Delhi Government: Getting Even With The Odd Chief Minister
Open|January 25, 2016

A righteous Kejriwal makes the governance of Delhi all about one man’s whims and paranoia.

Aanchal Bansal

The last month of 2015 was a trying month for the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi. Less than a year since its leader Arvind Kejriwal had swept the state’s Assembly polls to become Chief Minister with 67 legislators in a house of 70, delivering a blow to a BJP basking in the glow of its all-India victory just half a year earlier, the government found itself lurching from crisis to crisis. It was subjected to a scathing rebuke from the Judiciary over its inability to curb air pollution, an embarrassing raid was carried out by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that sealed the office of one of its key officers, nearly 200 of its bureaucrats went on a one-day strike, and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley filed a defamation suit against Kejriwal for making allegations that linked him with financial irregularities at the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA).

More recently, while the jury is still out on whether the plan to allow alternately numbered cars on Delhi roads for the first 15 days of January has been a success against air pollution, AAP leaders have been making grand claims of having tackled one of the city’s big menaces and delivered real governance. A closer look at how the Kejriwal government has been operating, however, reveals not just chaos in the corridors but a style of functioning that leaves officials and observers alike exasperated.

According to sources within the government, the odd-even formula was rolled out in a hurry—and without adequate preparation—after it was pulled up by the Delhi High Court and National Green Tribunal. On 3 December, the court had labelled the city a ‘gas chamber’ and asked the government to come up with an immediate action plan. While acting against pollution was part of the AAP manifesto for the polls, sources say, not much could be done during its initial months in power due to a constant standoff between the Chief Minister’s Office and the Lieutenant Governor’s office over jurisdiction rights. “It was only after the rap by the court that the idea of the odd-even scheme—earlier implemented by Beijing and Mexico City—was floated by the Delhi Dialogue Commission [a government funded think-tank headed by AAP’s Ashish Khetan] as an instant measure, which was then pulled out within a day,” says an official in the Delhi government. It was the only feasible option that was available right away, but what followed was classic AAP publicity workmanship in action. While AAP volunteers went on a door-to-door campaign to spread awareness of the scheme, Chief Minister Kejriwal took to the mike on radio airwaves—with some ‘Gandhirgiri’ by way of rose handouts for rule-breakers—to sell its virtues and enlist public support. The government has reportedly spent Rs 8-10 crore on this publicity blitz over December and January. Critics say that the expense is yet to be justified by the results.

“The odd-even rule is even being publicised as a success despite reports of it hardly affecting the pollution readings. At best, it reduced congestion on the roads,” says BJP MLA and former Delhi unit head Vijender Gupta, who alleges that ‘volunteers’ were paid to monitor vehicles on streets, and that too, without a formal budget being cleared. “They were paid Rs 500 a day. Where has the budget come from?” he asks, adding that this is just one example of the norms being flouted by the government. “This is all about political posturing,” he says.

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