Forget Modi’s One-Man Band, AAP’s Model of Governance is the Way Forward

Civil defence volunteers in Delhi monitoring the odd even car number scheme. Credit: PTI

Civil defence volunteers in Delhi monitoring the odd even car number scheme. Credit: PTI

On March 15 last year, the state run Chinese news agency, Xinhua, ran a critical piece on Indian democracy. Coincidentally, the scathing commentary appeared exactly a month after the Aam Aadmi Party decimated the two most powerful and firmly entrenched national parties in the Delhi state assembly elections. The verdict was a vindication of the possibilities of Indian democracy. However, Xinhua termed the process of elections in an Indian-style democracy as the mere means of division of power. It said, mockingly, that if China had opted for democracy it would have become another India “where 20% of the world’s poorest live and whose democracy focuses on how power is divided”.

It was not the first time that Indian democracy was ridiculed. Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew had once famously said that ‘Indians talk while Chinese do.” Domestically too, many commentators and economists have faulted the consensual decision-making process of our system for policy logjams. “I consider China as my role model in development,” Andhra Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu stated recently at an investors meet. It is not a mere coincidence that Naidu is openly aligned with the NDA.

Since taking over as prime minister, Narendra Modi has set in motion a top-down, autocratic model of governance. In May 2015, the Economist called Modi a one-man band. It said, “Mr Modi has concentrated more power in his own hands than any prime minister in recent memory. The problem is that India needs a transformation—and the task is too much for a one-man band”. Modi has shown scant regard for parliamentary democracy. Around a dozen ordinances have been issued in less than one and a half years of his rule. NDA-appointed governors in non-BJP ruled states have been trying to derail the democratically elected governments at the centre’s behest. Absolute obedience to one man’s authority is the hallmark of the Modi model of governance.

In stark contrast to the razzmatazz of the Modi model that seeks reverence, faithfulness and loyalty of the people, the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi has been putting in place a participatory, discursive and decentralised model of governance. The list of the Delhi government’s achievements is long though grossly under-reported. Since February 2015, the AAP’s government has hugely improved the supply of water, the delivery of public services, the quality of education and medical care provided in government institutions and also made the power tariff affordable. Government processes have been made simpler, logical and objective by massively cutting down on red-tape and corruption. However, it is the unanticipated success of the ‘odd-even private car scheme’ that has for the first time focussed the national spotlight on the AAP model of governance.

Allegations against AAP

The single biggest charge against the AAP so far has been that it is good only at holding agitations and mass movements – governance is not its forte. The second allegation has been that Chief Minister Arvind Kejiwal is a man in hurry and he doesn’t have a clue of how to conceive and carry out large public projects. Both these charges have been conclusively demolished by the unprecedented success of the odd-even number plate formula.

The political executive has always been shy of taking difficult policy decisions that may cause short-term pain for long-term gains, leaving it to the judiciary to carry out seemingly unpleasant executive functions. Whether it was the decision to ban diesel buses in favour of CNG or the imposition of an environment compensation charge on non-destined commercial vehicles entering Delhi or the shifting out of polluting industries from the national capital – it has always been left to the higher judiciary to take the uncomfortable policy measures needed to ameliorate civic governance.

I would argue that the odd-even number plate scheme is the most radical urban policy decision that this country has seen till date. Naysayers had predicted a doomsday scenario with chaos and pandemonium all around. The results have left everyone pleasantly surprised. The party of ‘agitations and disruptions’ managed to turn the scheme into a people’s movement in a span of one month. Through a series of meetings, radio and newspapers appeals and stakeholders’ discussions, Kejriwal turned the scheme into a civic movement.  The message our government gave was that volunteerism and self-compliance alone can make the scheme a success.

There are many more takeaways from the success of the anti-pollution measures taken by AAP government. One that needs special mention is the resounding message sent out by the people of Delhi, which is that if the system had failed to take bold and radical policy measures so far, it was not the people or Indian democracy that were at fault. It was the dysfunctionality of the political class and its narrow vote bank calculations that have been at the root of policy paralysis. The AAP has always believed that consensus-building, decentralisation of powers and empowerment of the common man is essential to good governance. Real change is one that empowers the people. This is not to say that vested interests and status quoists will not resist and fight back. But the way to combat them is not arbitrary decrees or lesser democracy. People’s participation and transparency in government functioning can alone drive transformational change.  

Swachh Bharat an expensive photo-op

If the point needs any further vindication then one has to just compare the results of the ‘Swachh Delhi’ campaign recently undertaken by the AAP government with the ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign of the prime minister. On November 16, the Delhi government launched the Swachh Delhi mobile App and asked the people to use it to click and upload the pictures of garbage and debris in their neighbourhood. The one month drive saw over 1 lakh app downloads and over 50,000 complaints of garbage received and satisfactory addressed. The entire exercise jointly carried out by the PWD and three civic corporations cost merely a few crores. On the other hand, Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign has been reduced to empty sloganeering and a spree of photo-ops and publicity. Till July 15, the Modi govt had spent nearly Rs 100 crore on print, radio and tv ads to promote the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. From being a comprehensive clean India campaign as it was positioned initially, the Abhiyan is now reduced to just a toilet construction programme. The total outlay is a whopping Rs 2 lakh crore with all the powers under the scheme being vested with a huge bureaucracy that has been newly put in place for its execution. So much for all the tall talk about maximum governance and minimum government. 

