The Aam Aadmi Party is in the midst of a political crisis as a result of the central government's extensive crackdown on its top leaders and associates through its agencies. All of this is taking place while Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, already sees a strong showing from the party. Even though these are important for political advancement, the AAP should keep an eye open for warning signs coming from the state of Punjab.
Since the Aam Aadmi Party took power this year, a string of bad news has plagued the Punjab government led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann. The Bhagwant Mann administration's poor leadership raises questions about both his capacity as a leader and about the so-called Kejriwal model. The Punjab chief minister even failed to respond right away when the shocking news came out earlier this month from Chandigarh University, where some girls claimed that their private videos had been leaked. It looks like he waited for the high command of the party to first respond which is Mr Kejriwal and his most trusted lieutenant Raghav Chadha.
It is currently well known that Bhagwant Mann is dependent on the Delhi high command of the party. Many people in the party, including some in the opposition, think he is totally dependent on Mr Kejriwal. Unfortunately, this dependency was only discovered a month after Mann was elected as CM. It would be inaccurate to say that the citizens of Punjab are ignorant of this. The AAP's defeat in the Sangrur Lok Sabha election, which was held in the CM's own constituency, demonstrates that there are preliminary indications of voter discontent. It was disappointing to see that the party as a whole failed to come up with a clever strategy to handle this setback. The only change made by Bhagwant Mann was the appointment of Raghav Chadha as the head of the CM's advisory panel. This gives Arvind Kejriwal more power. If this is how political defeats are handled, Mr Kejriwal should be concerned about what may happen in the future.
The Aam Aadmi Party's victory in Punjab is a significant political advancement, but Punjab is also the first state outside of Delhi where the Kejriwal model of government has been tested. The state of law and order in Punjab should be the government's top priority. The Kejriwal model does not include law and order, as the Bhagwant Singh Mann administration has recognised from the very beginning. It is true that the government has made a number of populist decisions, one of which involved abruptly removing several VVIPs' security protection. Many people think that such an impulsive populist decision led to the murder of Congress leader and rock icon Sidhu Moosewala.
Arvind Kejriwal is currently campaigning based on promises of freebies in Gujarat. On the same promises, he led the entire Punjab election campaign which includes free water, electricity, transportation, public health, and other services. Mr Kejriwal has made similar financial aid promises to women in Gujarat as he did in Punjab. Freebies are populist policies as well, and they are only effective during the elections. However, Punjab is a glaring example—along with Delhi—of how unsustainable these freebies are. Since Delhi is not a complete state, it has no authority over the police, the land, and some other sectors.
This helps the state government save a significant amount of money. Nevertheless, the Arvind Kejriwal administration in Delhi has now declared that the power subsidy programme can only be made available based on a customer's preferences. This means that a citizen will only receive a subsidy if they request one. However, this was not a promise made during the campaign. The elections were fought and won with the promise that every single person would receive free electricity for the first 200 units.
Similar to this, the state government of Punjab has not yet been able to put the financial aid programme for women into effect. The power subsidy programme has its own ambiguities. This is taking place as a result of the excessive reliance on freebies in the politics of Arvind Kejriwal. If this keeps happening, the party might receive some votes in some states because the opposition space is getting smaller, but creating a better governance model based on freebies is a utopia.
The Aam Aadmi Party's administration in Punjab has struggled to fight corruption. Meanwhile, the party as a whole is unable to refute the accusations of corruption levelled against prominent figures like Manish Sisodia and Satyender Jain. Within a couple of months, Bhagwant Mann in Punjab suspended the health minister over allegations of corruption. Another minister from Punjab, Fauja Singh Sarari, is currently being investigated for an alleged extortion video. However, the AAP is downplaying this. The party is aware that accusations against Bhagwant Mann’s leadership will surface if another minister is expelled from the cabinet due to corruption.
Numerous media reports and Aam Aadmi Party Punjab sources confirm Bhagwan Singh Mann wants to work in his own way but that his desires are being thwarted by the party's high command culture. Every politician has political goals. A current example of how this high command culture ultimately fails to maintain power is the Congress party's crisis in Rajasthan. In Rajasthan, every single congress leader is at odds with another and pays no attention to the high command. Arvind Kejriwal is a smart politician and it is difficult to believe that he is looking for such a future for the Aam Aadmi Party.
Just following the instructions of Mr Kejriwal is not the best thing to do. Just because Mr Kejriwal alleged an operation lotus in Delhi, Bhagwant Mann rushed to do the same. The party has repeatedly failed to put forward any solid evidence in this regard.
The issue at hand is not whether India needs a stronger political opposition or not, nor is it whether some political parties ought to sense the absence of an opposition space. It concerns the direction of a political party that has in fact advocated for improvements in health and education. The Aam Aadmi Party is the nation's youngest political organisation and the only one to hold power in two significant states in and around the Hindi heartland that is neither affiliated with the BJP nor the Congress. The Punjab government, however, exemplifies the many drawbacks of the Arvind Kejriwal model of governance. These forewarnings should serve as the Aam Aadmi Party's wake-up call to begin course correction efforts.
Sayantan Ghosh is an independent journalist, columnist and former policy research fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Center. He tweets @sayantan_gh. Views expressed are personal