An apt time for Aam Aadmi Party to do soul searching? 

The Anshu Prakash incident reveals AAP’s frustrations. As it attempts serious governance before 2020 Delhi polls, obstructions real or imagined are seen as attempts by the Centre to curb its growth

The fracas between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Delhi chief secretary Anshu Prakash, who was allegedly manhandled by two legislators at Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence late on Monday night, has the makings of an unsavoury affair, and one which does not befit a party with national aspirations. And yet, the incident also reveals the depth of animosity built up in the last three years between the new party with a grand mandate and the bureaucracy which views it as an upstart.

While it’s true that the AAP feels frustrated and helpless at its inability to implement welfare schemes and governance innovations without the powers of a full state government, it’s equally evident that the conduct of Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor (LG) has been far from even handed in the period the party has been in office.

The LG has emerged as a parallel power center who is often seen to be striking down schemes of the Delhi government or giving contrary orders to officials. The administrative machinery is not only caught in this tussle but also nurses grudges of its own against the Delhi government because of the latter’s insistence on accountability and quick delivery. The bureaucracy of course takes its cues from the government at the Centre and it’s no secret that the working relationship between the two sides has been under strain for sometime now.

The late night summoning of the chief secretary (CS) to discuss matters which were not so urgent can be seen as an attempt by elected lawmakers to assert their power. In response, Delhi government bureaucrats have declared that won’t attend meetings called by its ministers until Kejriwal himself apologises. It’s not a happy situation for either side but neither is backing down at the moment.

The AAP has admitted that there was a heated exchange between its legislators and the CS on Monday but it has denied any physical assault. His medical report, which has a discrepancy in timing, however bears evidence of assault. The two MLAs Amanatullah Khan and Prakash Jarwal have since been arrested by the Delhi police. But the police has not shown the same alacrity in booking employees of the Delhi secretariat who attacked minister Imran Hussein and senior AAP leader Ashish Khetan the next morning, although video clips of the incident have been released.

The incident has put the spotlight back on the AAP and its journey so far and what the future holds for it.

For a party that emerged out of an ‘anti corruption’ movement and drew educated, well meaning persons from all walks of life to it, the conduct of its legislators not just in trying to brow beat the CS but in other unsavoury incidents since it came to power in Delhi, is seen as evidence of the compromises the party has made in its short journey. The failure of its leadership lies in keeping the ‘lumpen elements’ who have crept into its ranks in check.

Yet it can’t be denied that AAP has emerged as a disruptive force in Indian politics due to its unconventional politics, and innovative methods to reach out to the people as also some of its governance initiatives like mohalla clinics or home delivery of services thought up by its youthful workers. The party’s running battle with the LG over sharing power is evidence of that. Each time the LG objects to some new scheme of the Delhi government, the intense reaction is a manifestation of its angst.

There are two recent events which have stretched the AAP patience. In January the LG called for an “income criteria” in the AAP’s ‘Quality Health for All ‘ scheme which envisages a seamless arrangement between the Delhi government and private hospitals in the city to conduct surgery or tests that cannot be performed in government hospitals already running to full capacity. As per the scheme, the government will bear the cost of both procedures. The AAP government which has earned much praise for its mohalla clinics wanted to take its health care initiatives to the next level by providing free tests and surgery to all classes of citizens. This found disfavour with the LG.

Then the LG shot down the Delhi government’s proposal to ‘home deliver” basic public services such as birth certificates and social welfare benefits saying it is a waste of manpower. The government described it as “a huge setback” to its effort to provide corruption free governance. The AAP’s anguish can be understood as Kejriwal and his ministers had pegged it as a “first in the world” initiative and were hoping to reap electoral benefits from it.

After the series of electoral losses in Punjab, Goa and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi the AAP can sense that winning Delhi again will not be easy because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has it on its radar and the subaltern party is being squeezed in many ways including by curtailing its funding. It’s only hope is to win over the people again on the strength of its welfare model of governance. With two years left to go the party is conscious that so far it has made more noise than done actual work on the ground. Now, as it attempts to rectify this and gets down to serious governance, any obstruction real or imagined is seen as an attempt by the Centre to prevent it from doing so.

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