Colombo Telegraph

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) And The Lure Of Populism

By S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

Image Dented

Because Aam Aadmi postured moral high ground and flaunted a leaning towards a clean image, it received a remarkable confidence vote to be elected the second largest party in Delhi, the National Capital Region. However its first infraction of principle was brought about by the party itself. Its claim to election was its portrayal of Congress as a party perceived to be tainted. Yet, after the Congress was rejected on that score it forged an alliance with that very party in order to be in the seat of power. Birth marks are difficult to conceal and when they are on the face, visibility is high. When the beginning is squeered, everything becomes so, goes a Tamil saying. AAP has enlisted that disability. When it is ever conscious of that, it has to seek votes by other means. Herein comes  ubiquitous populism, to edge out economic principles as the sheet anchor of good governance. This has already happened.

“Creating, Consolidating, conserving and distributing wealth, are four tasks in governance” – Thirukkural.

To what degree do we see them in the announcements made by AAP since its placement in authority in Delhi? Part subsidy in water use to a segment of the Delhi population at an estimated cost of Rs. 3.5 billion is already announced. Also announced is a similar payment waiver for consumption of electricity. Were such measures unknown to previous Delhi administrations? The announcement of land titles for illicit occupation has only to take precise form. Regularisation of encroachments is a term for extending legality to default of non-removal by earlier regimes. It’s a stamp of permanency for slums as a legitimate part of the nation’s metropolis. If so much in so short a time, won’t there be a cascade in the months to come?


A major policy decision on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has also been announced in rejecting it for retail trade. The first fault was to have declared it without the concurrence of the alliance partner though AAP is a minority government. A 40% seat win is not a clear mandate for a unilateral policy declaration. The decision is on weak ground since the alliance partner is opposed to this policy and had decided in favour while in power.

The more serious aspect to it is that as the Indian economy gets modernized, FDI becoming an integral part of India’s economic philosophy and programme is inescapable. Playing the ‘Luddite’ role of breaking up or opposing it can only delay its foray. Retail was only MM Singh’s accommodation for a while till India is ready for the full flush of FDI and MNCs. About three years back the Prime Minister spoke about the importance of foreign capital in trade. He said that modernizing trade would imply cold chains, refrigerated transport and a retail network. Half a billion dollars are needed in investment and neither the govt. nor the private sector had it. Foreign capital alone commanded it.

It is widely known that the first spate of economic reforms of the early nineties was spearheaded by Singh and Rao. The benefits are immeasurable. A year back Obama said very correctly that India awaits the second phase of reforms. The advice did not fall on sympathetic ears. Forward thinking should be from the capital. Decades ago it used to be said that what Bengal said today, India said tomorrow. It was implicit that Bengal was the intellectual capital of India at that time. Today Delhi has to blazon forth as the capital in many respects. Modi it is expected will endow that role to Delhi. AAP will have to go in tandem for a share in progress.

Slippery Incline

A foot on the slippery incline of populism will drag down anybody placed in authority. Transport is next. Both road and rail come in. People of Tamil Nadu are paying for the populist theatricals of successive governments. Both the CMs have given them low fares in exchange for rickety buses and total inadequacy. Rail transport suffers because TN is unable to finance more facilities or extensions when the centre requests. For certain new lines as for Sriperumbudur, nothing has happened for more than a decade much to the disappointment of investors.

When Lee Kwan Yew relinquished his duties as PM he instituted checks on likely profligacy. Quite correctly he picked out transport for the foray of the populist politician. It is cheap transport which the people want and we must give it to them. Thus the argument would run and the treasury will be bankrupted. He prevented facile frittering away of hard saved resources. It is into such tills that some parties venture to put their hands. To identify areas of populism possibilities are infinite. If AAP’s populism has free run, it will spread to subsidized fares for bus, rail and even the Delhi Metro, now the pride of Delhi and of India. Altruism would demand that all such temptations are destroyed.

A clamour to knock the basis out of sharing wealth has been there in many societies from early times. In ancient Rome Patricians and Plebians were in opposing camps. Immediately after the revolution, the communists in Russia expressed their belief literally in each according to his ability to each according to his needs. Lenin’s iron tenet, he who does not work, neither shall he eat prevailed. A state’s wealth derived from levies and a state’s land resources  are both social. A placid announcement of being liberal with them smacks of levity. There is a strange belief with people gaining new power and brief authority, to think that wealth gushes forth in a state through a dynamic of its own, effortlessly and endlessly. Those elected have only to employ their intelligence to spread it across in a display of munificence.

Lee Kwan Yew wisely veered from it and Singapore is among the wealthiest and most disciplined. Sri Lanka in contrast is in the doldrums constantly for taking the path of least resistance interminably. “Welfare expenditure of 16.4% in late nineteen twenties increased in 1947 to 56.1%. A handsome surplus in1945 to a heavy deficit in 1947”. – Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies. As of now welfare expenditure together with freebies and subsidies has burgeoned into a huge amount disproportionate to the nation’s income. Cumulative public debt is Rs.7 trillion at 78% of GDP. The country is now saddled with the twin evil features of inflation and depreciating currency. Singapore $1/- was Ceylon Re 1/- in 1965. Today 1 Sing $ = SL Rs.105/-.

Tamil Nadu maintains an unholy alliance with SL resorting to absolutely unnecessary, wasteful and profligate expenditure. Though debt is manageable, budget discipline is maintained and deficit is under control, yet freebies and subsidies are excessive. The two parties in their greed to have two successive terms have vied with each other for more than 20 years to bribe the voter this way and failed to have them even once. In the miserable failure at appreciable economic performance and good governance, they have been thrown out remorselessly by an intelligent electorate.

If Aam Aadmi Party desires to develop a national perspective it has to be totally different. In every state and the country, policy and principle should claim precedence. This can never be if addressing the gallery becomes primary.

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