Many liberal commentators have called Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to retain all ministers in Delhi government for a new term “regressive”, “anti women”, “static” and “boring”. They are deeply upset that the cabinet doesn’t have a woman face, though Atishi (won’t use Marlena as she doesn’t too nowadays) is available and obviously capable; doesn’t have young face though Raghav Chadha is a youth icon in his own right and has the smarts to deliver.
The main argument I am seeing is that since a large number of women have voted for AAP, there must be representation in the cabinet. Similarly, since a large number of young folks have voted overwhelmingly for AAP, youth should have been given an opportunity. A corollary of this argument is that by not doing so, Kejriwal is showing an anti-women, anti-youth slant or is being too conservative, static and boring.
The logic put forward by the CM is that the party has been voted to power on the back of #KaamKiRajniti — work done by the previous government across all sectors, Education, Health, Electricity, Water, Transport, Women safety and its delivery against the 71-point manifesto/agenda and therefore there is no need to change the cabinet that has performed to expectations of the citizens.
Since I have some visibility and inside knowledge of the stupendous work done by AAP cabinet, let me share my point of view and perspective on this debate.
Firstly, as per the guidelines, Delhi can have only 10% of elected officials as ministers. So other than CM, there can be only 6 ministers. AAP clearly has a problem of excess talent (it was more visible in last government with 67 seats as most MLAs did not have much work to do in government). It tried to address this excess capacity on legislative side by designating some 20 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries to ministers (who deal with multiple portfolios and therefore could use some friendly help). The central govt tried to play politics with this and used every trick, including dirty tricks thru LG’s office and dirtiest trick thru hon President’s office and EC to disqualify those MLAs citing “office of profit” clause even when clearly there was no pecuniary benefits given to these MLAs. Thankfully, the courts held the central govt, EC and President guilty of acting in haste, against natural justice and reinstated the MLAs. So now, AAP can clearly go for an expanded model of MLAs acting as parliamentary secretaries helping ministers manage affairs of different departments better.
The one argument I fully endorse is the need to have women in cabinet positions, across all governments. But I am sure even Atishi will not ask for representation only coz she is a woman. She should be considered when she is ready. And there is need tore-structure the cabinet.
Now, let’s come to the individual ministers. It is very clear that given his seniority, delivery on Education and Finance (state budget has doubled in 5 years under his watch), Manish Sisodia deserves to be in the Cabinet. Similarly, given his significant contribution to the 3-tier healthcare, management of electricity, Delhi PWD (responsible for construction of schools, hospitals, clinics) and a host of other initiatives and achievements, minister Satyendra Jain is absolutely a must have in the Cabinet (He is a personal #1 favourite of mine given his total entrepreneurial approach to governance and delivery of outcomes).
Rajendra Pal Gautam has been a stellar performer on social justice and inclusive initiatives. His work in creating scholarships, educational assistance to the weakest, entrepreneurial model for safai karamcharis, use of mechanised sewage cleaning are trend-setters but they have not been amplified enough in social media either by the party or the govt. I think RPG is a top performer and totally deserves to continue to drive the agenda.
These top 3 pick themselves us any day for me. Now, let’s come to the other 3 ministers — Gopal Rai, Kailash Gehlot and Imran Hussain.
Gopal Rai has handled the critical issue of labour, employment generation, general administration and irrigation. His signature accomplishment has been the historic 50,000 per hectare compensation to farmers in Delhi for crop failure. He has also successfully organised job fairs though outcomes on real jobs is much below desired levels. His handling of labor and general administration has been top-notch and Delhi hasn’t seen any major disruption in the past 5 years. Plus his contribution as senior political figure to strengthen the party across states and electoral campaigns is noteworthy.
Kailash Gehlot was a late inductee in the cabinet but has demonstrated in the short tenure. His focus on fixing the shortage of buses, security marshals on buses, CCTV on buses, free rides for women on buses and his handling of the pollution crisis have been exemplary. He represents the key outer Delhi voters and brings his erudite legal knowledge and wisdom to the cabinet. The creation of top-class sporting facilities in outer Delhi areas has been a strong contribution from him.
