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Populism vs. Political Pragmatism In AAP Ki Delhi

More from Dr. Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

By Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar:

Aam Aadmi Party has formed the state government in the national capital, albeit with the support of a party that Kejriwal described as: ‘Congress, as a party, is a corrupt party’! Convenience, circumstances or conviction, whatever it may be, we have the youngest Chief Minister of Delhi. And one simply cannot flinch away from praising the party for its sincerity and commitment to fulfilling some of the promises the party made in its manifesto(s). Within 48 hours of taking over the reins of the state at the Ram Lila Maidan, Kejriwal set down to the task of changing ‘the system completely’, firstly by making good his promise of free supply of 700 litres of water to Delhi households daily. Let’s not bicker over the numbers (667 litres it will be), but evidently this man was not going to sit back and enjoy the ride, as he claimed the other parties are used to doing, in various ways (he went on to say, on quite a few occasions, that corruption was the sole agenda of the Congress and the BJP!). However, let’s just retreat for a moment from the benevolent shower of populist measures and analyze their constitution, as responsible members of this society.


The 20 kilolitres per month per household water-scheme has been realized using the Jal Board’s assurance of taking the financial burden for a three month period. The funny part about this whole exercise is made up of the clauses and conditions attached to the measure. Firstly, the measure is only for those households which have ‘functional water meters’. Great! That brings us bang onto the basic issue we should be discussing. Infrastructure and near 24×7 water supply are the tougher tasks that need to be implemented for this benevolence to reach the nooks and corners of the city. When the plumbing of various sections of the society are in shambles (leakages: a major concern), when the water that many colonies receive is through the rounds of the mobile water tanks, when around 20% (Census, 2011) of the city’s households are not connected to the water-grid that will benefit from this scheme, why are we being so happy with this re-allocation of finances of the Jal Board? Waiting for a few more months and implementing a more all-rounded water circulation policy, possibly to all households, would surely have done as much good if not any better, as this wonderful yet limited measure of Kejriwal.

Moreover, Kejriwal’s measure is being done using a subsidy-based model. As Sandeep Dikshit pointed out recently, the Congress government already had provided around 90% subsidies on 20 kilolitres of water for a month. If I may remind the reader, AAP had always been claiming that the malpractices of certain individuals were responsible for a big burden on the state economics, and regulation of finances. Getting rid of these practises and individuals, could be enough to give the people some of the measures AAP promises (read: the 700 litre-per-day-per-household water promise). But what we now have is just an economic re-calculation with an emphasis on greater subsidies and greater burden on the state finances in the long run. After the first three months, and once the General Elections have passed (convenient timing?), how does AAP propose to continue this model? Also, without chalking out a comprehensive plan and water-sharing agreement with Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, how is the AAP government going to regulate the Yamuna waters it has based its policies on? I find it a horrendous waste of resources too: it gives enough resource-margin to account for water consumption in quite a few European countries!

I’d like to come to the promise on slashing electricity prices to half, mentioned by AAP in its main manifesto. The exact words of the promise are: “Delhi’s consumers have been getting inflated bills due to malpractices by Discoms. AAP promises a reduction of consumers’ electricity expenditure by 50%.” Well and good. But please tell me, Mr. Kejriwal or Mr. Yogendra Yadav, are you actually going to do this using anything other than subsidies again? Let me inform those who are not aware of this, the government cannot have a say in fixing tariffs. The only thing it can do is to subsidise the prices for the electricity provided. The cost of producing electricity is determined by a number of factors such as the human resource and the infrastructure involved, and this cost is what determines the amounts we get in our bills. It is a ‘regulatory issue’ as PD Sudhakar, Chairman of Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) has said. Simple. So how can one have any space for considering the idea of an ‘audit of discoms, rectifying inflated bills and getting electricity bills checked by independent agencies’ for the 50% slash?

I am not sure if AAP was referring to independent agencies such as the CAG of India. If so, one may still have chances of a minor change. One simply has no control over state-run generation costs, as determined by firms such as the National Thermal Power Corp. As mentioned in the document circulated by BSES and titled ‘What Determines Electricity Tariff: A Perspective’, one has seen a 300% increase in Bulk Power costs (comprising of generation and transmission costs) from Fiscal Year 03 to Fiscal Year 13, as compared with the mere 65% tariff hike in the same time-period. One major reason has been the stellar performance of certain discoms in controlling losses and theft of power. This well regulated and analyzed scene is sharply contrasting with the one sketched by Mr. Kejriwal and AAP. Going by its statements, it needs to rehash the discom distribution schemes and out of the muck it believes to find therein, one can get a massive 50% tariff dip, conveniently forgetting the 7500 crore annual financial burden on the state as a result of the measure! Simply too good, don’t you think? I guess most of the task will be done once Mr. Kejriwal again has a meeting in his Ghaziabad flat and accepts the subsidies possible.

