Is Kejriwal asking the right questions?

Academic literature on Idea Generation and Creativity emphasizes heavily upon asking the right questions. Quality of solutions depend on the quality of the definition of problems. In this light I would like to discuss the recent developments in Indian politics.

Rise of ‘Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’ and Arvind Kejriwal has been a remarkable event in recent history of Indian politics. Mass excitement that his rise has generated can only be compared to the rise of V.P.Singh in late 80s to take on mighty Congress party. I mention V.P.Singh because that’s the only political movement I have seen in my life. Within a year’s time since its establishment Aam Aadmi Party has not just become a formidable force in the state of Delhi but has managed to form the government as well. On one hand rise of ‘Aam Aadmi Party’ is the proof of robustness of India’s democracy and the efficiency of its electoral politics. On the other hand, it’s an interesting example of innovation and creativity within the political space.

This year, there will be general elections in India. Enthused by its unprecedented success in Delhi AAP is now aiming higher and is trying to make its presence felt across India. However what has caught my attention is the initial steps taken by AAP government in Delhi. Let’s talk about free 670 litres to each household. First of all, this is only for those households that have meters installed for water. This automatically discounts lower middle class, poor class and people living in slums who don’t have proper access to water. Another step is that of reducing electricity tariff. Electricity tariff in Delhi has been questioned in past and there is every reason to suspect the veracity of claims by the electricity distribution companies. In fact, Prashant Bhushan, the second most important person in AAP has been fighting for quite some time against high electricity tariffs. But once again, is high tariff the real problem or is it just the part of the problem? There are several residential zones in periphery of Delhi, where regular supply of electricity is a problem. The consumer doesn’t want only low tariffs. Consumer needs regular electricity at a reasonable rate. The solution that AAP has been seeking doesn’t address the problem in its totality.

And finally Lokpal. Creation of a quasi-judiciary system to take on corruption. It’s continuously argued, “Lokpal will fight against corruption”. That’s where the problem lies. When one says, ‘fight against corruption’ the subtle assumption is that corruption is some external entity against which we have to fight and eradicate. The problem is, corruption resides right within us – among us. People who take bribes are also part of us and people who give bribes as well. If the system is faulty you don’t create more system. Moreover, appointment of Lokpal – not by public but by a selected few – makes it even more vulnerable to becoming a political tool rather than an effective system.

In 2011, when the Lokpal movement was at its peak, I was in India and I happened to interact with some Law students about effectiveness of Lokpal. When I presented these arguments their only reply was, “You are right, but what’s the alternative?” And I didn’t have an alternative. But, lack of an obvious answer doesn’t mean you should stop asking the question or switch to a question where answer is rather more obvious. The risk I see in priorities of AAP is that, despite all good intentions it might be trapped in ‘easy solutions’. Such solutions give a false sense of action and progress instead of resolving problems. If AAP really wanted to emerge as a strong, honest and sincere alternative, they should have rather opted for harder solutions and asked deeper questions. Being creative demands greater perseverance and making tougher choices.

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5 thoughts on “Is Kejriwal asking the right questions?

  1. Nice article , it’s an interesting perspective. I agree with the point about fighting against corruption. It’s not outside, it’s within is us and should be addressed at grass root levels. High morals in a society comes when people have good standard of living. It’s the need hierarchy, when the basic needs are not met then we look for shortcuts and bribes.

  2. Lesson Number One

    For Arvind Kejriwal – and his team of ministers and MLAs – lesson number one is :

    TALK LESS / WORK MORE

    You did not have to declare ( from roof-top too ! ),

    ” If elected , we will shun government bungalows / cars / servants etc ”

    No one had asked you for proof of your simplicity

    But you went ahead and did it on your own !

    Now that you have placed yourself under the microscope , people of Delhi are asking :

    ” Why is Arvind moving into a 10 room bungalow ?

    Why has he accepted security from UP government ?

    Why are AAP ministers using government cars ( – chauffer driven too ) ?

    What were you trying to achieve – except perhaps fool the public – by
    travelling in metro / auto / Wagon-R , for first 4 days ? ”

    People of Delhi think that ,

    > they have been taken for a ride ( – no doubt , on metro ! )

    > you have pulled a fast one on them

    > you have betrayed their trust

    DEAR ARVIND ,

    There was no need for you to have made those lofty declarations

    But for your failed attempt to project your simplicity as a virtue , no one would have bothered to wonder why you are moving from a 3 bedroom flat to a 5 bedroom flat

    People may have even appreciated that you intend to continue your office work ( beyond office hours ) , in a 5 room office attached to your residence

    Every single Chief Minister of India has to do that !

    More than 50 years back , Dr Jivraj Mehta ( – the first Chief Minister of Gujarat ) , spent a night at my father’s modest house in village Vadia

    He had just one peon in his retinue ( – apart from his driver ) , who carried a heap of files inside the house

    After dinner , he sat down cross-legged , on a bed laid out on the floor and answered questions of the villagers

    When I got up next morning , I saw him going thru those files and making notes . My father later told me that the CM had started work at 4 am – still sitting cross-legged on the floor !

    Dr Jivraj Mehta did not have to declare his ” Simplicity ” to anyone !

    Then 3 years later , corrupt Congress MLAs of Gujarat , who could not stomach the honesty of Dr Mehta , got High Command to replace him !

    DEAR ARVIND ,

    You have many lessons to learn from history

    Lesson No ONE is :

    > Do not undertake / promise anything that you cannot sustain

    > Once you promise anything , don’t go back on it

    > TALK LESS / WORK MORE

    * hemen parekh ( 04 Jan 2014 / Mumbai )

  3. @Niti. Thanks Niti. However I don’t think the issue is that of Need hierarchy. Most of the corrupt political leaders are already well-off. It’s about incentives and accountability. When people with low ethical quotient see that there are opportunities to make money without getting caught, they go for it. On the other hand people perceive that by giving bribes they can get the work done faster. So bribes become a lucrative incentive for both. That’s the issue. We need to address it on both sides. That’s why another external agency will not correct the problem. The answer lies in altering the control systems in such way that these incentives are removed.

  4. @Hemen Thanks. I completely agree with you. Sardar Patel, even after becoming Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, still used his bicycle and had just one secretary (another wonderful Gujarati intellectual Mr. M.C. Bhatt).

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