AAP’s private to making government hospitals at par with private ones.
“Criticizing politicians, the system and making villains out of them to gain political power is different, and coming to power by doing work is another,” said a senior BJP MLA. Those outside the system of governance can feel that every decision can be taken in one day, but once inside you realize that the process takes its own time. “Yes, Kejriwal can take steps towards cleaning the system as he is not corrupt, but how can one shorten the decision making process itself?”