Populism is the only brand of politics that Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal has ever known. The most recent example is how he decided to be critical of the farm laws enacted by the Union Government after his government had notified one of the laws.
The position of Chief Minister is vested with the responsibilities of the highest order. It comes to an even bigger prominence when the country is battling a pandemic. Yet, there is a Chief Minister who looks increasingly lost with every passing day. For a politician and an administrator who used to grab headlines for wanting to exert his influence in a much bigger way and for going against the Centre to get a greater say in how the National Capital should be administered, it is indeed ironic that he would let an opportunity to do meaningful work pass by. In fact, he has gone a step ahead and given lessons for his counterparts in how not to govern a state effectively. Populism is the only brand of politics that Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal has ever known. The most recent example is how he decided to be critical of the farm laws enacted by the Union Government after his government had notified one of the laws. His actions have always been guided by public opinions and on most occasions, his focus has only been on headline management for wrong causes. This line of thought was evident when Delhi was first hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of ramping up the healthcare infrastructure, he lost precious months in sloganeering and poster management. What followed were a series of governance failures that went against the very ethos of India’s democratic principles. His decision to provide treatment only to those belonging to Delhi in the first phase of the virus outbreak was not only against the principles that we as citizens of this country have been safeguarding but was a mockery of the system that elected him to power. He has sown the seeds of regionalism thereby denying several people the right of treatment. In a free country like ours where people have the freedom to travel far and wide in search of job opportunities, access to healthcare is among the most basic and human rights. Yet, Kejriwal had to be reminded of this by the Lt. Governor of Delhi Anil Baijal who over-ruled the State Government’s decision. Today, the same Arvind Kejriwal who stood against the rights of migrants, the majority of whom were women and children, is supporting the protesting farmers despite his actions speaking to the contrary. Media had several pictures of women and children walking through the hot summer months for kilometers to remote villages in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand from Delhi. No food or shelters were provided to them. It is indeed unfortunate that the National Capital has at its helm a person who sees political opportunism for small-time gains in one of the biggest human tragedies. Another aspect of Arvind Kejriwal’s personality is his strong belief in hiding his failures by diverting attention to a manufactured controversy. Earlier this was done by his constant insinuations against Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and the Union Government. We also remember the apologies he has meted out in the public domain to several prominent leaders for false accusations. The subdued version of Arvind Kejriwal that we all were introduced during this year’s assembly elections has shifted focus to institutions and people he can harass using his position. A case in point was the way he went behind a prestigious private hospital like Ganga Ram Hospital accusing them of failing to comply with the procedural norms in testing when in effect all the doctors did was to rise to their call of duty and do whatever was in their capacity to save a patient’s life. This spirit of service is also what was expected from an elected representative. Unfortunately, these values and the maturity to deal with a pandemic has been missing from the Chief Minister’s demeanor. He often seems to forget the responsibility that he is vested with and still relies on the impulse of a political campaigner to take many of his decisions. The fact that the Union Government and the Judiciary of this country had to step in multiple times to right the wrongs of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Government is an indicator of the dire situation in the National Capital. While Delhi was seeing the third wave of COVID-19 during the festive season in November, Delhi Government’s lax attitude surprised even the staunchest supporters of the Chief Minister. According to the government’s own website, only 205 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds with ventilators were available in the city, and in at least 60 hospitals there are no vacancies on a day when cases were touching nearly 7,000. At that time, the average seven-day positivity rate in Delhi stood at 11.5% against the national average of 4.3%. The Delhi High Court called for “strict compliance of measures” and following this Union Home Minister Amit Shah stepped in to provide adequate healthcare infrastructure to bring the situation under control. Even after all the support that he received, Arvind Kejriwal kept faltering on his decisions. It took him more than 7 months since the outbreak of the virus to even wearing masks mandatory. In another move, he announced that markets which are COVID-19 Hotspots will be closed, only to roll it back within a few hours. His actions of the past few months should have been enough to call his accountability into question. Yet, he proves his astuteness as a politician time and again by diverting public attention to other topics. His team of social media influencers spin a narrative and circulate it with larger intensity coupled with his television appearances and every five-minute radio messages. His latest gimmick of being there for India’s farmers when he could not even protect his own people should be called out in the highest possible decibel. In accordance with the health-related protocols owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kejriwal Government took several decisions to this effect. During the onset of this pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, Delhi Government failed to make any arrangement for the migrant workers (mostly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand) in terms of food, shelter, and health of the affected. Similarly, Arvind Kejriwal’s government went to a new low denying admission to capital-based hospitals for non-Delhiites, thereby refusing basic human rights of healthcare, also crippling the federal structure of the county guaranteed by the Constitution. Whereas adding a new feature to its political arithmetic, Arvind Kejriwal under his authority as Chief Minister, banned the public celebration of the Chhath Puja – a pious festival mostly among those from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, asking the devotees not to celebrate this year. Leave alone the fact that he failed to control the pollution level of river Yamuna where devotes come together to celebrate Chhath Puja. He even restricted the number of people at a wedding to fifty. But just the contrary to the number of prejudiced decisions, he surprisingly sidelined his own previous non-Delhite stance and invited the so-called ‘outsider’ farmers from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh to come and stay in specially designed tents and camp in Delhi to protest against certain legislations of the Union Government, thereby borrowing publicity and by scoring brownie political points from harvested electoral gains over serious concerns of public health amidst a global pandemic. He not only ignored the essential precautions and health-related guidelines by hosting the farmers in gravely placed situations in the National Capital. Probably he should have used this time to educate the very same farmers of the hazards of pollution Delhi is facing due to stubble burning in Punjab especially. It also needs to be remembered that Mohalla Clinics, the plank with which he got a second term, and which could have been a game-changer in controlling the pandemic has turned out to be a lofty policy measure that exists only on paper. The very same thing happened with the much-touted ‘Delhi Corona App’ that would have told the needy about the number of hospital beds available. But as is the case with all his policies, after the fanfare died down, there was no talk of the App or what went wrong with it. Perhaps the infamous ‘Chalta hai’ attitude of Delhi is what has been coming to his rescue all the time. Or it may also be that public memory is so short-lived that it acts as a veil for his incompetence. Whatever may be the reason, at the heart of good governance lies accountability. While Arvind Kejriwal uses all the public platforms at his disposal to publicize even those policies that have never been implemented, perhaps the time is now apt for the people of Delhi to give him a reality check. His actions have become predictable be it to blame Delhi police, as in the case of burning buses near Jamia or during East Delhi riots or now house arrest accusation during Bharat Bandh call or blaming the LG of Delhi or Home Ministry. It’s high time, citizens of Delhi should ask Kejriwal who is heading towards wasting another in petty politics and advertisement campaign keeping lives and livelihoods of people in Delhi at stake with his dharna politics. Morality is one of the highest virtues of Indian politics and that comes from selfless service. Arvind Kejriwal should look beyond his narrow populist political goals to make meaningful contributions to society. If Kejriwal finds himself incapable of doing that, shouldn’t he hand over his responsibilities to someone more capable?