I would quickly like to review two other issues raised by AAP: Swaraj and the Jan Lokpal Bill, since I am not too well informed with the ground realities related to the various other issues raised by AAP as part of the policies in its main manifesto, most of which I must admit sound progressive and interesting. Hence, I will not discuss them in this article. Firstly, the Jan Lokpal Bill: the resolve is there as is the need. No one can argue against that. Having been passed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, albeit in a different form (‘toothless’ bill opposed by AAP), the Jan Lokpal Bill is a legislative bill the AAP promises to pass in the Vidhan Sabha within 15 days. The only problem they may face with that would be a technical one. The passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill would require as per Transaction of Business Rules, which was amended in 2002 to include an added clause mentioning that the state government will have to take permission from the Central government while introducing any law. This raises multiple possibilities: the Congress may abjectly reject the bill and face derision, given its anti-corruption drive, or it may find a path to accommodate the AAP version and its own version of the Jan Lokpal Bill and yet face contempt in certain quarters of society for this self-defeating move. But for a party, which having been decimated in Delhi, went on to support the party that has tried to humiliate it in a number of occasions and ways, anything is possible.

As for Kejriwal’s Swaraj, the idea has a populist tint alright but can be a constructive step, if implemented properly. The core element of this idea is the Mohalla Sabha. Kejriwal intends to set up 2700 Sabhas in the city. The major concern, as I see it, for this measure relates to the constitution and finances of these Sabhas. Without proper constitution and regulation of these Sabhas, we may have urban Panchayats with prevalence of malpractices. Another concern related to this model is that of it being time-consuming. With this massive drive of decentralization (a welcome move), the key would be regulation.

I am in no way apprehensive or cynical about AAP’s progress. It is a welcome change in the political dynamics of the country. However, I am against the idea of populism over pragmatism in policy-making, a trend that AAP has seemingly followed in a few of its pursuits. I also look forward to the AAP government making good its promises, after having raised expectations so high that it may be easy to provide quick-fire solutions (with the proverbial magic-wand?) that may not be beneficial for the Delhiites in the long run.

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  1. Yeshu Aggarwal

    We finally have someone from the mass who is highlighting the flaw of AAP’s model. I’m time and again tempted to compare Kejriwal’s model to Modi’s model. If I’m not mistaken, not even a watt of electricity of drop of water is distributed for free in Gujarat. People pay for it. However, it has been ensured that water reaches everyone. I feel this is the real difference b/w Kejriwal’s growth model and Modi’s growth model. I do hope, though that subsidies are stopped sooner than later, since they are the biggest enemy of any economy.

    1. MjGM

      Thank you for the comment Yeshu. I agree with the point raised. And I am one from the *masses (sometimes a grammar freak). 🙂

      Look forward to receiving more of your views on the subject.

    2. Yeshu Aggarwal

      I thought mass can be used as a collective noun. May be I’m wrong.

      On another note, I would also like to add that people need the means to pay for water, electricity and whatever. Governments should also ensure that people have enough opportunities to earn and lift themselves out of poverty.

    3. MjGM


  2. Bitan Bhadra

    i had pointed out these exact flaws of aap in my previous article…but its very unfortunate to see that few people are ready to listen to these issues….happy to see somebody else has come up with a detailed description of the same.

  3. jivitesh jain

    This really gives a very deep insight of political intricacies going over and moreover help the reader to come out of the mirage which is being so profoundly created by the paid media. what all is going in Delhi right now doesn’t seem just only a bad vs. good tussle. It surely has got some hidden layers too n the points shared in the article make it more clear. Lets see where all this finally terminate. But there is more need of these kind of analyses which the writer has brought forward.

  4. Ayan Sharma

    The huge burden of subsidies that some of AAP’s policies are going to create on the capital’s economy is an aspect the citizens and the media seemed to have overlooked or ignored amidst all the excitement and sea of expactations. But that is certainly an important and inseparable facet of this new array of measures initiated by Mr. Kejriwal & his company. The writer has highlighted that with sufficient details. We need more deliberations like this on the much hyped AAP model of development in order to analyse it better.

  5. Saurabh Dwivedi

    Criticizing Arvind Kejriwal and his govt.? Interesting!
    I would want to start by pointing certain hilariously disfigured arguments.

    1. On water subsidies:
    The writer says that 20% of Delhi doesn’t have any water line infrastructure! I agree to it. But what has the Congress govt. been doing for the past 15 years? Has Sheila Dikshit and her ‘resposible and efficient’ government been sleeping? Why couldn’t they provide basic water infrastructure to the people of Delhi? You expect Arvind Kejriwal to achieve something in 15 days that they (The Corrupt Congress) couldn’t achieve in one and a half Decade! Great Sire!

