Reality Check: Delhi is neither better nor safer since 2013 when Kejriwal became CM

If the CM is to be believed, all is well in Delhi, people are happy, women are safer and the city better than ever! There is no air pollution and enough buses for commuters, good schools and hospitals

Reality Check: Delhi is neither better nor safer since 2013 when Kejriwal became CM

S Khurram Raza

Even by Delhi standards, January witnessed a severe cold wave, abetted by record rainfall. While Delhi Government boasts of over 300 shelter homes, hordes of homeless people could be seen asleep at night in the open all over the city. The Centre for Holistic Development, an NGO, wrote to the government stating that 172 homeless destitutes had died of cold in less than a month.

CHD claimed to have drawn the attention of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in earlier years too and urged for more shelter homes. But Delhi Government paid no attention, claiming that all was well.

Indeed, in Arvind Kejriwal’s world view, Delhi Government is the best, the most honest, people-friendly and the most competent among the states. Its agencies have all been doing ‘excellent’ work. Women in the national capital may not feel safer than they felt in 2012 but Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Swati Maliwal received last year the third three-year extension for, yes, excellent work.

Kejriwal also boasts of Delhi having the most number of CCTV cameras per square kilometre. But while sceptics have questioned his claim of having installed 2.75 lakh cameras, they do not seem to have made women safer. And while Kejriwal made bus travel free for women, the fleet of DTC buses has depleted and the few buses that are on the road rarely stop to pick up women.

Replies to RTI applications have revealed that Delhi Government actually shut down 16 government schools since 2015, failed to open even a single government college against the promise of 20 made in 2015, and has only 16,000 TGTs (Trained Graduate Teachers) as against the sanctioned posts of 34,000.

Delhi Government’s annual exercises to control air pollution has long been a joke. He blamed stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana for air pollution in Delhi, then introduced bio-decomposers with much fanfare. It then shifted its focus to allowing ‘odd & even’ numbered cars on alternate days to check pollution. And finally, when nothing worked, put up three smog towers last year, claiming that fans would suck polluted air from the atmosphere and release clean air below. Not much has been heard about the smog towers since then.

AAP is accused of showing off a dozen schools and mohalla clinics to diplomats, media and dignitaries while most of them have declined.

The Delhi chief minister has invested heavily in advertising and in the media, not unlike Narendra Modi. And like the Modi’s Union government, the Delhi Government is not averse to wielding the carrot and the stick.

Unlike Modi, Kejriwal attends Town Hall meetings, gives interviews to media and reporters of his choice and seemingly answers questions. But quite remarkably, for a politician who has been slapped, abused and at whom slippers were thrown in the past, he is rarely asked any inconvenient question.

Chief Minister of Delhi since 2013, Kejriwal has not been able to generate employment for the youth. Nor does he pay women in Delhi Rs.1,000 every month; or insurance premium for lawyers or medical oxygen to patients. Has he been successful in fighting drugs in Delhi? While the jury is still out on that one, he has turned Delhi into a haven for liquor, raising the number of liquor outlets and handing over retail liquor sale to a handful big private cartels.

The age restriction for buying liquor has been reduced from 24 years to 21. When Kejriwal was in the opposition, he demanded that permission for liquor vends must be given by residents and the RWAs. But the promise has been conveniently forgotten.

Whatever he may or may not have done in Delhi, there is nothing he cannot do in pollbound states of Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand, where he has been busy campaigning more than in UP. For good measure he has promised to provide employment, cash doles, insurance for lawyers and fight corruption and the drug mafia.

Irked at Home Minister Amit Shah’s allegation that the Delhi Government and Kejriwal were spending a lot on advertisements, Kejriwal had responded by pointing out that there were only 108 hoardings with him in Delhi whereas UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and PM Modi had many more.

While Delhi Government is said to have spent Rs.872 crore on publicity campaigns in just two years since 2019, it has consistently defaulted in meeting its commitment to teachers, doctors, nurses and to municipal bodies.

The cash-rich Delhi Government boasts of a budget size of Rs.70,000 crore, higher than several states. It is also a pampered child because it does not have the liability for Delhi Police, for pension of its own staff, the Delhi Development Authority, NDMC and the municipal corporations, which are entirely or to a substantial extent funded by the Union Government. Given this background, AAP or Kejriwal have not really been tested on their ability to govern. All available evidence points to them having been lousy administrators.

Kejriwal has come a long way since 2011-12 when he was the poster boy promising alternative politics. He led a simple lifestyle, drove a humble Wagon R despite having been an Income Tax ‘officer’ and an IIT graduate. He was not afraid of standing up to and abusing politicians in power. He promised to empower the poor, the street vendors and the autorickshaw drivers. He also promised an end to corruption with Jan Lokpal.

Former Aam Aadmi Party MLA from Dwarka, Adarsh Shastri, who had left his plum job at Apple to join AAP, recalls, “Everyone in Delhi came under his spell and I too was taken in by the hype and joined him.”

