Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Chief Minister in early 2014 and the consequent imposition of President’s rule means that the Lieutenant Governor, Najeeb Jung, is running the Government machinery in Delhi. The State’s Legislative Assembly has not yet been dissolved by either the UPA or the NDA Governments for political reasons, nor has any alternative Government been formed over the last 8 months. Thus, the Legislative Assembly of Delhi remains in a state of suspended animation, which means that Delhi still has elected representatives at the State level, but with no Government, the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) do not gather at the State Assembly to form legislation. Media coverage of Delhi politics has largely focused on whether the BJP will be able to form Government or whether Delhi voters will return to the polls. While these questions have no immediate answers, another unanswered question remains neglected: what are Delhi’s MLAs up to? In the hopes of answering this question, I decided to track down my constituency’s (Greater Kailash) MLA.
Saurabh Bhardwaj is a first-time MLA and was the Minister for Food & Supply, Transport, Environment, Election, and General Administration during AAP’s 49-day government. Today, it is easy to miss Bhardwaj’s party office along a narrow street in Chirag Delhi. The space can seat a maximum of 10 people. At the office, Bhardwaj greeted me personally and apologized for not being able to honour my interview request because he had to inspect ongoing public work within his constituency. I was welcome to tag along.
Although it was a hot day, a day when standing 4-minutes in the sun was enough to work up a sweat, Bhardwaj was about to sit on the backseat of a scooter. It is a sight I’ll never forget in my life. My MLA was taking the initiative to inspect public work, being on time was important to him, and he could care less for the mode of transportation. I insisted he ride with me in my car, suspecting it would be the only time I would get to ask the questions on my mind. Bhardwaj commented on how the stature of being a Minister, versus an MLA, affected the receptiveness of Government workers.
We arrived at Shahpur Jat, an urban village that is literally a stone’s throw from Panchsheel Park, which is one of Delhi’s most affluent neighbourhoods. It was my first time in an urban village, and what I saw was grounding. Residents of Shahpur Jat had congregated at various points throughout the neighbourhood to voice their concern over the unbearably unreliable water supply. The pipes hadn’t delivered a single-drop in about 13 days. The nature and complexity of the problem commanded great attention and urgency. A resident expressed that water supply to this area was a problem that all political parties had neglected for over 25 years.
Public work was underway; the ground was dug up exposing the labyrinth of pipe work below. It was 2pm and the women of the neighbourhood were understandably angry. Not only did their waking hours revolve around inspecting the taps to check whether water was finally flowing, but they could not get a good night’s sleep. Water could start to flow at 2am, 3am, or even 4am. The unreliability of the supply meant no one had a way of knowing when the water might flow. At the sight of the slightest trickle, the women of the family acted swiftly to store as much water as was possible for their household work.
Bhardwaj had coordinated this visit with the Jal Board (Water Board) Engineer in charge of this area. Every interaction with a group of women had the same pattern. First their anger manifested as they complained about the water issues. Then they agreed to give the Engineer some time to study the problem in order to devise a sustainable solution. Finally, they thanked Bhardwaj for his work, and support. The residents claimed their support for Bhardwaj with pride, and mentioned how no other political party had taken their concerns seriously. “Politicians only come to the area in the run-up to elections, extending empty promises in exchange for votes, but Saurabh ji regularly visits and ensures that work is being done” a resident beamed. Another said, “Before the Aam Aadmi Party won 28 seats in Delhi, MLAs were often seen being driven in a motorcade, the cars adorned with the red VIP light,” which the occupants interpreted as a license to break the law.
After a 3-hour survey of the area, we had covered the entire neighbourhood on foot and spoken with over 150 residents. The scale and diversity of governance failures in Delhi are daunting to say the least, but it is encouraging to see MLAs like Saurabh Bhardwaj actively engage with their constituents to find out how to deliver on these problems. Needless to say, it is a refreshing change from the blame-game rhetoric that many of our traditional parties are mired in!
Note: This post was originally published on the author’s personal blog.