Wider vision or political accommodation

After a landslide victory in Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, during the historic oath ceremony at the Ramlila Maidan, said that he would not take the people’s support for granted. Kejriwal also promised that he would work overtime to implement the promises he made during the run-up to the elections. Of the many promises made-as of now, his government has halved the power tariff for consumers up to 400 units of electricity, besides free water supply  to households. Though I have serious reservations about the tall promises made about power and water, I would wait for some time before commenting on the issue as the matter affects the people directly. Criticising it now may invite the charge of not letting the government work.

I am, however, amused at the way the Delhi government is working towards creating opportunities for its political functionaries. The Delhi Dialogues Commission has been created towards this end. Though the Commission is ostensibly under the charge of Chief Minister as ‘chairman’, I suspect it has been created to give work to otherwise ‘jobless’ leaders like Ashish Khetan. The commission’s office is expected to be set up at Satya Niketan in the Chanakya Puri area and plans to recruit “experts and specialists in various fields for tackling various problems head on”.

According to the government, the Delhi Dialogues Commission purports to address a wide range of the civic issues that continue to persist in Delhi. The stated line according to AAP goes something like this- during the election campaigns, AAP volunteers had consistently maintained dialogue with voters to understand their aspirations and fears comprehensively. Considering the huge expectations from the present government, this newly constituted DDC has to play a decisive role in deciding its overall goals and execution plans. The nine-member commission, as mentioned earlier, is led by the Delhi Chief Minister. Former journalist Ashish Khetan will serve as its vice-chairperson. Other members include, the Deputy Chief Minister, Chief Secretary of Delhi, Principal Secretary Finance, secretary to the Chief Minister and a member secretary to be appointed by the Chairperson. He is also entitled to nominate two other members to this commission.

Is this not eerily reminiscent of the Sheila Dikshit-led government’s ‘Bhagidari’ programme? Is the DDC essentially old wine in a new bottle? Dikshit’s ‘Bhagidari’ programme of people-government partnership, which she ran for 15 years, was further directed towards political management through a network of residents’ welfare associations (RWAs) than people’s welfare. The DDC, however, does not propose to follow that route and will probably act as an extra-constitutional body. It is not clear as to what would be the structure of the proposed dialogues. Would it be through the RWAs, which exist as per the provisions of law, or through their team of volunteers, which have no legal mandate in matters of government functioning?

In addition, what would be the Planning Department’s role in the Delhi government? The Planning Department as of now is responsible for preparation of Five Year Plans and Annual Plans of NCT of Delhi for the subjects within its jurisdiction. This involves: (i) Estimation of resources for financing of Annual Plans and Five Year Plan, (ii) Preparation, monitoring and evaluation of Five Year Plan/Annual Plans. The implementation of the respective plans is carried out by different departments of GNCTD, Local Bodies and autonomous organizations under Government of Delhi, which is monitored by the Planning department. This raises the pertinent question-will the DDC through its stated mandate not lead to duplication of work and interference.

AAP had highlighted 70-point action plan in its manifesto. This Commission, now, is being made responsible to chalk out ways to implement these points raised during election campaigns. The commission has claimed that it is going to constitute different task forces on various issues such as water, electricity, pollution etc. These will, by the government’s own admission, be comprised of subject experts who will consult people and come up with the optimum solution. No structure for the selection of these experts has been defined. Thus it’s implicitly understood that they may be AAP sympathisers and take forward the agenda of political accommodation.

The government has claimed that initially some task forces will be set up to rejuvenate and revive the Yamuna and other water bodies. They will also be responsible for checking air pollution, women’s safety and empowerment, e-governance, CCTV and Wi-Fi issues. Comprehensive waste management and sanitation will also be on their agenda. The last issue would bring them into direct confrontation with civic and municipal bodies. It would invite contest and confrontation between sympathizers of two different political parties, which would ultimately be bad for governance.

The DDC could kick start some unethical practices too. The government has said that to find the best possible solution, DDC will be studying the functionalities and best practices existing across the country and even around the world. Does this mean foreign junkets for the AAP sympathisers, masquerading as so-called experts? Only time will tell. Kejriwal should respect the mandate of people. Instead of working towards political accommodation, he should strive for people’s welfare. He has a tough challenge at hand; he should try to rise to it instead of shirking it.

(The writer is chairman, Education Committee, South MCD and general secretary, Delhi BJP)
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