An open letter to Aam Aadmi Party Chief Arvind Kejriwal

An open letter to Aam Aadmi Party Chief Arvind Kejriwal…

Dear Mr Kejriwal,

Heartiest congratulations on your emphatic and historic electoral triumph! As you get set to occupy the office of Delhi’s chief minister, I wish to bring to your notice some critical issues on which you will be tested for next five years.

First, you have vowed to fight corruption. However, at times, your party’s solutions to fighting corruption appear to be over-simplified. As a former revenue service officer and anti-corruption crusader, who would know this better than you, that corruption cannot be fought simply by instilling fear in the hearts of officials or by having draconian anti-corruption laws. One of the major reasons for corruption is the ‘unnecessary’ discretionary power that many government officials—right from a lower-division clerk to a Secretary—enjoys. Yes, officials need discretionary power to discharge their professional duties. However, this power is often abused. Curbing this discretionary power or putting systems in place to check the abuse of this power is very important. This requires a systematic overhaul of governance. Most governments in India have only paid lip-service to this. I hope your government will take credible steps to bring about this systematic overhaul.

Second, you have made many promises to Delhi’s electorate—ranging from getting full statehood for Delhi and providing swaraj to mohalla sabhas to providing free wi-fi connectivity. However, fulfilling all these promises in five years is going to be a very staggering task. Getting full statehood for Delhi or providing swaraj to mohalla sabhas will surely hit legal roadblocks. Thus, pragmatism demands that you prioritise your promises for delivery. An ordinary citizen of Delhi does not care much about things like full statehood. However, she surely cares about the delivery of basic services by the state, such as 24-hour potable water supply, sanitation, good roads, etc. The aam aadmi desperately wants the state to make it easier for her to apply for things like driving licence, birth/death certificate, marriage registration, payment of municipal taxes, etc. While solving water-problems of Delhi will require, apart from political will, both time and resources, improving the delivery of other basic services is certainly doable in the short-run. I urge you to intensify the use of e-governance to simplify the process of application and issuance of licences, certificates, etc, so that ordinary citizens can get these things done without feeling the need of hiring a tout or paying a bribe. More use of e-governance and technology, with the involvement of private sector as it has happened in the case of delivery of passport services, will also considerably reduce the unnecessary interface between ordinary citizens and state. This, in turn, will also lessen corruption and bring down instances of harassment of aam aadmi by government officials.

Read more: Arvind Kejriwal raises full-statehood issue with Home Minister

Third, there is an apprehension that you stand for politics of populism—subsidising electricity tariffs, for example. This politics of populism, to a great extent, is responsible for deep-rooted fiscal mess that we see in this country. While we should have subsidies for poor, providing subsidies to rich should stop. I will welcome a reduction in electricity tariffs by your government, if the current tariffs are high because of corruption or cronyism, as you have claimed. However, artificial lowering of tariffs, in the long run, will have adverse impact on state’s exchequer and also power generation and distribution. Specifically, in the case of power sector, prime minister Modi’s suggestion of bringing in more competition in electricity-distribution in Delhi is worth exploring. Monopolies, government or private, tend to be inefficient and survive on cronyism. Your party’s ‘white paper on electricity’ accepts that more competition in electricity distribution will help contain the rise of electricity tariffs. I suppose there is no one solution but a bouquet of things has to be tried to solve Delhi’s power woes.

Fourth, I urge you to immediately take steps towards revamping and modernising the virtual face of Delhi government. Most websites of Delhi government have a very sarkari look and feel to them. They are not interactive and often do not provide comprehensive information about all policies of the government in a user-friendly manner. This needs to change in a priority basis.

Read more: Arvind Kejriwal hits Delhi road running, lists 4 must-do things before Narendra Modi govt

Fifth, I see all kinds of people basking in the glory of your success and trying to expropriate your achievement to pursue their own agendas or to score political goals over their political rivals. With all humility at my command, I wish to caution you against such people. There is also an attempt to brand your politics as ‘left’, ‘left of the centre’, etc. One of the reasons that people across caste, income and class categories have voted for you is because they don’t find you and your party dogmatic. They believe that you are a pragmatic leader who does not worry whether the cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice! I hope you continue to practice your politics in this pragmatic fashion away from distorted ideological labels.

Finally, colossal mandates often make political parties very arrogant. I am glad that you have already started on a positive note by reminding your party workers not to let this electoral victory go to their heads. Perhaps, you will have to keep reminding them about this regularly.

I hope your government will have ample tolerance for criticism and dissent and will bring about key governance-related reforms, which, so far, have remained a distant dream for the aam aadmi—the pivot of your politics. I conclude with my best wishes to you as you start the process of satisfying the gigantic expectations of people of Delhi.

Yours truly,
Prabhash Ranjan

The author is an assistant professor of law at the South Asian University, New Delhi. Views are personal.

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