This is the third post in a series on “What are Delhi’s MLAs up to?”
To become the MLA of Amedkar Nagar, Ashok Kumar (AAP) came ahead of Chaudhary Prem Singh in the Delhi Elections. Chaudhary is a World Record holder for winning 10 consecutive elections from the same constituency and party (Congress). Chaudhary contested his first election from Ambedkar Nagar in 1958 and did not lose a single election from that constituency until 2013, when he lost to Ashok Kumar by 16,486 votes, which was 20% of the votes polled.
Governance and Connecting with the People
The AAP MLAs I’ve interacted with thus far have been experimenting with ways to connect with their constituents, and perfecting the Mohalla Sabha (community gathering) model, which decentralizes the allocation mechanism of the annual 4 crore ($ 642,000) MLA Local Area Development (MLALAD) fund.
Over the last 10 months, Kumar’s team has conducted 24 Mohalla Sabhas. Here is a list of how some of this money has been allocated thus far based on inputs from the community consultations.
|12 lakhs||115 street lights and poles||Safety|
|25 lakhs||370 benches for parks||Recreation|
|70 lakhs||115 CCTV cameras||Safety|
|25 lakhs||20 seat public toilet complex||Health|
|20 lakhs||Community Function Hall||Recreation|
Unlike other AAP MLAs I have met, Kumar had a police escort. He explained that he did not ask for one, but the Deputy Commissioner of Police of his area felt it would be best for him to have extra protection for some time due to the work Kumar is doing to curb the level of crime in his constituency. One such example is setting up CCTVs, which is in fact the reason that a group of boys are serving time in prison right now for an August 2014 murder they committed in broad-daylight. This murder took place less than a kilometer from Kumar’s office! Safety and security is normally under the jurisdiction of the State, but the Delhi government is an exception, as the Union Government has not complied with repeated demands for the Delhi State government to have control over Delhi’s police force.
Some of the main issues in Ambedkar Nagar are the water supply and sewer lines. The work required here is of a much larger scale than what is afforded by the MLALAD fund. There is an open tender for a 48 crore project on a major sewer line, which is yet to be awarded. Once awarded, the work is estimated to take 18 months to complete.
Dynamics of the Office
About 30 constituents came to Kumar’s office during the time I spent there. Three such cases involved constituents from jhuggi–jhopri clusters (slums) seeking relief from pressure exerted on them by Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) workers hoping to extract a bribe. MCD employees were sealing homes and would only allow residents access to their dwellings if they paid a bribe. Ashok called the appropriate officials in the MCD and got the homes unsealed (at no cost). I witnessed an example of how corruption can be curbed if honest politicians are in power.
I did not witness a disgruntled constituent over the two days that I spent in Kumar’s office. Dev*, who keeps a sheep at home, complained of MCD’s harassment. This is a sensitive issue as it involves potential public health concerns for the neighbors. It is generally accepted that the MCD worker would not bother Dev if he paid a bribe. Kumar handed Dev his card and asked him to tell the MCD worker to take up the case with him.
Sanjay* came in to inform Kumar that a constituent was charging R.s. 700 for forged stamps of a certain official in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha . Sanjay alleged that the official was probably complicit in this operation, and was getting a cut for every stamp. This is one way that public officials can abuse their office for personal gain. They are able to command a high price because having the right stamp on your paperwork can considerably affect how quickly your work will be processed in our infamously complex and cumbersome bureaucracy.
Raj* who is studying for his Chartered Accountant exam and resides in Raju park. earns R.s. 7,000 a month by tutoring students in his neighborhood. Like many poor neighborhoods in Delhi, water supply can be a major problem for his home. His father has a demanding job, and his younger brother is just 8, which is why his mother had sent him to Kumar’s office. “Ek bache ko koi nahi sunta,” (No one listens to a child) said Raj, which perplexed me given that he was at least in his 20s! [But that’s a separate blog post altogether]. “Maine seedha Ashok Kumar ji se baat ki, aur unhone immediate action liya,” (I directly spoke with Ashok Kumar, and he took immediate action) he tells me, beaming with pride.
Kumar was able to address the complaint because he had earlier managed to get the custody of two Jal Board trucks to ensure his constituents’ water requirements are met. This effectively bypasses the ‘tanker mafia’ (a nexus of private tanker contractors and bureaucrats) that abuses their access to government water by selling water to the highest bidder (e.g. restaurants, hotels) rather than the public to whom it should be delivered. This is not typically the job of an MLA, but is an extra duty that Kumar took on due to the number of constituents that had approached him.
Ashok Kumar: The Person
What struck me most about 54-year old Ashok Kumar was his unwavering confidence. Kumar embodies the message that failure is just another step towards success. As I questioned him about his life before politics, he matter-of-factly recounted how his professional life involved three failed businesses. Each time he transitioned from business to job to business, unabashed from the stigma of ‘failure’. His love of cricket may have kindled his fighting spirit over the years. Kumar still spends time practicing in the nets, and was a star performer in club cricket in Kuwait, where he worked for Kuwait Airways from 1988 to 1995.
Today, he works to restore people’s faith in the system by being approachable and responsive to their needs. His parting words to me were, “I am thankful for the opportunity that the Aam Aadmi Party has afforded me to improve the conditions of the constituency I grew up in.”
If you wish to support this independent series, then please share this piece on Facebook and Twitter, leave a comment, like the Facebook Page, or subscribe to the blog. Connect with me on Twitter @DigantKapoor.