    At least give them the opportunity to do something and then judge them. You (The writer) are summarizing the merits and Demerits of a government which has started functioning only for 5-6 days!

    2. On 50% reduction in electricity tariff:
    It is a temporary arrangement. I don’t have the exact figures available (nor do I have the time to google it) but according to The Times of India (Editorial published) there are many irregularities in the books of accounts of the electricity board (Pray it be true!). It is rumoured that they have been exaggerating the costs and pocketing the unaccounted figures in black. Well one can only hope for the CAG to find irregularities in their books which I personally am sure they will. Subsidy is simply a quick fix solution.

    By the way, you have written that in the past decade (managed by Sheila Dikshit’s Govt.) there has been a 300% increase in electricity tariff? The long lasting solution for it would only be by installing more power plants. Everything else is temporary solution. And I hope everybody knows that its impossible to install a few power plants within 10-15 days (Unless of course you are Superman, which some people say Kejriwal is!)

    3. On Jan Lokpal:
    The Sarkari model of the ‘Jokepal’ is not as efficient as the Jan Lokpal. I hope that Kejriwal comes up with some solution for passing this bill in the Lok Sabha! I more or less agree with the writer over this point.

    4. On Mohalla-Sabha:
    Yup! They will have to regulate it. However the attempt to Decentralize power is a good thing for the country. I am not a Socialist. Nor do I propound Marx. But the present system of governance in the Centre is against the basic principles of Democracy. The government is present to ‘serve’ the people. So we are the Masters and not them. The UPA govt. has failed to recognize it.

    On your point of ‘Urban Panchayt’ and the prevalence of malpractices, that (according to me) would not happen. Malpractices happen in the rural areas because of illiteracy and ignorance. The urban population is literate, educated and sensible. So its really difficult for malpractices to prevail.

    5. Populism V/s Pragmatism? :
    Why not both? Why can’t a populist be pragmatic. Sardar Patel, Pt Nehru have been both. Let Kejriwal prove what he really is. Commenting anything before it would be a futile attempt.

    P.S: Awaiting for your response over it! Would love to discuss ‘The Kejriwal Effect’ with you!

    1. MjGM

      ‘I would want to start by pointing certain hilariously disfigured arguments.’? I am certainly amused with this sentence construction, more so because the reasons you give are not really based on an extensive study of the realities! I would take the time to destruct each of your arguments with some more hard facts.

      1. On water subsidies:
      I find this usne-nahi-kiya-to-yeh-to-kuchh-kar-rahe-hai argument. The Congress govt. had not done many things. So? Anything is acceptable in the name of ‘reforms’? You make even more amusing statements thereafter. You ask why the INC Govt. did not work on infrastructure and were they ‘sleeping’. So without doing what is needed first and what the previous government did not do, Mr. Kejriwal jumps on to this measure. I am not expecting him to do anything in 15 days. In fact I would like him NOT to do things in a hurry just for the sake of showing how dynamic and resolute their government is. Take your time but do not dally unnecessarily and I am sure that in a very short period of time things will look better.

      I am not judging the government on the basis of what they have done in ‘5-6 days’. I am judging them on the trend they have tried to set of doing things the quick-fire way. More often than not, you miss the target.

      2. On 50% reduction in electricity tariff:
      I know that it is a temporary arrangement. I have mentioned that in the article (‘3 months’ to be precise). And dear friend, if you do not have the exact figures and facts, you are not exactly doing anyone any service by putting up these arguments! I have read the BSES document I have mentioned. There has been a massive margin of difference between Bulk costs and tariffs and even if, if TOI is to be believed, we do get some pretty bad malpractices, I am not quite sure if that will be enough to put off the problems of tariff changes.

      The most amusing argument I find is ‘Well one can only hope for the CAG to find irregularities in their books which I personally am sure they will’. The very premise on which the AAP measure is based is that they will ‘surely find’ irregularities. The CAG audit may spring up surprises but the fact that AAP wanted to use the economic margins left by the previous government for a quick solution itself shows the populist leanings.

      4. On Mohalla-Sabha:
      ‘However the attempt to Decentralize power is a good thing for the country.’ I guess you did not either read the article properly or deliberately are glossing over some points. I will be among the happiest lads if such a decentralization takes place. It is the need of the hour. I have mentioned this very clearly in the article.

