On February 11, thanking voters for giving his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) a second consecutive landslide mandate in the Delhi assembly election, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the victory indicated the birth of a new politics in India—the ‘politics of performance’. For sure, AAP’s 62-seat haul is a vindication of his party’s governance record in its first full term, but it’s equally an endorsement of his electoral pitch, his tactical smarts in the face of a viciously polarising campaign run by the BJP. On January 6, he had appealed to the people: “Vote for us (AAP) only if you think we have done good work in the past five years.”
Kejriwal’s confidence to seek votes on the basis of performance came from his government’s focus on issues directly touching the lives of a majority of Delhi’s residents—education, healthcare, transport and, above all, delivery of government services in a corruption-free environment. The AAP government not only improved the infrastructure of government schools but also tangibly enhanced their quality of education. It also put a stop to arbitrary fee hikes by private schools, through auditing of the accounts of all schools built on government allotted land. The Mohalla Clinic initiative, which provides free healthcare to the masses, has been lauded by the likes of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland, former director-general of the World Health Organization. To eliminate corruption in government departments and promote ease of doing business, the Kejriwal administration introduced doorstep delivery of 70 government services, including caste, income, domicile and marriage certificates.
But, possibly, the biggest vote-puller was what many critics dub Kejriwal’s ‘politics of freebies’. The AAP government offered residents free electricity upto 200 units, free water upto 20,000 litres and free rides for women on public buses. “Freebies in limited doses are good for the economy. They make more money available to the poor, and boost demand,” argues Kejriwal. “However, it should be done within such limits that no extra tax is imposed and it does not lead to a budget deficit.”
To its credit, the AAP government, which rode to power in February 2015 winning 67 of the 70 seats, has maintained a surplus budget without increasing taxes or imposing new ones. It turned the fiscal deficit of Rs 3,942 crore in 2013-14 to a fiscal surplus of Rs 113 crore in 2017-18. Perhaps this was not hard to achieve given Kejriwal’s background as an activist. The former income tax officer had, in 1999, founded an NGO called Parivartan, which not only addressed citizens’ grievances related to public works and welfare schemes but also used the RTI Act to analyze how money allocated to public works was being squandered. That experience helped him plug wastage in public expenditure. “A flyover estimated to cost Rs 325 crore was completed with Rs 250 crore. Earlier, a Rs 300 crore flyover would ultimately cost Rs 1,500 crore, after cost and time overruns. We are saving in terms of both cost and time,” Kejriwal claimed in an interview.
Political analysts say Kejriwal’s welfare schemes targeting the lowest economic strata paid him rich dividends. “Sheila Dikshit focused on building good infrastructure, which appealed to the middle class. Kejriwal took benefits—such as free power and water—to those for whom waivers matter the most,” says Prof. Sudha Pai of the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
Critics, however, say the higher allocations to education—a fourth of the Rs 60,000 crore budget for 201920—health and freebies diffused focus on other priority sectors such as infrastructure. For instance, the share of transportation in the total state expenditure declined from 17 per cent in 2013-14 to 10 per cent in 2018-19.
Continue Reading with Magzter GOLD
Log-in, if you are already a subscriber
Get unlimited access to thousands of curated premium stories and 5,000+ magazines
READ THE ENTIRE ISSUE
February 24, 2020