Delhi’s three horse race
by Sandhya Jain on 27 Jan 2015 5 Comments
The capital’s Assembly elections have emerged as an uneven three horse race, with each party determined to better its previous record. With barely a dozen days left for polling, it would be foolish to hazard a guess as to the outcome, but some points deserve mention. Contrary to media hype, elections to the semi-state of Delhi do not count for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as much as elections to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal or Assam, whose results can impact the Bharatiya Janata Party’s strength in the Rajya Sabha.


After the hung Assembly of 2013, the BJP won all seven Parliamentary constituencies in Delhi in 2014, routing both Congress and the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Hence, the latter two have high stakes in this poll. The perceived failure of the Prime Minister’s January 10 rally at Ramlila Maidan reflects not just the infighting in the state unit but its utter inability to connect with citizens due to sustained disinterest in their problems.  


The AAP rose in the vacuum created by three successive terms of Mrs Sheila Dikshit in which the BJP failed to represent the common man’s concerns. Even scandals associated with the Commonwealth Games were exposed by foreign officials inspecting the facilities, documented by the Shungloo Committee and Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), yet Delhi BJP articulated these very poorly.


To cite another example, the Dikshit government purchased thousands of pricey low floor buses with poor seating capacity, and needing constant, costly maintenance. Half the fleet was always grounded and is now being phased out; BJP never raised the issue. Then, compensation to road accident victims is supposed to be credited to beneficiary bank accounts; an audit will show cash withdrawals from the treasury. Allegedly a hefty sum would be deducted as ‘expenses’ before being passed on.


Congress leader Ajay Maken de facto admits that Mrs Dikshit’s decision to privatise electricity hurt every family. It was classic crony capitalism whereby the State gave chosen capitalists the monopoly to distribute a vital resource in which they had not invested a penny. The public sector Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking (DESU) and its infrastructure was divided between three discoms (two owned by the same firm), which were allowed to dictate tariffs to an artifice called the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC). The farce was exposed when a DERC chairman who proposed to slash tariffs was ordered not to do so and his successor sharply hiked tariffs, which have never looked back.


Political will, not privatisation, was the solution to power theft. But electricity bills rose despite theft reduction, because privatised electricity the world over operates on the basis of what companies can extract from the consumer. This is where fast meters – an issue raised only by the AAP – come in. So far there is no redress. A middle class family running two CFL tube lights for 18 hours daily [modern flats require lighting throughout the day] is billed for 400 units a month! The Union Power Minister’s proposal of discom mobility is an insult to consumers; it will likely create a monopoly for one distributor without addressing the malaise of actual consumption vs amount charged. The Ministry’s subsidy for solar energy is unattractive and no attempts are being made to import the latest technology in solar energy for ordinary consumers.


By proposing electricity tariffs close to what the DESU would charge if it was still operational, Ajay Maken concedes this is the only way to end the injustice to the common man. Besides an urgent CAG audit of the discoms, the details of how Mrs Dikshit decided to privatise power must be made public. The Delhi BJP jumped on the power tariff bandwagon only belatedly in 2013; its Chief Ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi has not mentioned the issue in the early days of her campaign, though escalating bills consume an unacceptable chunk of the average family’s budget.


Thanks to the ruckus over power bills, Mrs Dikshit’s plan to privatise water was dumped; the AAP’s high voltage campaign against the ‘water tanker mafia’ rules it out for the foreseeable future. What Delhi needs is rainwater harvesting in every colony on war footing, and a white paper on the Dikshit government’s utilisation of the water harvesting budget in its 15 years in power.


Kiran Bedi’s lateral entry to the top has been deeply resented in the BJP; Tis Hazari lawyers have not forgiven her for handcuffing a member of their fraternity in 1988 and ordering a lathi-charge on protestors; senior colleagues like Julio Ribeiro have commented about her penchant for self-promotion.


What matters now is her ability to lead a winning campaign. She has lost one round by back tracking after expressing willingness to debate with Arvind Kejriwal. The BJP also lost momentum with negative radio spots against Arvind Kejriwal, ignoring his public apology for resigning prematurely and pledging to serve a full term, if elected. The AAP radio campaign cited lack of a clear mandate as excuse for quitting, though the real reason was to have freedom to checkmate the Modi juggernaut during the parliamentary election.


But the AAP has learnt its lesson, and has been running an intensive issue-oriented campaign for nearly two months, trying to give every section of society a stake in its victory. By promising relief from VAT raids, Kejriwal is wooing the vast trader constituency that has long been a backbone of the BJP. In contrast, Kiran Bedi’s emphasis on women’s security (anyway a government responsibility) and stress on six “P’s”, viz., prisons, prosecution, outreach to people, parents, improving policing (including community policing), and the press, seems weak and off tangent. 


There is the tricky issue of full Statehood. Delhi’s experiment with Statehood only yielded unprecedented scams. As one of the nation’s dirtiest cities, it needs a strong unified municipal structure. Has BJP noticed that the garbage trucks introduced by the Dikshit regime increase insanitary conditions as garbage is piled on the streets and filled in containers before being collected by the trucks? This cumbersome procedure takes hours at each dump and could be linked to the rise of deadly communicable diseases in the city.


The BJP realises that anti-incumbency worked for it in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, and may work in Bihar and other States; but the ground reality in Delhi is more complex. There is still time; it must concentrate on deliverables. 

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