Kejriwal, he recalls, had driven to Ramlila Maidan in his old Wagon R to take oath as chief minister. He was against VIP culture then and would board the Metro, Shastri recalls. Now a new residence for the CM is being built at a cost of Rs. 70 crore.

Electricity bills and number of airconditioners at the CM’s house have long been cited as proof of his extravagant ways.

The bungalow on Mathura Road where former chief minister Sheila Dikshit lived is now occupied by deputy CM Manish Sisodia.

Dikshit had transformed Delhi by building flyovers, schools, new universities, new hospitals, privatised the power sector, introduced CNG and the Delhi Metro. Khel Gaon and the Common-wealth Games Village came up under her tenure. Rampant power cuts stopped and public transport improved. But her work and her voice were drowned in the propaganda unleashed by Kejriwal.

Kejriwal and his young followers had no recollection of the pre-Sheila Dikshit days in Delhi it seemed.

In Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, Kejriwal is promising to regularise employees on contract even as 22,000 teachers in Delhi itself, besides Anganwadi workers, accuse him of not regularising them even after seven years in power. “The promise was held out in all three elections in Delhi by AAP,” points out Anil Chaudhary, president of Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee.

Chaudhary also makes the startling claim that not a single ration card has been made in Delhi since 2013. “The last ration card was made during Sheila Dikshit’s government,” he says.

There is an iconic picture of Kejriwal cutting the electric wire himself. He had promised to bring down power tariff and file cases against power distributing companies. “But the government is increasing fixed charges, charging consumers from the back door and claiming it has not increased the tariff; who is he fooling,” fumes Shastri.

“Covid exposed AAP government’s failures on the health front. The much publicised Mohalla Clinics were nowhere to be seen and hospitals and health infrastructure built by Sheila Diskhit came to the rescue of the people,” recalls Alka Lamba. “When oxygen was in short supply during the second wave and hospital beds were full, Youth Congress president Srinivas BV was seen arranging oxygen cylinders for the needy. Where was Kejriwal?” Yamuna remains as polluted as ever. Delhi Transport Corporation’s fleet of buses has only depleted. Marshalls in DTC buses for women’s safety are non-existent. On paper women can travel free in buses. But buses are few and far between and drivers often do not stop to pick up women, since they would not pay the fare.

People who have worked closely with Kejriwal are unanimous about his abusive and authoritarian streak. Much like Modi, he cannot tolerate even the mildest dissent, forget about criticism, says a journalist who claims he lost his job because of Kejriwal. “He threatened the owner that all govt ads would stop if I was not shown the door,” he said but was unwilling to be named. “This man is so vindictive that he can go to any length to harm his critics,” he claimed.

Even his former colleagues are reluctant to speak on record. Indeed, even aides dumped by him are not willing to talk about their experience. “Only yes men like Raghav Chadda, Dilip Pandey or Atishi have survived so far while former friends and associates like Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh and Ashish Khaitan have drifted away,” points out a former associate.

He is dictatorial and would not allow another voice, complains Shastri, while Alka Lamba says, “Arvind is essentially a very insecure person.” He incessantly spoke of one-man-onepost but has not bothered to relinquish his position as the Convenor of the party after becoming the chief minister.

Everyone gives him full marks for marketing strategies, managing headlines and building narratives, fake or foul. There are fewer schools under Delhi Government than in 2013, they say. There are no principals in 442 schools. In 750 government schools English is not taught. In 550 schools Science is not being taught in classes XI and XII.

Post-pandemic he marketed the narrative that students from private schools had shifted to Delhi Govt schools. But he would not dwell on the number increasing during the same period in schools run by BJP-controlled MCD too because parents were unable to pay fees to private schools.

With AAP contesting elections in several states including Punjab, Delhi Govt issued ads on Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s birth anniversary in Punjab “but such advertisements were not issued in earlier years; similarly, Delhi Govt releases ads on Ram Mandir in UP and Uttarakhand”, points out a former friend.

“AAP is basically the team-B of BJP and is used to weaken the Congress and pave the way for BJP,” says Shastri, a sentiment shared by several former associates. The role of AAP in Goa, Uttarakhand and Punjab is to divide votes. In return, the BJP is content to allow him to lord over cash rich Delhi.

Had Kejriwal transformed Delhi and had AAP been so popular, why have they failed to dislodge the BJP from municipal corporations in Delhi? Why have AAP’s students’ wing not won a single seat in DUSU elections in the last seven years? Why isn’t there a single AAP Member of Parliament from Delhi? Isn’t the match fixing between BJP and AAP apparent?

Why is Delhi not better off than in 2013?

The decline of AK into a power-hungry, self-centred politician has serious implications. Riding the initial euphoria of the AAP experiment were corporate honchos, retired civil servants, academics, lawyers, journalists, writers and poets–all believing that finally they had a platform that would allow them to be a part of mainstream politics without getting them to compromise on their values and self-respect.

Since then, loss of faith in the platform that promised to change the country’s politics has done far more damage, and AK’s fall from the high moral ground of value-based public service to the cesspool of power politics has more serious consequences than we realise.

It will take a long time to rebuild another platform or movement that attracts clean, honest people to politics.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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