In a decade or two from now, if he does not make a serious mistake, and given a fair wind of good luck, Arvind Kejriwal may well come to be seen as the man who put India on the path to greatness.
A year after formally launching his Aam Aadmi Party he has won an unprecedented victory in the Delhi State Elections. With 28 out of 70 seats he may not have a majority but the upset caused to India’s usual vote-bank based electoral calculations is justification enough to kindle genuine expectations ( rather than mere hope) of sustainable change in the decrepit state of governance in India’s body politic.
Is it a flash in the pan? Is it just a protest vote? Time will tell but for now a lot will depend on delivery of electoral promises. No doubt the mainstream parties will do their best and their worst to discredit an AAP led Government in Delhi.If hope is not to be snuffed out even before it has begun then AAP will have to learn a few simple lessons in the art of survival while delivering policies based on the simple but intractable idea of good clean honest and open governance.
1. Running a government is very different from mounting a campaign. In a campaign you speak to people who want you to win and as long as you can attract supporters your job is done. In government you have to deliver, and if that involves changing the existing system then you’be better take heed of what Machiaveli said:
there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.
Delivering policy objectives when in power means making choices, and there will always be someone who feels hard done by. Doing the right thing and then explaining to the disgruntled why they can’t see the benefits is the best you can do.
2. It is better to under-promise and over deliver. Two or 3 years from now it may well be the case that you’ve delivered 7 out of 10 campaign promises. But if your detractors can argue that the 3 you’ve failed to deliver are the ones that matter most, then your term in office can come to be seen as a failure. In the new system of transparency of information that AAP is promoting there will be no hiding place. So its as well to manage expectations, even as you prepare to deliver promises.
3.There is nothing Aam or common about being in power. It’s a privilege and the office is both high and important. So I don’t understand Arvind’s Kejriwal’s apparent refusal of an official residence, car and security. Think ahead, what will happen when the Mayor of Shanghai, say, comes calling on an official visit. Besides, an emphasis on being a humble commoner can come to be seen as mere posturing. The office is more than the individual occupying it and so long as you can keep the two separate its not only okay but even essential that the symbols of power are wielded to good effect.
4. Use the power of the market to deliver your policy promises. This is always better than trying to employ and directly control the staff you need to deliver services. And spend the time to develop intelligent solutions that achieve more than one policy objective. A case in point is electricity tariffs. AAP’s promise to cut the electricity tariff by 50% is flawed because it tries to do what markets do best. It would have been much better to have promised a policy goal of ‘affordability’ by the bottom 25% of the population. To achieve this AAP would not have needed to either blame the distribution companies or do an expensive audit of their accounts. Simply make it a condition that the first few essential units of power must be charged at a price that the bottom 5 or 10% can afford. After that let the market decide the price. By having a graded tariff that allows companies to charge more from more prolific consumers, AAP could have at once placated the environment lobby, met its real objective of making power affordable, and achieved the progressive goal of the rich subsidising the poor.
5. Resist the superficial attractions of political vendetta. It may be appropriate to try and right past wrongs by the erstwhile regime, but investigating leaders of the last regime sets the wrong precedent. Commissions of enquiries and probes by judges or the CBI have never delivered justice. If anything they lead to litigation, acrimony and counter accusation and counter probes. The previous regime has been judged by the electorate and kicked out. That is verdict enough.
Start as you mean to go on and make a clean break with the past and announce a set of measures to ensure all future spending decisions are free of the taint of corruption. Publish details of expenditures incurred and of contracts awarded. Better still insist on all cabinet members and senior officials declaring their assets to an independent body in advance of the new government taking charge. It is better to prepare for the next election battle than to refight the last one.
6. Finally, coalition is not a dirty word. Politics is the art of the possible, and sometimes nothing is possible without allies. The key is openness and transparency even when deals are struck that you would rather have done without. It is important for Arvind Kejriwal to keep in mind that the real change he has wrought thus far lies in the hope he has kindled that a better cleaner, more responsive form of politics is possible. To set that hope firmly on the path to realisation he doesn't have to do everything at once. How he governs and the value systems he embeds is every bit as important as the results he achieves on the ground.