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By our Bureau Chief Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi: “For us, India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, the largest ever since the Quit India movement, stretching from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Kutch to Cuttack, and culminating in the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was never a matter of just agitating for the sake of protesting. For us, it was a powerful tool to not just fight but also defeat, everything that was wrong in the present political system. Hence, we needed to continue beyond activism and form this political party”, reminisces Gopal Rai, one of the founding members of AAP and now the Employment, Development and Labour minister in Delhi government, as the youngest and the fastest growing party celebrates its seventh anniversary today.
AAP, which was launched on November 26, also celebrated as Constitution Day, has since then formed the government in Delhi and is completing its first term, establishing a clean, honest governance model, exhibiting what a well-intentioned and honest government can achieve in a short while.
For the very first time, the man on the street felt he could make a difference, and several highly qualified volunteers young and old, from India and abroad quit their jobs to join the movement and then the party to make a “difference”, bringing with them their education, professionalism, talent, and unique skills, the kind hardly witnessed on the political scene.
This fledgling party disrupted the political scene right at the outset, by declaring that they will keep election funding transparent, by accepting money from known sources only and by putting up the details on their website. If this was not enough to keep away the donors, the Narendra Modi government at the center, ensured that each of their donors was identified and targeted for supporting AAP. The Modi government has since then also ensured that it cornered 91% of the election funds, leaving all other political parties in the country high and dry. But AAP’s attempts at transparency have definitely instilled confidence that election funds which are the root cause of corruption in the country, can be cleaned up, provided there is a political will.
One of the positive ways they have turned established politics on its head is by refusing to play the religion, caste card, seeking votes strictly, on the basis of their work. As a result, they evoke extreme love from supporters and extreme dislike from non-supporters, who are fed untruths by the parties they support, with the help of a spineless media. Media interest in them has been either sharply critical or strongly supportive, since the movement.
The party has succeeded with its alternative model which has focused on solution-oriented governance, with citizens welfare in focus, despite constant onslaughts on their ministers and MLA’s by the center, shaken up by their work. The first half of their term was earmarked with constant harassment by police and CBI with false charges, all thrown out by the courts, declaring it motivated
AAP with its tenacious, hardworking and honest leaders, has kept hopes alive in the people that an alternate model of honest governance can not only survive but thrive as well.
AAP’s very short stint of 49 days of power in 2014 before Arvind Kejriwal resigned as chief minister, had reduced corruption by 400%. AAP had released a phone number where people could report crimes and with the anti-corruption bureau helped suspend even police officials. Citizens could record bribe attempts on their phones as evidence, which brought down corruption drastically. That golden period helped them come back with a huge mandate of 67 seats, out of 70 in 2015, the largest ever since independence.
At a time, when political parties do not take their manifestoes seriously, AAP has managed to fulfill 90% plus of the 70 promises they made, plus achieving much more, which was not part of the manifesto, while efforts are on to finish the rest of their promises as well.
AAP’s manifesto was put together following hundreds of meetings with the general public and industry experts by the Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC) to intelligently put together 70 promises. It included basics like reducing electricity bills by half, made possible by simply auditing the power companies, providing free clean drinking water up to 20,000 litres when 40-50% of Delhi’s population was getting water from tankers at huge prices, finishing inspector raj, so traders were not treated as cheats, which actually helped increase taxes, introduced all expenses paid pilgrimages to the senior citizens. They also put up water lines, sewer lines, electricity lines and roads, which had not been done for decades, to ensure that 93 % of un-authorized slums can be regularized, according to the directives of the supreme court.
Delhi government is the only government in the country that allocates 26 % of its budget to education to ensure that 100% of the students are covered in the school system. Earlier only 5% of the population was “entitled” to quality education. The national budgetary provision to education is an abysmal 3 %, which is underutilized. It similarly revolutionalized the public health care system, by earmarking 14% of the state budget, the highest in the country. Among the other revolutionary work done by the Delhi government includes putting up 1,40,000 CCTV cameras, providing free bus travel to women, reviving 103 water bodies including six lakes which had been dead for decades in Delhi, saving crores on bridges and flyovers, simply by finishing them on time and not escalating costs, setting up solar energy panels on government buildings and schools, increasing green cover, among others.
