First of all, congratulations on Aam Aadmi Party now forming a government in Delhi. I was waiting for this to happen before writing this piece to you. Now that it has happened (and I hope it will last long enough for you to implement some of your plans), here are some thoughts I’d like you to consider during your governance. I’m sure you must be getting a lot of suggestions from lots of people – here’s another set for you.
As you know, even as you start, you walk a very treacherous path. You have plenty of aam aadmi support, no doubt - but there are plenty of vested interests, waiting to trip you up. So while it’s important to stay focussed on the job, it’s also very important not to give ammunition to these vested interests.
I know you have a detailed manifesto - and you and your team must be working on it with a lot of focus and enthusiasm. I will not get into its details – I am not competent to do so.
At a more general level, however, I’d like to make a few suggestions :
1) Baseline your start.
You are taking over administration of Delhi from a previous government. You need to baseline this – meaning, you should be able to measure your starting point. Make sure you have the social development (and economic) metrics available to you. Get any existing figures re-checked if you like. Statistics can be notoriously off for a whole host of reasons, as you know. When you need to ever measure your government’s achievements (or discuss it with the media or others), you would know its starting point.
2) Use a project management approach.
I do not mean you need to get caught up in all sorts of charts and graphs. But in execution of your plans, whether at mohalla level or a higher level, insist on everything being treated as a project – with tasks, deadlines, budgets, responsibilities and tracking. There’s a lot to be done, and this method will go a long way in bringing about efficiency in delivery on projects, as well as optimal use of resources.
3) Continue to keep things transparent.
One of the biggest pluses of your party’s style of functioning is that it is very transparent. No other political party can claim this. I can assure you this alone has won you a lot, and I mean a lot, of goodwill amongst the people. So please continue with this. I’d suggest the following in this context:
a) If I understand it correctly, in your devolved mohalla sabha approach, each ward is further comprised of mohalla sabhas. Each mohalla sabha is run as an administrative unit, with its management committee, its projects, its budget and so on. Please set up a website where one could navigate easily to the lowest devolution level, see what projects are going on, what funds are being used and so on. Keep it transparent and updated for all to see. This is not just for the public but also for you. You might want to personally visit mohalla sabhas to catch up with them – this update would be useful for you.
b) Have an Information Officer. It would be his/her responsibility to ensure all the information provided on the Delhi Govt’s website is updated and accurate.
c) Believe in suo moto communication, not just in RTI. I know you championed RTI all those years ago – and it has helped a great deal. But it would be better if people did not even need to ask for basic information – it should already be available to them from the government. In an easy-to-digest format. Especially information on projects, their budgets, delivery deadlines, any cost overruns etc.
So please provide this to the public as their right to know. And please do so in an easy-to-use format (maybe spreadsheet-based) , not hundreds of pages of PDF files that sometimes government documents end up being. We then cannot see the woods for the trees.
4) Ensure the economics side works too.
One of the biggest criticisms about you is about your apparent disregard for the economic impact of your policies. You are seen not just as “left of centre but, even “left of left”. In other words, a mindset of extremely populist policies which could be a major financial burden on the exchequer.
I am not saying I agree with this opinion of you (my opinion doesn’t really matter), but it is very important that your policies always have an economic impact assessment too. Finally you will need to balance your books as part of your governance – and while the people do come first, poor economics in the present only means robbing from the future.
5) Use people power.
In your administration, there may be many a time that you feel you are not able to push something through, for a whole host of reasons. I suspect this might very often be because of entrenched systems. Or vested interests. Or, especially in the case of Delhi’s peculiar situation of being both a state, and the country capital, a conflict with the Central Government.
In such situations, use people power to put pressure on whatever obstacle comes in your way. You have tremendous goodwill with the people of Delhi (and I daresay, rest of the country too). In the new style politics that you and your party have engineered, people seem to have much more power than they’ve ever had before. This is also making other political parties (and the central government) have to listen more to the public. So use this fully to your advantage.
6) Be firm in dealing with compromised people.
You are seen as a person who wants to bring about a new style of politics in the country. One that is clean, one that cares about the people, one that seeks or uses a position of power only for the people’s good. The people you carry with you also need to reflect this same mindset.
This is not an easy line to walk – and it is possible that, somewhere down the line, some of your associates might get compromised. While that will be personally difficult for you, given your association with them, it is necessary that you do not allow this to sully your image, or distract you from the larger task on hand. Many a political party has turned a blind eye to compromised members. If your party is different, that needs to be demonstrated in those testing times.
7) Keep government and party affairs and finances separate.
AAP is a new party and still evolving. This is also the first time it is forming a government. There is a chance that, in all the enthusiasm and inexperience, there is often an overlap between the two.
Keep them separate. The people of Delhi (even those who didn’t vote for AAP) deserve governance and transparency from the government of Delhi, not from a political party.
At the same time, AAP needs to continue to evolve and establish itself across the country. I am confident it will do that on its own strengths. Of reaching out to the aam aadmi, of being transparent in its dealings and finances, of sticking to its value-based and principled politics.
So while you and others in government can help the party evolve, it is important to keep the two separate and do justice to both.
8) Continue to be yourself.
You are where you are, because of who you are. People respect your sincerity, your humility, your dedication to your cause. People trust you – and trust is one of the most precious assets a person can have. So please ensure you do nothing to lose this trust.
Stay on the side of truth. This might sound like a silly and absurd suggestion, especially in the world of politics, but there’s something to be said for this old-fashioned value that’s sadly fast going out of fashion.
And continue to rant about injustice and corruption. It might make some people queasy but the public needs to know what is going on. Far too often, we have seen politicians, and people in the know, turn a blind eye towards wrongdoings. By being in the know and not speaking out against injustice, you would be indirectly supporting it.
I could think of a few other points that I’d like to share with you – but I think this is already a lot to digest.
I wish you all the very best, Arvind. It is not going to be an easy road – if only because of entrenched interests that will try to thwart you at every step and try to break you and your team’s resolve.
But as long as you have the people’s support with you, I think you can overcome any obstacle in your way. Systems of governance have, after all, been set up only for the people – and therefore need to be changed if the people want this change. Nothing is sacrosanct if it comes in the way of delivering justice to the people.
So, good luck!
Oh, and one last thing. Please do accept the security offered by the state police to you. I know you are refusing it because you think it is a privilege the aam aadmi does not get – but trust me, most of us feel very uncomfortable if you don’t get some sort of security cover. So, please accept this. We would be happy – and relieved.
An aam aadmi