In his first speech as the new chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday made it clear that there would be no express delivery of poll promises. "Don't hound us for deadlines… governments don't run like that," he warned the media while promising to deliver in a "mazboot" (solid and substantial) manner.
Durability--of his tenure or initiatives--was not the top consideration when Kejriwal was the CM for 49 days last year. Promises of lower utility bills and clean governance were sold to the electorate with tight--some as tight as within 48 hours of assuming office--deadlines. Despite a spectacular debut, AAP did not have the strength of numbers and the awkward alliance with Congress was not supposed to last.
Having played on populism, AAP had no option but to hastily push through much of their 17-point agenda. While resigning last February, Kejriwal had promised to continue the good work. Last week, he rode a tsunami of support to return to the CM's office. Since the last winter, Kejriwal the politician has matured and mellowed a lot. In his second innings, he wants to go slow and steady but the expectation of voters is sky high.
Governing a state with limited powers, AAP would have to negotiate with the BJP-ruled Central government and the municipal corporations which report to the Union home ministry for administrative matters. Reduced to three seats in the worst-ever defeat in Assembly elections in Delhi, BJP may be tempted to play the Opposition through the Centre or the civic bodies. It better not.
For one, Kejriwal has already struck a conciliatory chord, seeking Centre's cooperation to fulfil the Great Delhi dream. It is a gesture no political party can afford to snub publicly. Particularly not the BJP that, by its own admittance, suffered an electoral rout due to a largely negative, somewhat arrogant and often distasteful campaign.
In two-and-half years since its inception, AAP has succeeded in selling a strong brand of political activism -- not just to the voters but even the rival parties. Its idea of responsive and corruption-free governance mirrored in PM Narendra Modi's election messages. AAP has taken its populist agenda of lower power bills forward by promising to introduce competition amongst power distribution companies, and shifting to renewables. These promises also figure prominently in BJP's Vision Document.
AAP will require central cooperation to fulfil at least two dozen poll promises, such as legislating Swaraj and Janlokpal Bills, building an integrated network of public transport, making Delhi water and power sufficient, reviving the Yamuna and providing housing for all. Incidentally, except the two legislations, these also figure on the BJP's list of poll promises.
Much of his 70-point agenda at stake, Kejriwal has already pushed the envelope by telling the PM that "with the BJP in majority at the Centre and AAP in Delhi, there was no better time for granting full statehood to Delhi". But after demanding the same for over 15 years as the Opposition in Delhi, the BJP has fallen silent on the issue since it took charge at the centre.
This is not an encouraging sign. A section of the BJP feel that the party has already faced anti-incumbency due to inadequate performance of the municipal corporations it runs in Delhi. The civic polls are due in 2017. If AAP contests these elections, it will be a reality check for both parties as their destinies appear to be intertwined in Delhi for now.
As early as in 2017, Delhi will get to decide if it is happy with the efforts to regularise unauthorised colonies - an AAP (and also BJP and Congress) promise but essentially the job of BJP-run civic bodies - or if the public dealing departments - again mostly under the BJP-run corporations - have become less corrupt. Quite a few of AAP's other poll promises - of building public toilets, improving schools or fixing last-mile connectivity by regulating e-rickshaws - will also have to be realised by the civic bodies.
The emphatic Delhi mandate is also very candid. While the AAP can't afford to take it easy or crib about political roadblocks, the BJP better not betray its own agenda by stalling the state government's initiatives just because it can. There is no fooling the voters and the next Delhi test is just 26 months away.