Millennium Post

Umbra, penumbra of Indian politics

Aam Aadmi Party commenced serious work in Delhi not very long ago and reached out to individual households. This rekindled in the average voter a sense of identity, entitlement and made it aware of its capability to effect change. This approach was in sharp contrast with the strategy of many others which viewed citizens either as nonparticipating asset or willing recipients of inducements.

They spent time in squabbling, intriguing and exhibiting medieval values of oligarchy while AAP workers tried to focus on the eye of the fish in a revolving wheel. The silent perseverance of the workers and their faith in democratic working with commitment to transparency, made the AAP in Delhi somewhat exceptional. Some of those who watched the new experiment were not so much worried whether the volunteers’ efforts would lead the party to the seat of power; they were thrilled that these volunteers made the Juggernaut move. Delhi that looked invincible a few months ago steadily looked achievable. The result took even the most celebrated psephologist by surprise.

India’s conventional politics and its architects and patrons received the first culture shock in Delhi with the austere Arvind Kejriwal entering the Delhi Raj Bhavan on foot. The distraught electorate, used to the lavish fanfare associated with power, suddenly turned inquisitor and demanded an early compliance of the election promises of the fledging Party hardly realising that  it never had been so sensitive about fulfillment of election promises of the just ousted government or its predecessors. Speech of Dr Harsh Vardhan – whom our countrymen respect for his contribution to Polio eradication – in the Delhi Assembly preceding the Vote of Confidence could have been as encouraging as Arvind Kejriwal’s .  One had the tinge of an elegy while the other was an invocation; one rang some amount of despondency, the other hope. One conveyed the pangs of the old, the other the elixir of life. On that day, India’s conventional politics exhibited reluctance to welcome change. Personally, I would have loved to see Dr Harsh Vardhan staging a walkout with his party men ; allowing the confidence vote without a dissent  and thereafter  functioning as the Leader of a responsible Opposition. A real democracy had a chance to blossom that day. Notwithstanding my disappointment, I had a glimpse of Dr Harsh Vardhan’s large heart as he embraced Arvind Kejriwal warmly in the cold December Saturday morning at Ramlila Ground on the 28th.

Soon thereafter, Arvind Kejriwal was the toast of the town. He announced a few measures to provide relief to the middle class. Questions were raised about how such populist schemes would be financed. The fledging Government responded and the Local Area Development Fund of the MLAs was scrapped. The saving would be used on worthwhile schemes as per the wisdom of the Mohalla Committees. AAP thereby did away with a scheme that had doubtful rationale and signaled the advent of meaningful decentralisation.  There could be many other avenues as well for generating additional government revenue. The prevailing circle rates which represents the official rates at which property in Delhi can be registered is a mere 40 per cent of the market value. In case the circle rates are revised to align them with market rates, one eliminates perhaps the single largest source of black money and significantly raises tax receipts by way of enhanced registration charges.

This would provide funds to subsidise the poor, for better governance as also cleanse the system.
Today India’s turbid political scene looks askance at the advent of a maverick who seeks a rationale in various institutions of governance. Millions of people of our country have been silently bearing the pang of accepting the mere form of the system devoid of essence. We have been conditioned not to challenge even the most bizarre; we refuse to question a chief minister why he does not  speak the language of the people of the state. We do not find fault if a state government spends crores of rupees of the tax payers by engaging the best legal experts to argue in courts why a huge mining scam or a chit-fund scam should not be investigated by the CBI. We seem to have accepted frequent interruptions of the business in the various legislatures of the country as normal. We have been conditioned to respect status quo, irrespective of its rationale. We have made truce with steady degeneration of public institutions.

AAP has been asking questions why things have gone wrong; it has been suggesting ways how things can be set right. This stance is legitimate activism; it should not raise eyebrows nor should it generate consternation.  Delhi chief minister surely has reasons to ask for a review of the existing Transaction Business Rules of 2002 made by the Central government.  Even eminent jurist, Soli Sorabjee finds serious legal infirmities in the said Rules. The proposed Jan Lok Pal Bill of Delhi Government needs to be placed before the legislature soon and all stakeholders need to ensure this. AAP has been addressing to the important issue of severe marginalisation of the common man and its energy is focussed on bringing him to the centre-stage. Restoration of the dignity of the commoner; its empowerment and its right to fair living are the burden of Kejriwal’s song that is creating ripples in many parts of the country. It is interesting to know about the type of people who are eager to move towards Arvind Kejriwal.

Recently, the small group of about seven regular morning-walkers, in the age group of 65-80, in a Temple Garden in Bhubaneswar asked me if I could help them in enrolling them into the Aam Aadmi Party. ‘You can do it on net, retaining the privilege of your privacy, as an act of self-purification, even by paying the token fee of ten rupees on net’. I noticed a streak of disappointment. None in the group, save the lone one who was slowly walking to join the group, was internet savvy. He, a retired Surgeon, joined the conversation. He didn’t have a credit card or a debit card. One in the group who had, didn’t know how to handle the computer. Other members in the group perhaps were innocent both of the card and the net. ‘Should you not hurry up and pay ten rupees as I did this morning , before setting out on my morning walk?’ I suggested. They did not disagree. The elderly citizens seemed savouring the soft tail-wind of the Temple Garden that was favouring the fledging Party. In the evening of their lives they seemed anxious to inhale a heavy dose of fresh air and exhale the toxin deposited through long years of suffering from India’s political oligarchy. One of them had served a former Chief Minister for years; he was the oldest in the group and most anxious. In the small picturesque hilly district headquarters town, Phulbani, an AAP volunteer assures the harassed local youths of obtaining driving licence by paying only the officially prescribed rates and he is soon surrounded by 50 young men who were made to believe that licence always cost much more. The volunteer wins their confidence and the word spreads into the tribal heartland of Odisha.

The author is former coal secretary
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