Analysis of the AAP’s emphatic victory in Delhi will continue for many days, but one can only hope issues that matter to good governance and well being of the common man take precedence over long-standing political vendetta. The focus of discourse is now both on economics and politics. While political pundits are guessing the near to long term ramifications of this result on the current political landscape of the country, economic experts are assessing the likely impact on government’s reform agenda. Moreover, the electorate which has given thumping majority to the AAP party is now keenly waiting for delivery of those promises made by the AAP during the election campaign.
The promises were mainly of power, water at cheaper rates, quality education and housing along with corruption free system and good governance. As far as governance and corruption are concerned, only time will tell how the AAP government performs.
But it is a fact that for the eradication of widespread corruption in public life, there is a need for strong and consistent willpower. If the government shows the willpower, the result on corruption will be really fruitful and the marginal and middle classes, who mostly suffer the pain of lower level corruption in day-to-day life, will be net beneficiaries.
Government's effort on corruption front will also bring a feeling of change in power for the common man that remained a key concern for the defeat of the NDA in Delhi. And though the NDA government has done a good job on macro-economic front, on corruption no serious effort has been made which obstructed its achievements from translating into votes.
It may be noted here that AAP's other big promises which include water and electricity at cheaper rates and housing for all is debatable. Here, it is far more important to see whether these were merely long used political slogans only to impress voters, or the government can actually bring relief for the common man with credible checks and balances. Such changes could also be made by impartial fixing of the rates, based on impartial recommendations, concerning all stake holders or by exposing the crony capitalist approach.
But if the government fulfils these promises only by doling out funds from its exchequer, then it will be merely a political and populist stunt, which will not be very different from those made by different political parties in the last 67 years of Independence.
There is no innovation in this model. Most state governments are now running such pro-people schemes. In fact schemes like free electricity, waiving off farmers’ loan, rice at Rs 2 per kg etc have been very old political gimmicks. In 1989, when the United Front government came to power at the Centre, the then deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal took his very first decision of waiving off farmers' loans. Countless such examples can be found in the political history of India.
Each and every time, political parties tend to promise these types of freebies in a new format, and the common man gets trapped and supports the party. But after some time, the expectations start to degenerate and the class, which had supported vehemently, comes out against those same parties.
Such practices have continued in India since freedom and most probably will continue in the coming days. The so-called socialist and leftist ideologues always see these freebies and schemes and promises as key to inclusive growth and common man’s prosperity and generally link them with socialist jargon. They try to justify that in a democracy, running these type of schemes should be the sole priority of the government, as it symbolizes the latter's pro people’s approach. However they fail to debate on the core issue—its relevance in the present time. Are those used practices long-lasting solutions? Or do these only escalate fiscal imbalances, resulting in secular fall in capital expenditure, which is only way to ensure sustainable and comprehensive growth in the long run.
However, despite these continued schemes, things have not changed substantially and things are unlikely to be any different in coming days. On the contrary, faith in India's political system has totally collapsed in the last few years and these schemes have failed to uplift the image of political parties among the common man.
In both pre-reform and post-reform period, rising share of populist and pro-people schemes help get political mileage and make a significant dent in the government’ spending on infrastructure. For instance, the Manmohan Singh led-UPA government which had taken many more populist decisions not only restricted room for capital expenditure but also expanded fiscal imbalances. As a result of this, India witnessed derailed economic growth which hurt long-term investment cycle. Had the previous governments adopted a balanced approach in spending, the current economic scenario would have been totally different today.
Further, those who always try to emulate China’s communist model, they should consider the approaches that were implemented in the last several years. Therefore, it would be advisable for the new government to keep a rational approach on spending for the long-term betterment of the economy.
Meanwhile, no sensible person can demand the withdrawal of these government schemes but caution should be practiced while doing so. Indeed, it is time that government rethinks this long-practiced model and chart out a long-term plan. The need of the hour is to lay a road-plan which could give much needed boost to the economy by keeping certain core values of democracy intact.
Furthermore, these types of freebies cannot generate employment or expand infrastructure which is the only way to add much needed growth to the economy. Instead a major chunk of these freebies and schemes goes in the hands of middlemen and become a tool of corruption. It is a well known fact that in 1985, the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had told that out of 100 paisa only 17 paise goes to the supposed beneficiaries.
A closer look shows that political parties which called themselves as socialist leftist had actually carried out the populist schemes to benefit their cadres or expand their organizations. West Bengal is one of the best examples where these practices were used for political gain. Things have not changed substantially even after 67 years of independence, thanks to such populist schemes.
Nevertheless in post Independent India, this was relevant because it had supported the marginal classes a bit to help it join the mainstream. However, socialist approach should not be based on political vendetta or merely populist slogans. It should be more centric to the core idea of democratic values which advocate equal opportunity and the betterment of quality of life for every citizen, irrespective of their cast, class, region or race.
Apart from that, there are some basics of good governance also, where there should be no confrontation or dissimilar views. In fact the need of the hour is to ensure education, health and housing for all. Education sector has been a victim of dual crisis—rising cost of education and quality of education. While the former has marked a distinct disparity in the field of education, the latter has severely deteriorated in the government institutions in the last 20-25 years. The major challenge before the government, therefore, is to address these wide disparities prevalent within the education system, to ensure quality of education for all and this is possible only through government initiatives both on regulation and expenditure fronts.
Another key issue is health that must be taken into account. Poor people can’t afford private medical facilities, and hence the government should expand its investment on basic healthcare. Besides health, education and housing for all should also be the concern of the government.
Undoubtedly the challenges that the economy is now facing cannot be resolved by only trivial socialist practices or by means of free market model. There is a need to develop an innovative model that would not only aid the economy, but could also provide a sense of equal opportunity to all Indian citizens. This can’t be done by the private sector. The all inclusive model should be such that no one gets excluded from the mainstream or political process. This can only happen when the government delivers to all the classes. The government should also have to work for the marginalised classes which have not been the part of mainstream ever since the country gained independence.
Delhi poll results have taught a lesson to the two main political parties about the growing perception that the latter's economic approach and interests are only limited to contributing for corporate growth at the cost of the common man. If both the mainstream political parties fail to reconnect with marginal classes, then the political impact will be evident in the long run. In absence of an active Left organization and movement, the space created by both the parties could be filled by AAP or any AAP- like, or regional parties.
If the AAP government in Delhi delivers its promises on corruption and basic governance and is able to present Delhi as a role model, then its long-term impact will be larger. It will not only increase chances of AAP in other part of the countries, but also force other political parties to deliver.
The other big challenge for the government is to re-establish credibility of democratic institutions that have been widely muted in the last 25-30 years. Without reviving credibility of these institutions, democracy can’t flourish and if the government succeeds in doing this, it will only connect the common (man mainly marginal classes) to those institutions resulting in furthering democratic values. Besides, the government should try hard to maximize participation of marginal classes i.e. dalit, minority and tribal in these institutions in line with the plural character of our country.