Millennium Post

Aam Aadmi Party losing focus?

After the recent dharna by the Delhi CM and the rather childish response by his law minister to law and order issues in one part of the capital, there are many who want to write off the party as a regional party which will soon self destruct as its internal contradictions get accentuated. In the case of the CM’s dharna it is argued that for a constitutional authority this amounted to violation of constitutional propriety. Again, with the alleged manhandling of some foreign women in one part of the capital, the women’s organisations are up in arms and the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) is processing a case of criminal intimidation against the concerned minister of the Delhi government.

The issue  generated so much heat  that a senior woman founder member resigned from the party. In general, the argument seems to be that the AAP party is unable to manage the transition from an activist organisation to one which is now running the government in the state. The more charitable  argument is that the AAP never expected to form the government, it was forced to do so by the Congress (and the BJP?) and is unable to come to grips with administration. It is also argued that the AAP party is only a regional player and will soon disappear as it is unable to implement some of its promises to the Delhi voters. So is it all over for the AAP?

Consider some of the issues of micro administration. The media has highlighted the promises of the AAP government to deliver immediately on two major issues: free water and lower electricity bills. On paper the Delhi government has already notified both schemes. Yet, the devil always lies in the details. On water, the issue of block users like RWAs, those in institutional housing etc. are still unresolved since each RWA classifies as a single user and the combined usage of residents of such units  would be more than the  promised free 20 kilolitres or so. Actual bills of each resident would rise since there is a 10 per cent hike in water charges if  usageexceeds  the free allocation. Even for individual users, water is pumped for a given time to most homes by the Delhi Jal Board.  So how does someone stop the inflow of water after the free quota? Then there is  the issue of those who do not have meters at all (in jhuggi clusters) and are serviced by tankers: their water was free anyway! These are issues of detail and not unworkable but the opposition is likely to start campaigning from next month as water bills are unlikely to fall ( and will probably rise) for a majority of the population.

The power issue is more daunting. Again, as highlighted by the media, Delhi residents were to  expect a 50 per cent reduction in their power bills from February this year.  After the previous government’s subsidy of  August 2013,  the DERC notified rates fell to Rs 2.70 per unit (upto 200 units) and Rs 5 per unit (200-400 units). The AAP government has brought these rates down to Rs 1.95 and Rs 2.90 from January 2014. Even this can only be implemented for three months (till March) and about 70 per cent of the additional subsidy is to come from arrears to be recovered from the distribution companies. It is clear that the AAP think tank has little idea of how the national electricity market works (more of this in a later column). Suffice it to say that, come summer and  Delhi, whose power requirement goes from around 3,000 MW in normal times to 5,800 in peak summer,  is likely to see major power cuts unless the current stand of between the Delhi government and the distribution companies comes to an end soon. The high court ruling is only a temporary reprieve.

Yet (and this is the real issue) it seems unfair to argue that the party is likely to be only a blip in the horizon. It is argued that there have been other such ‘upstart’ formations in the past. The examples given are of the All Assam Student Union (AASU) in the mid-eighties and later Naidu of the TDP. Yet the AASU came to power on the limited appeal of the emotional but regional issue of illegal Bangaladeshi migrants. Similarly, Naidu actually took over an already functioning political party (the TDP) on the  regional issue of local pride. On the other hand, the AAP came from nowhere with three issues with strong national appeal. One, that elections can be won without money power and hence the politics-money power nexus is easy to break. Two, that the arrogance of public officials (politicians and bureaucrats) needs to end and, three, that elections can be fought and won without appeal to caste or religious interests.

Yet, by damning all and sundry, and putting up the backs of the media in particular, the AAP has succeeded in marginalising the important macro systemic issues. So now it is to be judged by its ability to deliver on issues of water and electricity in the capital. Not likely in the near future.
There are 13.5 per cent new voters in 2014 (and upto 25 per cent in some states) for whom systemic change is important.  Yet, this seems forgotten as the party volunteers run amok fixing prostitution issues in one part of the capital and water meters in another forgetting that the issue of poor delivery of public services is itself due to a dysfunctional system. As the AAP loses focus, established parties will usurp its macro agenda. We already see this happening in many states. What then for the AAP? If the AAP is to survive, it must reclaim its principal agenda. Otherwise, as Kejriwal is so fond of saying, who needs them?

The author is professor of Economics at JNU
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