Arvind Kejriwal’s Paranoia Reaches Indira Gandhi Levels

Arvind Kejriwal’s Paranoia Reaches Indira Gandhi Levels

In Delhi, there is a war raging between the elected Government and the Lieutenant Governor (LG). A war about the appointing of an Acting Chief Secretary for a period of 10 days, while the current incumbent is on leave. Would you believe it? Why is so much energy being wasted on such a temporary posting? Why does it matter so much to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal that he is publicly discrediting the officer in question, Shakuntala Gamlin, as someone “close to power companies”,  and attacking the LG for breaching constitutional norms by not following the government’s recommendations.Why is there so much sound and fury over what seems a trivial issue? Or is there a larger game afoot?

One could argue that this battle over this minor appointment is actually part of the greater tussle that Mr Kejriwal has been having with the Centre about how Delhi’s dyarchial system of government should work. Unlike states that have full statehood, Delhi is a Union Territory where powers are divided between the LG acting on behalf of the central Government, and the elected state government. So key powers such as Law and Order and appointments are under the LG. And this has been an issue with Mr Kejriwal since he came to power. He has demanded consultation on the appointment and transfer of police officers, has asked the Secretariat (government headquarters) not to send files to the LG, and variously sought to change the equation between his office and that of the LG. As the LG has resisted, the conflict has lingered and the latest attack can be seen in the context of Mr Kejriwal trying to lay down the norms for future appointments. He has already got support from the Congress, the CPM and Omar Abdullah on this. But did he needed to publicly defame an officer who does not have the right to reply to gain this ground? Not really, but then that is Mr Kejriwal’s style: attack people mercilessly and often with flimsy or no evidence and accuse them of corruption so as to win public support.

And that is what the real battle is for: public support. Mr Kejriwal knows that three months after being in power, the love and affection of the Delhi voter for him has fallen a considerable few notches To many, AAP rule in Delhi has been one of giveaways and of conflict.

So we are supposed to be getting 20,000 litres of water free, but since the meters are faulty or don’t work, and billing is erratic, nobody really knows what is going on. But this promise by AAP seems to be delivered. Similarly, people using less than 400 units of electricity a month are getting an enhanced subsidy. And this has come without too many power cuts. Mr Kejriwal claims that corruption is down 70-80 percent. His daughter can testify to that – she tried to bribe an officer at the transport department and failed.

The anti-corruption hotline is up and running, and in just over a month, the government claims to have received 1.4 lakh complaints. That’s 3,000 complaints a day. If that volume is reliable, every corrupt officer in Delhi should have been in jail by now. But hyperbole is an acceptable political weapon, and catering to one’s constituencies is a given of politics.

So, auto-rickshaw drivers, who, according to Kejriwal, helped AAP win, have been given license to do whatever they want: refuse passengers trips and generally behave as a law onto themselves. And teachers have been encouraged to teach vipassana (meditation) and the government will fund vipassana trips for them. Just like they did for Mr Kejriwal and his family’s short residence in Bangalore after he was elected.

These are simple giveaways that do not require much governance. But on issues that require more thought,  the Government seems to be without any direction. AAP alleges that Ms Gamlin, the Acting Chief Secretary and Power Secretary, asked the Power Minister to sign a comfort letter for a loan for BSES, one of the companies that supplies power in the capital. As a 49 per cent shareholder in the company, the Delhi Government has previously (as confirmed by former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit) signed such letters. To accuse someone of being “close to power companies” on this ground seems odd; but more importantly, if the lack of the letter stops the loan, where will the money come from to pay companies that supply power to Delhi? And if those firms are not paid, they will cut off power to Delhi. And then who will Mr Kejriwal blame? Bureaucrats, the central government or the power companies?

Prior to the war with the LG’s office, AAP was at war with itself as Mr Kejriwal sought to oust the two people within the party that had the stature to argue with him. The battle was not about Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan acting against AAP, but about their daring to question Mr Kejriwal. Like most Indian political leaders, Mr Kejriwal sees himself as infallible, and someone who must be obeyed. So under the garb of being humble lies a man who has systematically eliminated his rivals from his sphere – earlier victims arguably include Anna and Kiran Bedi.

But Mr Kejriwal’s paranoia does not end with those within. From the heady days of the Ram Lila Ground where the anti-corruption movement hit its peak to early 2015, the media and Kejriwal seemed to enjoy a love fest. The media lost its neutrality in providing extraordinary coverage to Kejriwal and Co. ahead of the Delhi election, while AAP made sure the media got a supply of catchy soundbites. Unfortunately (for AAP), the media’s love is transient. As AAP brought the aaya rams (questionable candidates) into the party for the elections, there was a realisation that these guys were just like the other guys – anything to win a few more seats. Pity that, because the AAP would have swept Delhi without those ‘converts’ from the mainline parties. But the scales had fallen and the media was more questioning. The media swing was too late to sway people, but AAP remembered this and as party leader Ashutosh pointed out on ndtv.com, five channels (he has some scientific basis for this, no doubt ) were against them in the election.

After AAP came into power, the media was first locked out of the Secretariat, so that it would not have access to bureaucrats; then it was pilloried for its ‘lynching’ of the Law Minister (over allegations of a fake degree), and finally, the media was threatened with criminal defamation. The paranoia reached Indira Gandhi levels when the Delhi government set up a channel-monitoring centre to catch and then punish errant and no doubt deviant media behavior.

So is AAP creating these warlike situations to distract people from the reality of little governance, or is it unable to change its spots?

If it is the former, then this government is struggling to come to grips with administration and policy and being so unable, is creating a ‘warlike’ situation so that it can tell its constituents, “See everyone is stopping us from doing what is good for you”. It is not a bad strategy when you are groping for an understanding of how to handle the levers of powers. There will be enough people who will buy the argument that despite internal enemies, the centre and a paid media against him, Mr Kejriwal is trying his best.

The other option is more worrying. Is it possible that someone who has spent so long leading the flag of agitation finds it difficult to jump off that horse and onto another one that provides governance? The agitator syndrome?  Where agitation is not just a means to an end but an end in itself.

Somewhere in all this is a confused administration with few policy ideas, who find it easier to battle the windmills in their minds than the realities of everyday governance.

(Ishwari Bajpai is Senior Advisor at NDTV; he has been a journalist for 30 years, and has covered the elections since 1984.)


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