Full state for Delhi: AAP’s obsession a misplaced idea

Kejriwal may well ponder how this obsession in reality dwarfs the space he needs for action.

Strangely, Arvind Kejriwal has never made a serious bid to wrest control of MCDs, which deal with salient issues of concern to citizens.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s manifesto for the 2019 general elections reiterates its ‘sole objective’ of “making Delhi a full state.” The 35-page document belabours the point with fallacious arguments, even citing specious instances as of the Vatican and universities in US cities, to buttress the claim, which but tantamount to sophistry.

Somewhat of a diarchy, a dual centre of powers is not unique for Delhi. Most metropolitan capital cities across the world have their own unique governance systems. Explaining how the multiplicity of authority impeded implementation of Delhi’s master plan and policy, former mayor of Madrid’s central district, now at Marron Institute of Urban Management, Pedro B Ortiz maintains that “a metropolis needs a federal system.” Sharing a similar view at the recent consultation ‘Re-inventing Delhi’ on Delhi’s 2041 Master Plan, Sebastien Maire, chief resilience officer of Paris, held that “a central agency” is well placed to resolve “the biggest challenge of coordination among multiple stakeholders.”

With a plethora of elected and other agencies, with little coordination, the administrative structure for Delhi is in need of drastic remake. In addition to 272 councillors in three municipalities, 70 MLAs in NCT, 7 MPs, there is NDMC for the cloistered Lutyens’ zone, and Cantonment Board, not to talk of Union government controlling its land and policing. Strangely, Arvind Kejriwal has never made a serious bid to wrest control of MCDs, which deal with salient issues of concern to citizens.

Notwithstanding both the Congress and the BJP being guilty of promising full statehood for Delhi in their election manifestos and reversing the stand when in power at the Centre, the issue has often been debated. The Supreme Court recently underlined the unique nature of the role assigned to the LG, advising the CM and the LG “for a harmonious working relation” to serve the people. Well known for his short fuse, Kejriwal termed the verdict as “anti-Constitution” and “anti-democracy.” Worse still, one of his senior colleagues contemptuously termed it “a naib tehsildar court.”

Betraying ignorance of gigantic challenges Delhi faces, most of AAP’s 2019 manifest signifies much of old wine in old bottles—free supply of water, much cheaper electricity, houses to all middle class people, even undesirable, if not irresponsible, promises with the potential to damage primary and higher education, et al. (“We will build so many colleges and universities that even those with 60% will get seats.”) Instead of ferreting out anachronistic populist platitudes, its leadership needed to indicate its serious intent of collating best practices worldwide for sagaciously and earnestly devising a sustainable framework conducive to rebuilding the metropolis with a happy blend of its pristine heritage with rising aspirations of a new India, in concert with the Centre and neighbouring states.

Kejriwal pooh-poohed the former three-term CM Sheila Dikshit’s counsel that, notwithstanding Delhi’s powers being perforce limited, due to its special status as a Union Territory, Delhi state can indeed do a lot as her government successfully operated within the limited jurisdiction. He had no qualm in adding, “Still in the last four years we have done more work than her government did in 15 years.” Which magic did the humble jhadu wield to clear the Augean stables? The hyperbolic claim was in tune with the general tenor of AAP’s self-delusion. Consider his glib claim: “India is being known at the world stage due to the Delhi model of governance.” and his thunder at AAP’s 6th Foundation Day, “The revolution in health and education witnessed in last three and a half years in Delhi is being talked about internationally!” Isn’t it a stark instance of inflated amour propre; Kejriwal couldn’t be unaware of the perils of narcissism.

First, the AAP needs to do due diligence to comprehend how much Delhi by virtue of being the capital city benefits from a plethora of central government-aided facilities—educational, medical, infrastructural, fiscal. Instead, the AAP chooses to sow seeds of parochial view of India, maintaining that vacancies in Delhi government are “scooped up by people from outside,” and that students from other cities and states corner all available seats in colleges and universities!

Second, like China envisioning three big urban clusters—along the Pearl River, Yangtze River and the Beijing-Tianjin corridor, each with 50 million people or more—Delhi needs to calibrate its plans in the context of the National Capital Region (NCR). Delhi confronts gargantuan problems. It may boast of an annual per capita income of Rs 3.29 lakh (2017-18), almost thrice that of India, it has almost 2.5 lakh homeless people, and 49% of its population in slums and unauthorised colonies. With people pouring into the city and cars pouring on to roads, the outlook for the environment looks grim. Countless encroachments devour the green belt and create lucrative real estates. The number of jhuggis shot up from 12,000 in 1951 to 5 lakh now. It has some 75 lakh registered vehicles. If population and diseases don’t kill, the capital’s roads do. Migrants formed 45% of the addition to city’s population in 2011, up from 40% in 2001, which is projected by MPD-2021 to rise to 50% in 2021.

Whereas the AAP-ruled 1,483 sq km NCT around Delhi as its core is estimated by the Master Plan to be home to 2.3 crore by 2021, the NCR, extending over 55,098 sq km, including 23 districts from three states, is projected to home population of 6.4 crore by 2021, up from 4.6 crore (Census 2011). Axiomatic is it that NCR be treated as a Common Economic Zone, with rationalised interstate tax structure, uniform financial/banking services, telecom facilities and power supply, integrated education policy, health policy, rail and road transport network, water supply and drainage system.

The AAP appears justified in claiming that it broke “the spine of corruption in Delhi” in its initial 49-day government. It needs to introspect why the aura evaporated. Its biggest positive contribution was before it first came to power in Delhi. With avowed unconventional politics, its astonishing debut generated a wave of optimism, a hope to cleanse the country’s debauched politics. It needs to ponder why what looked like a green oasis in political wilderness soon proved to be a mirage.

Born with birthmark of perilously populist promises of freebies, the AAP finds itself unable to transform its apparatus from the protest mode to responsible governance. From Jantar Mantar to Sachivalaya is a long journey, which, it has sadly shown, it is unable to comprehend, much less complete. Kejriwal needs to heed the wisdom of the adage—it’s only a bad worker who quarrels with his tools. There is a lot that needs to be done, and can well be done within the limitation of powers available to the NCT government. Why must he let an impression persist that, for him, it has to be the AAP way or no way.

(The author is senior fellow, Asian Institute of Transport Development, Delhi)

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