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Problems – and rubbish – pile up for Delhi’s leader

Indian motorists and pedestrians pass by garbage on a roadside

Indian motorists and pedestrians pass by garbage on a roadside

NEW DELHI: Autorickshaw driver Vinod Kumar enthusiastically backed Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi elections this year, won over by promises of lower utility bills and an end to corruption, but four months on he is already fed up. “Nothing has changed,” complained the 47-year-old on a recent sweltering June day in the Indian capital. “He promised us free water but we still have acute water shortages in the summer. “We just want him to focus his attention on Delhi... and not waste so much energy on politics.” Kejriwal’s upstart Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) won 67 of the 70 seats in February state elections, handing the former anti-corruption campaigner the coveted role as Delhi chief minister.

It beat Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), dealing the prime minister his first defeat since last year’s general election. Kejriwal had cultivated a reputation as a down-to-earth man of the people even agreeing to appear on a satirical television show in his trademark muffler.

But within weeks of winning the election, his party was embroiled in a very public bout of political in-fighting that belied its claim to be different from the others. Since then Kejriwal, who is on his second stint in the job, has lost his law minister after embarrassing allegations that the politician faked his degree. The new chief minister’s problems spilled over into the streets last month when putrid rubbish was left to pile up at the hottest time of the year after the city’s sanitation workers went on strike over non-payment of salaries.

Sunil Kumar, one of thousands who downed tools, said he had voted for Kejriwal believing he would put people before politics. “These first few months have been disappointing,” he said. “Kejriwal’s government has only been in the news for controversies, not for anything he’s done on our behalf.” The strike dragged on for days with Kejriwal unable to resolve the problem because the body in charge of Delhi’s civic workers is controlled by his main political rivals, the BJP. Delhi’s special status as a partial state means that many of its key services - including the police force - are controlled by the national government.

To make the situation even more complicated, separately elected civic bodies control other public amenities - making them easy political pawns. Modi promised Kejriwal his government’s “complete support” after the election, but the taxman- turned-political campaigner has accused the BJP of stirring up trouble in Delhi. “Since the BJP lost Delhi, they want revenge and this isn’t correct,” Kejriwal told the NDTV news channel.

‘Hotbed for Politics’
This is Kejriwal’s second stint as Delhi chief minister - his first began in Dec 2013 and ended with his resignation just 49 days later to focus on his national political ambitions. The move backfired and he suffered a humiliating general election defeat last year when he stood in the same constituency as Modi, forcing a return to Delhi politics.

Political analyst Samir Saran believes Kejriwal has allowed his bitter rivalry with the prime minister to dominate - to the detriment of the city he runs. “The last few months under Kejriwal have been about contest and confrontation,” said Saran, senior research fellow at Delhibased Observer Research Foundation. “The city has become a hotbed for politics (rather) than actual development and progress, and Kejriwal is distracted with one upmanship.” Kejriwal’s government last month tried to win back core supporters by presenting its first budget, hiking spending on social services, and subsidised water and power for the poor. “This is a budget of aam aadmi (common man) and we have tried to take into account the expectations and aspirations of the people of Delhi,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said.

But Delhi’s former chief minister, Sheila Dikshit of the left-wing Congress party, said Kejriwal “doesn’t want to understand or doesn’t understand” governance. “Even we had differences with other authorities, but they weren’t solved with agitations and noisy public disputes,” said Dikshit, who served three five-year terms as chief minister. Delhi electrician and Kejriwal supporter Raju Singh said Kejriwal still had not demonstrated the commitment the city needed - but was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. “He is definitely better than traditional politicians,” Singh said. “We support him and believe he will change that and stay here.” — AFP

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This article was published on 01/07/2015