The party was launched with tall promises of establishing the Jan Lokpal bill to stamp out corruption, getting full statehood for Delhi to ensure that taxes by Delhites are earmarked for their welfare and implementing the Swaraj model of governance, which would mean greater say for people in their welfare.
The Jan Lokpal bill drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde (a former Supreme Court Judge and former Lokayukta of Karnataka), Prashant Bhushan (a Supreme Court Lawyer) and Arvind Kejriwal (then an RTI activist), envisaged a system, which would not spare even the prime minister, besides other ministers if found corrupt. The guilty would go to jail within two years of the complaint being made and his ill-gotten wealth confiscated. It also sought power for the Jan Lokpal to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without requiring government permission. This bill was first proposed in 1968 by advocate Shanti Bhushan, then again in 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008, but lack of political will on both the national parties, Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) ensured that it got stymied each time. AAP constantly criticized for not clearing the Jan Lok Pal, but as far as the party is concerned, “we cleared the bill within six months of us forming the party and it is now hanging in the center. We will take it up again if and when we form the government at the center, says Gopal Rai.
“Jan Lok Pal is the torch, which led us to achieve much more than we ever dreamed of. If we have been able to establish a successful, progressive model of governance and doubled the budget from Rs 30,000 crores to Rs 60,000 crores, without increasing taxes even once, despite being just a Union Territory (UT), it is only by plugging the corruption, proving that if the intentions and policies are right, then huge changes can happen”, says Gopal Rai.
Delhi despite being the capital, is a union territory and not a full state, as a result of which the elected state government has no control of any of the law enforcement agencies, including the police, neither do they have land under their control, as a result of which the government cannot build schools, colleges, or hospitals, until the center clears it. They do not have control of services either, as a result of which they cannot generate employment. The worst thing is that Delhi generates Rs 1.5 lakh crores in taxes and yet it gets back only Rs 300 crores from the center, which would not cover the cost of even a single flyover in Delhi! In comparison, even a tiny state like Goa gets Rs 3000 crores, because it is a full state. AAP has been demanding that at least one-third of taxes collected from Delhi, which is about 50,000 crores be made available to Delhi, for its developmental work.
Their third big vision of implementing Swaraj which envisages a system wherein power is de-centralized and the citizens have a bigger stake in governance, unlike today wherein power is concentrated in the union and state, with very little for the individual. All that the citizens do is a vote once in five years, with no say whatsoever in even how their taxes are spent, once the government is formed, until the next elections.
AAP is all set to fight elections with less than Rs 50 lakhs in its kitty, at last count, which is not enough even to field a single candidate in today’s high-cost political battle. So starting with the chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who helms one of the most successful parties since independence, and who ensured that Delhites did not suffer for basics like water, electricity, education, health, followed by deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, architect of the education revolution in Delhi, also turning in a successful budget year after year, cabinet ministers Satyendra Jain, who as the health minister revolutionalised public health in Delhi, and also started and finished several flyovers and bridges in double quick time, saving 100’s of crores on it, also powering Delhi with solar energy as the public works department minister, Gopal Rai who ensured that dignity of labor was returned by fighting to pass the Minimum Wages Bill, which ensured that salaries for 55 lakh employees doubled overnight, and Kailash Gehlot as the transport minister working hard to improve public transport in Delhi, along with the rest of the MLA’s, will be fighting elections with their pockets mostly empty. They hope to pull in the votes with just tons of goodwill for all the commendable work done by them till now.
The first couple of years of AAP’s governance was liberally sprayed with ridicule, particularly targeted at Kejriwal for his incessant cough, his mufflers, his sandals, his clothes, dismissed as a Naxal, as an anti-national, made worse by Kejriwal’s confrontational attitude. In recent months, however, there is a grudging admiration for the party, from not only the opposition, who realize they need to show some work too, and the media. The rising graph for the party is also sharpened because of the falling graph of the Modi government, experiencing failure after failure, of ill implemented projects, which is now being exposed in the media, despite various attempts of a cover-up.
Also, Read: India is Entering a New Dark Age
By our Bureau Chief Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi: