Innovative way of tackling corruption?

In this column on the 27 December 2013, we wrote about the election of the AAM Aadmi Party (AAP) leader as follows: ‘Now we come to Arvind Kejriwal, who has shaken the established order in New Delhi by unseating a three-term Chief Minister, Mrs Sheila Dixit with AAP obtaining 28 out of the 70 seats, 32 going to the BJP and only a meagre 8 going to the Congress Party…

The significant aspect of this victory is the emergence of a third force with funding from the common man, something which was thought impossible. This is therefore being touted as a new way of doing politics, and if this experiment is successful in terms of delivery on the promises made to the people of Delhi, then the possibility of extending this model nationally and its success could be a potential game changer for India, and possibly for the world. It’s early days no doubt, but this points to an exciting perspective ahead.’

Since that election, AAP has been making waves in New Delhi, and is already having to face some very hard realities. One of them has been the vandalizing of its party office in Ghaziabad, a township adjoining New Delhi, in the wake of some comments made by one of its senior leaders, Shri Prashant Bushan, about the presence of the Indian army in terrorist attack prone Kashmir. The comments have been decried by many leaders, including the Chief Minister of Kashmir Omar Abdullah, as being inappropriate, to put it mildly, and Shri Prashant Bhushan criticized for his political immaturity regarding national issues and the security of India.

It is widely perceived that it is almost impossible to constitute let alone elect a third force that challenges mainstream established parties belonging to the incumbent and the opposition. That is why, besides the fact of its thundering victory, the doings of AAP are being watched closely not only in New Delhi and in India, but also in the world by democracy-minded groups to see what lessons they can learn and whether the model can be replicated elsewhere where democracy is lacking.

A major new initiative of AAP has been the setting up of a corruption helpline, in the wake of a sting operation that was carried out by a media house. Its journalists trapped a senior officer of the Delhi Jal (water) Board and took videopictures of cash being handed over to him. These were shown to the AAP minister concerned who passed it on to the Chief Minister, and the officer along with two others similarly caught were immediately suspended and an investigation launched. The idea is to send a strong signal to corrupt officers and hopefully uproot the entrenched evil of corruption in the land.

Thus the launch of the corruption helpline by Arvind Kejriwal himself, a measure which he had announced in his inaugural speech at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi after being sworn in as Chief Minister.

The set-up takes the form of a three-layer process which is being handled by a BPO. It starts with the call being received from a complainant. The call is checked for its genuineness. The next step is for the caller to produce the required evidence of the corrupt act, and video evidence is accepted. This is then to be submitted to a proper enquiry committee for further investigation and action as required.

On the very first day (yesterday) of its coming into operation, 300 calls were received in three hours. It seems that the phone lines are constantly busy. With a population of nearly 16 million in Delhi, enough to constitute a small country, no wonder the helpline is overwhelmed. More importantly, however, people have been asking ‘what next’ – what action is going to follow if the complaint of corruption is proved? It is noteworthy that following the suspension of the three officers of the DJB, nearly 600 officers have been promptly transferred and assigned other duties.

So far so good. But AAP is taking flak for apparently going back on its pre-election undertaking to pursue Congress Party leaders who they identified very positively as being involved in mega-scams, claiming that they held solid evidence against them. Most notably is the case of the outgoing Chief Minister of New Delhi Mrs Sheila Dixit. Now AAP is asking those who are pushing the case to bring the evidence – which AAP claimed to have in the first place! – and then it will consider. This is being criticized as making a 180-degree turn, and it is a matter which AAP will have to handle very adroitly so as to maintain the credibility capital it has started off with.

In fact that capital has been building up so rapidly that there has been literal spate of high-profile individuals from different walks and fields of life, belonging to states other than Delhi, offering not only their support but actually joining the party. This tout nouveau tout beau phenomenon is being widely publicized and commented upon in India, as is to be expected.

But it is yet too early to make any judgement, what with Narendra Modi still making it in the Times of India poll as being the preferred prime ministerial choice for the country in the 2014 general elections. They will bear following very closely!


* Published in print edition on 10 January 2014

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