Imran Hussian, like Kailash Gehlot, was allotted the ministerial berth midway thru the tenure and has had a short tenure. He is many ways represents the youth in the cabinet in addition to giving an inclusive balance to the cabinet (he is below 40).
Now, let’s consider the case for Atishi and Raghav and perhaps Saurabh Bharadwaj as has been mentioned by commentators. Atishi has been a source of strength for carrying out the Education reforms and initiatives as Advisor to Education minister thru these past 5 years (except for when she was removed by a jealous central govt on a flimsy pretext, even though at Rs. 1/- renumeration, she was probably a steal for the government). She has been very articulate in taking the government’s message and party message thru TV and media.
While the case for a woman minister is very strong, perhaps it is not yet time for Atishi. Perhaps it will be better for her to be a parliamentary secretary, gain some experience (to supplement her exposure as Advisor) and then make her way into the cabinet mid-term. As AAP looks to expand beyond Delhi, there will be space for some existing ministers to step down and take party responsibility. She was being groomed to be member of Lok Sabha and take the larger message of AAP and Delhi model of governance to larger audience as LS MP, but it wasn’t to be. She can now use her MLA status to build a stronger case for her to be elevated as a MP.
The case for Raghav Chadha is weaker. Though he has helped on the budget and has the background, education and personality to deliver, he definitely lacks the administrative experience needed for a minister. He too can benefit from a parliamentary secretary responsibility, perhaps in the finance ministry or perhaps in the labor/employment side and help create new job opportunities for the youth in Delhi. He too has been a strong spokesperson for the party and party will need his presence to expand its footprint and engage with youth across the country. As a minister, there could be restrictions on his participation towards this.
Saurabh Bharadwaj was a minister in the 49-day government and one of the youngest in the cabinet given his corporate background and experience. His family commitments forced him to stay away from the subsequent cabinet and he has used the opportunity to build himself into a strong spokesperson for the party handling media and BJP with aplomb.
Somnath Bharti was also a minister in the 49-day cabinet and decided to sit out given his legal challenges at the time of formation of new government. He too definitely has the experience and skills to take up ministerial responsibilities.
The top challenges for AAP are continuation of the existing governance initiatives and finding some new 10x initiatives that will continue to show to the electorate that the Arvind Kejriwal model of governance is radically different from BJP / Modi model — it delivers more, improves their lives, saves them money and works for them on practical basis. This needs AAP to start a major outreach to experts across all segments — job creation, pollution, traffic management, waste management, energy efficiencies, using govt data better, start-up engagements are all areas that need deft handling. The loss of Ashish Khetan has hurt this aspect of civic engagement in my opinion. I believe these are the areas the young guns should take up and create programs, pilots and initiatives to accelerate the Delhi model of governance.
In addition, the party desperately needs to bring in new talent, provide interfaces for well-meaning people from all over the country to integrate into the party. Many of the young MLAs have to become the hubs around which talent can accumulate / aggregate. This has been a key weak spot in the party organisation and clearly status quo is not helping here. Imagine if Atishi can create and lead an initiative to have 10 million women connect with AAP; or Raghav can create and lead an initiative to have 1 lac colleges & universities establish AAP campus. That’s the challenge I would set out for them.
As a sporting metaphor, Liverpool (my favourite football team) has played the same starting 11 on 85% occasions this season. They are leading the English league by 25 points. A consistent team deserves the opportunity to keep you ahead.
To summarise, I think Arvind Kejriwal has done absolutely the right thing by retaining the existing cabinet. This sends a message that he cares for governance outcomes and not merely pressure group expectations. Over time, new faces can be accommodated in the cabinet as party expansion and agenda expansion begins to show need and results. At this time, there is no room and need to disturb status quo.