      Another thing I have recently observed is that some people tend to make sweeping statements. ‘the present system of governance in the Centre is against the basic principles of Democracy’. There is a difference between constitutionally defined structures and practices. The ‘present system’ is quite fine but those using it are apparently not using it properly. And fo you really think that setting up Mohalla Sabhas will be the solution for this? You talk of it surely being regulated but has the AAP anywhere mentioned how it plans to do so? How will finances be arranged and audited? How the representation of the masses be set? Many of the measures are very rosy without the details of how one wants to go about with it! I am not against Mohalla Sabhas and I do not really see where you are against me on this.

      ‘On your point of ‘Urban Panchayt’ and the prevalence of malpractices, that (according to me) would not happen.’ Thank you for your assurance. Ha ha…I do hope so. But the second statement you have made is so preposterous and absurd that I do not quite know whether to laugh or cry! Malpractices happen even with the literate and for that matter, at times, with the Literati! Ignorance is the excuse/alibi often put up instead of being the cause. Firstly, if you are talking of schemes like National Rural Health Mission, the corruption scandals have been done by top government officials and not the grass-root level workers in most cases. Secondly, problems like Income Tax frauds and property scandals are often more prevalent in urban centres, right under the noses of the literate and ‘aware’ individuals, more often than not, WITH their consent. Thirdly, the problem of interests and pursuits is what I see can be one of the most difficult things to regulate. Representation and regulation again are the key.

      For your reference, since you do not ‘have the time’, I give you a few references to read: ‘Economic Growth, Law and Corruption: Evidence from India’ by Sambit Bhattacharyya and Raghbendra Jha, the CMS‐INDIA Corruption Study 2012 and ‘The Correlates of Corruption in India: Analysis and Evidence from the States’. Often the ignorant masses are the ones who face problems, be it ‘rural people’ or slum dwellers. It is simple economics. Greater the corruption, greater the need for public money to compensate, greater the taxes, greater the load on a larger target group, which usually puts the brunt on the weaker sections more. Next time, read them and then argue please.

      5. Populism V/s Pragmatism? :
      ‘Sardar Patel, Pt Nehru have been both.’ Hard facts please, especially for Sardar Patel. Give me instances. Nehru’s populist measures and certain ambitious stances have created problems for the country that we face even today. The 1962 Indo-China War; strikes a chord?

      Commenting, dialogue and discussing the issues faced by society is what matters in a democracy. They are much needed and your closing statement is frivolous in this regard.

      I look forward to a more-informed response.

  6. Saloni

    I believe that your assessment of AAP has been slightly harsh.
    All we young Indians seem to be doing is criticizing one party or the other.
    I agree that the subsidies approach is not really a good one, but you have ignored the other good points taken up by AAP like the anti-corruption helpline.
    They’re honest and they’re new. Even if the previous Governments offered subsidies, they weren’t even able to deliver on that due to widespread corruption. Let’s respect that we have a honest party here with the sole motive of improving the country! That itself is very rare! We all are aware citizens, but how many of us- you or me-form a party and contest elections? Your entire article ejects out pessimism and a total lack of faith. While of course you lay your concerns over some points, and rightly so, do not ignore the other ones because you may influence your readers in a wrong way.
    I completely agree with Saurabh Dwivedi on the fact that populism and pragmatism can certainly go hand in hand. It’s not at all illogical.
    Such evaluations should come out only when the party has been in power for AT LEAST one month (that too is a short period of time.)

    1. Yeshu Aggarwal

      Ms. Saloni, I see where you’re coming from but just try and analyse this. Take any developed nation in the world and research what all commodities, basic commodities, there are distributed for free? I’ve personal experience of the UK as a student and there, we don’t even get a watt of electricity or a drop of water for free. There is, ofc, no quota and reservation system either. There is a strong ethnic minority community group protection norms in place and as and when they’re violated, 8/10 your issues are addressed. I believe, if Mr. Obama, being from the minority group, can become the President of the United States of America, without any reservation or quota in place, even India can follow it. I feel, this has been the major difference. By the looks of it, this is what Narendra Modi is aiming at. If he can achieve it, well and truly great for us.

    2. MjGM

      I am not among those criticizing a party just for the sake of doing so. Very simply put, the AAP government has been hasty in taking decisions, often missing out on better options that can truly help the people. Timing of assessments is related to the timing of the measures taken, in case of any government, if I am not wrong. Since the AAP has been dishing out measures left, right and center in the first few days of its rule, the timing of my evaluation is not wrong. I am not pessimistic and have not ignored any points deliberately. I am happy that a third force has risen in the political dynamics of our country. I am just not going head over heels about certain steps taken by the present Delhi government.

      I am also amused by the judgment people take based on perceptions. You describe the AAP as honest. Agreed partially. But as you rightly say, let them be in power for some time. Thus, I would readily assess their policies as and when they come, I would wait before making such statements. This is not cynicism but just proper assessment before passing these value judgments.

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