A new political model

A new political model

 It is the national parties, and especially the BJP and the Congress that have much to gain by developing on the AAP model.

It will take time for us and the political parties to understand the changes that have occurred in our political system. They must be seen in the context of the demographic changes --rapid urbanisation and the dominance of people below age 35, the viral spread of social media-internet and mobile phones, the consequent ease of communication and mobilising large crowds of the like-minded, and the dense corruption, inflation, and slow growth of the economy.

All this has helped a new political party to shoot into prominence. It is not based on inherited power, wealth, community, caste or language, but on principles of integrity. It has rapidly learnt to use social media. It follows the first Obama campaign in collecting small donations from the many, little from the rich. These donors are in and outside India. It has mobilised thousands of volunteers to canvass voters, by telephone and in person. For this it has mobilised technically proficient young people who have collected enormous quantities of data about compositions of constituencies and details of voters. All these are unpaid volunteers who have given of their time because of conviction.

The earlier model of identifying constituencies and voters by caste, community and language, still persist with the established political parties and the regional parties. But appeals to these impulses are giving way in the increasingly urbanised India to appeals based on integrity, development initiatives, better infrastructure, combating inflation, and freedom from corruption. In rural constituencies, the old appeals might still be necessary, but combined to the new.

The AAm Aadmi Party (AAP), selected candidates for the Delhi Assembly elections who were unknown and were like any other educated middle-class Delhi resident. That so many won, overwhelmed the Congress, and even those who lost, did so with small numbers of votes, says that this new political model can actually work.

Regional parties might not learn from this experience, and continue as before. They might even survive for some time, but with declining numbers of seats in legislatures. It is the national parties, and especially the BJP and the Congress that have much to gain by developing on the AAP model.

That will require giving up dynastic relations in selection of candidates. It will demand a dramatic and very public change in political attitudes by supporting honest politicians and bureaucrats, and opposing policies and actions that are suspect. For example, they will support a Lokpal with powers to investigate, and Lokayuktas in each state who can investigate anyone in the state. It will require releasing the police from most ceremonial and VIP duties.

It will mean that all government servants have individual accountability and will have tenure in their jobs so that they are there long enough to perform and are seen to do so. It will disqualify politicians from elections if they have been in jail for unlawful (not political) actions, speed up all investigations and make punishments for all white collar crimes more severe. Many other ideas to improve transparency and integrity in government are already in the public domain and must be introduced.

Improving capability

On the economic front, the reformed political parties must follow economic discipline but safeguard the well-being and improving capability of the poor. The focus of government expenditures must be on investment, and done effectively. Handouts like farmers’ loan write-offs must be replaced by asset construction to help agricultural development. State-owned enterprises in the central and state governments are inefficient and require government support in most cases. They serve to give jobs to bureaucrats and perquisites to politicians.

Air India, FCI and Coal India at the Centre are examples of drains on government revenues and inefficiencies that also drain the economy. State governments own enterprises that are even worse off but give legislators who do not become Ministers the car, driver, entertainment account, etc, at the cost of the enterprise and give top jobs to bureaucrats.

With a “socialist” mindset ingrained among Indians in their 50’s, such changes might be regarded as “selling out” to the private sector. However, the private sector is better regulated by government than government is able to regulate the state-owned sector.
The example of electricity is a sad one. The whole sector is deteriorating rapidly.

Over 90 per cent is owned by central and state governments. Most are inefficient and show low productivity. As an important essential for growth and household comfort, it is an obvious place for populist sops by the present day political class. Free electricity to farmers, subsidies to the poor and some favoured users, tolerance of large-scale theft of electricity, undisciplined employees, who collude with the electricity thieves, are features of almost every government owned electricity enterprise. Shortages are endemic and industries are compelled to invest scarce funds to generate their own electricity.

The other state owned enterprise, Coal India, ensures that even a potentially efficient electricity enterprise, is not able to be so. Unfortunately, government has allowed the private sector gas producers to behave in the same way.

The AAP will change this whole culture of dependence on the state. It will not favour private owners but will not tolerate the inefficiencies of government ownership. It will change the work culture in governments and make them more accountable and transparent. It will reduce the public tolerance of corruption and inefficiency that the political parties have nurtured over time. Some months ago all this would have been a pipe dream. Today after the stunning victory of the AAP, it seems possible.

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