Electoral verdicts will continue to be read in different ways by different stakeholders. The lesson we draw from the historic mandate we received from the people of Delhi is that people are keen for genuine engagement in matters of governance. They are seeking transformational rather than incremental change provided governments place people at the centre of the process of change. In contrast to Modi’s one-man band philosophy, the AAP motto is all hands on deck.  And we believe it is the only way forward.

Ashish Khetan is a member of the Aam Aadmi Party and Vice-chairman of the Delhi government appointed Delhi Dialogue Commission

  • Bobserver

    Looks like the trust in AAP the people of Delhi voted in in 2015 has been vindicated.

  • Anand Mohan

    And also the initiation of enquiry in DDCA affairs may result in good things in such types of associations, co-operative societies etc. which have become fiefdom of the few for decades

  • mantrik00

    Keep up the good work. AAP must win Punjab & propagate the political revolution. With enough momentum, even detractors will be subdued to reasonableness & less agenda driven criticism.

  • Harsh Athavale

    apne muh miya mitthoo…………………..

  • Vinay N

    odd even for cars is really small fry for a city mayor. A big acheivements consists of building transport infrastructure and apply green technologies in transport. In Brazil for example most cars run on alcohol. India can switch to alcohol and this will also benefit farmer, this is something Gadhkari has been promoting for a long time. Nitin Gandkari is actually one of the best administrators in India.

    • Abdul Hafeez Ali

      Odd even is not a small exercise. This is a huge effort maybe you are not able to perceive all the factors involved in implmenting it. It is not like building a structure or tarring roads.

    • aditya singh

      See the last portion of video

  • Srinivas

    The reason why the BJP and AAp hate each other is that they’re so alike, led by cadres with an inflated sense of their mission and importance, as well as by prickly, egotistical leaders who indulge in gimmicks and declare victory when “evidence” that is no more than a statistical blip comes in.

    Most of the applause over the odd-even plan is from the fact that people observed the rule, I.e.,, of people congratulating ourselves for following the law. Following the law is expected of us – it’s not grounds for such relentless self patting on the back. The true test is in proving that it can be run as a long-lasting scheme. That requires much work and study of the data and putting in place a plan that can stand the test of time without requiring relentless extraordinary measures to enforce it. If the AAP can pull that off, it’ll be worth something. But first, there does not seem to be any evidence that the odd-even plan HAS reduced pollution significantly, has it? I mean, evidenced that is properly collected and analysed. Getting that data in and understanding it is Step 1.

    By the way, for people who don’t have toilets, the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan is a HUGE step forward in restoring some dignity to their lives. Modi may have done little else worth talking about (like Kejriwal, his bête noire), but the SBA is nothing to sneeze at if it brings down the indignity of public defecation.

  • Mesquite Ice

    It is really shame that AAP govt is taking credit for what all Delhites did. All Parties supported it.

    • RaOne

      AAP is governing Delhi….credit of good governance will go to them.

      All parties also supported swach bharat..what about that?

    • rooan

      Delhites did it because aap proded them to get there act together, they would not have listened to some bjp or congi since these parties made there life living hell!

  • Vikash

    AAP should be given one chance to govern India as well as Modi is just delivering speeches where Kejriwal is going beyond the promises made before coming to power.

  • siddhartha singh

    This time Punjab…

  • Tanveer Iqbal

    Really good work by Delhi government. People should encourage and support more for this kind of work.

  • Anish Sharma

    Author: Ashish khetan:)
    Isn’t MCD which has been doing this cleaning work under modi or now it has been adopted by AAP… It’s Because of Swach BHARAT that cleaning has become priority for all states, modi himself is not supposed to go and clean Bihar, MP, Delhi… Since you are blowing the trumpet i would suggest that you must also speak about your other achievements as i hope that out of 15L CCTV cameras 3L must have been installed…people must be getting treated at your mobile clinics, due to odd even, even i am using buses sometime but couldn’t see the Marshalls and cameras as the buses are overcrowded, m sure stone has been laid for 100 new schools and 4 new hospitals must be up and running,have many questions but cutting it short as i have to use my own net pack to write to you since there is no free WiFi… Valentine day is coming 🙂

  • rooan

    Dear will you be able to sit in one place if someone keeps on poking you!

  • Meenal Mamdani

    Mr. Khetan, I am addressing these suggestions to you hoping that they might be mulled upon and implemented.

    Many are puzzled by the paradox of spotless Indian homes and garbage strewn immediate surroundings. Indian concept of their home is what lies within the four walls of their house. They do not consider the pavement immediately outside their house, the alley leading up to their home, let alone the neighborhood where they live as a part of their home and so not their responsibility.

    What if AAP makes an announcement that come March 1, every household, every commercial establishment (even a panwallah) will be required to keep an area of X square feet outside their dwelling as clean as if it was their home. Those who do not do so, will be levied a fine. Moreover their names will be written on a large notice board to their everlasting shame. Not every one litters, some do and when they do not get penalized, others join them. Since the householder or shop owner will have to pay a penalty if some one else litters the place, they will be vigilant and put a stop to the littering by sending their names and photos to a central complaint website or phone number or may be other quick justice tactics.

    By getting the citizens to participate in the clean up of their neighborhood, AAP would again demonstrate the success of the bottom up approach versus the central govt top down approach.

  • Ramesh R

    Sorry.. Do not agree! Ruling Delhi is like driving a car, while running India is like a aircraft carrier. Great to see AAP governance work in Delhi. India under Modi is turning around too.. will take a little longer to show results.. It is easy to see the trends already, if you are careful to look (Power, Roads, Macro finances .etc.) After all 65 yrs of damage and sloth has to be undone too.