India Abroad January 10, 2014 A15 COVER STORY
who for many had come to symbolize some if not everything that was wrong with the government and governance.
By any reckoning, the recently-concluded elections in
Delhi that catapulted the Aam Aadmi Party to centre-stage
had to be among the most secular electoral contests in
recent memory because it was fought on the twin issues of
corruption and good governance, and these are as secular
an issue as secular gets. The usual considerations of caste,
sect or religion were trumped by the near universal outrage
Contrast this with many of the countries affected by the
Arab Spring, which descended into sectarianism, majori-tarianism or plain terrorism; where people still yearn for
the rule of law and many of the personal freedoms and
human rights that many around the world take for granted.
The Indian Spring also took under its wing issues other
than corruption, such as crimes against women. The common man was once again at the forefront of the apolitical,
secular protests following the December 16, 2012 gang-rape of a young woman in Delhi.
The Indian Street, similar to the Arab Street, had well and
truly begun to take shape. The unprecedented outrage forced
Parliament to pass the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill to
tighten the legal framework against rape. Women have
found the voice to assert themselves like never before. It has
led to the arrest of a magazine editor on charges of rape and
a retired Supreme Court judge finds himself at the centre of
a row over the alleged sexual harassment of a law intern.
Having said that, if the groundswell of opinion in favor of
the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi extends to even some of the
other states of Indian union and/or the mandate decisively
shifts away from the two blocs led by the Congress and the
BJP to regional parties, then the 2014 parliamentary elections could throw up a more representative government
bringing in its wake certain implications for the economic
and foreign policies of India. Be it 51 percent foreign direct
investment in multi-brand retail; policies vis-à-vis
Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka; National Counter
Terrorism Centre; or setting up of new nuclear power
plants, what cannot be overstated is that devolution of economic or foreign policies to more stakeholders than what is
currently assumed should not be entirely unwelcome.
In a federal structure such as India’s, foreign policy in
particular cannot be practiced in a vacuum or in isolation
or without consultations with all stakeholders concerned,
including, but not limited to, the states, particularly those
that share contiguous borders with neighboring countries
and/or share ethnic, linguistic, cultural or geographical
affinities with them.
A foreign policy drawn up in the corridors of the South
Block in New Delhi may have served India well in all these
decades, but contemporary realities dictate that in a feder-
al set-up and in an era of coalition governments the views
of the states are factored in at the time of formulation of a
The democratization of policy-making and the salience of
the states in shaping it cannot be continued to be treated as
an exception; and the sooner New Delhi gets used to executing its foreign and domestic policies in a coalition with
sometimes competing political interests, the better it will
be for all the stakeholders concerned.
At the time of writing, protests reminiscent of the Arab
Spring are happening in Thailand, where at least four have
died so far, and Ukraine.
The international community could draw the right lessons from the Indian Spring, which spawned the rise of the
Aam Aadmi Party. It has stirred even a 128-year-old party
like the Congress from its complacency and put others on
notice. The three-time chief minister of Delhi, who had
derisively asked ‘Who is Arvind Kejriwal? What is (Aam
Aadmi Party)?’ on election day, got her answer four days
later when the votes were counted and how: Her party had
been trounced and she herself had lost the election from
All of which can only mean one thing for political parties
and governments everywhere: Thou shalt not mistreat the
Ramesh Ramachandran is a Delhi-based journalist.
TRIBUTE TO THE VIRTUES OF DEMOCRACY
On the Aam Aadmi Party
Politics is about governance. Governance
has to be based on understanding and
If you are going to base concessions on
subsidies, then you should know what it
Subsidy by definition is a charge on the
state exchequer. The exchequer gets money
from the taxpayer. So you are going to take
the taxpayers’ money and you are going to
give subsidies to a limited section of the
I want the AAP experiment to succeed,
but it cannot succeed on the basis of wasteful subsidies.
Look at what has happened to the Indian
economy after 2008. The UPA government
had waived farm loans. Look at the other
wasteful schemes they have had.
The National Rural Employment
Guarantee Act was supposed to have a positive impact because it was supposed to
But figures on the level of utilization of
the scheme in the poorest states are for all
The Food Security Scheme is equally tax-ing.
By definition, subsidy is not a bad thing.
If you are giving a subsidy to poor people,
who do not have enough to eat, which is a
consumption subsidy, it is logical up to a
point. It is necessary.
But you can never build infrastructure on
the basis of subsidies. Infrastructure and
utilities like water and electricity, by defini-
tion, have to be paid for.
You are taking money from somewhere
but at the end of the day, it’s the taxpayer’s
money. That is why I feel very uncomfort-
able with the AAP.
I am happy to see these young profession-
als, these Indian Institute of Technology al-
umni, coming into politics by joining the
But I am not attracted to the party. In
fact, I am worried when I see this kind of
extravagant wasteful expenditure. It is not
a sound economic model.
‘At the UN, there were moments when
I wished we had a stronger government in Delhi’
Hardeerp Singh Puri met Narendra Modi
for the first time in 1999 in Delhi, during
an event organized by Arun Jaitley, and is
said to be close to the Bharatiya Janata
Party’s prime ministerial candidate.