A more mature Kejriwal at the helm in Delhi

A more mature Kejriwal at the helm in Delhi
Arvind Kejriwal

EARLY last year Mr Arvind Kejriwal became Delhi chief minister. He lasted 49 days in office.

His inflexible, all-or-nothing approach was too confrontational and it showed his political immaturity.

He had demanded that India's federal government hand over jurisdiction of the police to him.

The government refused and the social activist turned politician took to the streets in a rage. He quit soon afterwards.

Undeterred by his troubled first attempt to run the nation's capital, voters in January gave him a second chance.

One month into his second stint, analysts say they see the emergence of a more mature politician, albeit one with very strong views on who controls his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Some leaders have accused Mr Kejriwal of being authoritarian and have sought devolution of powers within the party, leading to infighting.

Still, the former income tax officer has abandoned his more confrontational style of politics as he attempts to work within the system.

He has reached out to the federal government, asking for full state status for Delhi, which is a union territory with limited powers.

The federal government is unlikely to cede powers over the police and land.

But rather than reignite past arguments with the government, Mr Kejriwal and his Cabinet colleagues have focused on implementing the party's election promises.

"There is no doubt that he is maturing as a politician in his statements and in other ways.

But there is also a danger in that he could become like any other politician as he matures," said political analyst Sudhir Panwar.

Dr Sandeep Shastri, pro-vice- chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore, pointed to the risks from arguments within the party.

"On the face of it there is some learning and there is restraint... I think they have tried to project the image that 'we are here to fulfil our promises'. But the current infighting is taking away from the credibility of the government," Dr Shastri said.

Mr Kejriwal, an anti-corruption crusader, was sworn in as Delhi chief minister last month after the two-year-old AAP won 67 of the 70 Delhi assembly seats in one of the best performances by a party in an Indian election.

The AAP at a meeting on Tuesday night decided to go national and build up party ranks in other states too, in a first move by Mr Kejriwal, who had earlier wanted to focus on Delhi, to resolve differences within the party and put a lid on the infighting.

Those close to him, however, say the internal rumblings have had no impact on governance.

"The Delhi unit is different. This will not have an impact. Even during the elections, Arvind's handpicked team worked away from the media glare," said AAP leader Nagendar Sharma.

"This time it (agenda) is well thought out. Last time we did not know what would happen and we felt trapped and not sure whether forming the government was the right thing to do... Maturity does come with time."

The AAP has moved ahead with implementing populist measures. Over the past month, the government announced a 50 per cent reduction in the power tariff for consumption up to 400 units per month.

It also promises to waive water charges for 20,000 litres per month to every household.

The government has asked for suggestions from the public on giving free Wi-Fi for Delhi and is working towards installing closed-circuit TV cameras and putting marshals on buses to ensure the safety of women.

The question is how AAP will pay for these initiatives when Delhi has limited sources of revenue.

Delhi-based chartered accountant Abhishek Aneja said higher taxes and levies and more active tax collection are likely.

"But this could have a negative effect on the mood of Delhi," he said.

For now, AAP remains popular.

One survey carried out by a news organisation found that almost half of those surveyed felt the party's performance was satisfactory, while more than 60 per cent felt it would fulfil its election promises.

gnirmala@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 19, 2015.
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