Double role

Campaigning and governing are different, and AAP's challenge will be to negotiate that line.

The Aam Aadmi Party survived its test of confidence in the Delhi assembly, as it was expected to. But it is a ruling party in a uniquely challenging situation. It depends on the support of legislators of a sworn adversary, the Congress, while the opposition, the BJP, is the single largest party. It had campaigned on the promise that it would investigate allegations of corruption in the previous government, a claim the BJP threw back at it during the trust vote discussion. The floor test on Thursday was a preview of the inherent tensions in the arrangement, of three mutually hostile forces trying to show each other up. The AAP will be called upon to govern while constantly establishing its distance not just from its opposition, but also its ally.

Delhi is the AAP's first heady success, and its first foothold in power. It will undoubtedly seek to leverage this victory in other states, casting itself as the little party that could, the real alternative to the national parties it calls corrupt and cynical. But campaigning and governing have different impulses, and the AAP's challenge will also be to negotiate that line daily. Policymaking involves tradeoffs that cannot always be reduced to good and evil, and do not come with instant results that can be brandished before voters. It also requires internal clarity on the government's economic and social perspective. While the AAP may be tempted to avoid that harder route, preferring high-visibility announcements and gestures, it needs to demonstrate its capacity for responsible governance if it is to become a national option that is seen to be credible.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has said he is working on the assumption that he has limited time, and his government has already delivered on two dramatic campaign promises announcing free water of up to 667 litres a month and halving electricity bills for everyone. Both moves are questionable. The new water policy does not address the real problem of inequitable distribution or rampant leakage and effectively encourages the middle classes to take water for granted, while not serving the poor who lack metered connections or addressing necessary reform in the water utility. The electricity bill-slashing has been effected even before the promised audit to prove the AAP's campaign allegation that the previous government and private distribution companies conspired to inflate bills. The AAP has inherited a relatively robust fiscal situation. Now, if it intends to go on a subsidy spree, it must clarify where it is cutting back. Not doing so would be betraying its pledge to be genuinely transparent and accountable to citizens.

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