By Ajay Maken and Ruchi Gupta
Published in The Times of India
The “Gujarat Model” was much vaunted in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. It is only now after Modi has used the Gujarat Model to catapult himself into the Prime Minister’s seat, that the model is getting exposed for what it is: false publicity and lopsided development. Something similar is under way in Delhi where Kejriwal, who tellingly flirted with the “Modi for PM, Arvind for CM” pitch, is publicizing the “Delhi Model” to expand his Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) reach outside Delhi. It is thus important to look into beyond the paid publicity to evaluate the claims being made.
There are two parts to AAP’s spiel: the populist claim that AAP alone represents “aam aadmi’s” interests. Any opposition or difference with AAP is ipso facto mala fide and motivated. Campaign rhetoric is some version of “sab mile huye hai” to paint multi-cornered contest into bipolar AAP versus “establishment” fight and the heady promise of sending all establishment politicians to jail after sweeping into power. However, this populist anti-establishment plank has diminishing appeal as AAP itself gets mired in corruption cases and other trappings of power necessitating the second part of the appeal, the “Delhi Model”. The “Delhi Model” showcases AAP as advancing hitherto unrepresented public interest, chiefly through its Government’s high profile initiatives in health and education. These initiatives are high profile not because of their laudable outcomes but because of their extensive marketing at taxpayers’ expense. A dispassionate review of these initiatives is thus important.
Over the last year, the Congress Party has done extensive groundwork to understand the changes being done in both health and education. Mohalla Clinics are AAP’s flagship health program and trained Congress volunteers surveyed each of the 105 mohalla clinics opened by Delhi Government. The survey revealed that the “mohalla clinics” opened by AAP are less about public health and more about promoting AAP and its associates. The stated aim of mohalla clinics is to decentralize access to healthcare; however there are no forward linkages to dispensaries or hospitals for patients who cannot be attended to at mohalla clinics. Furthermore, mohalla clinics were opened at random in small dirty places – including a parking lot and a dairy shop – many within a few hundred meters of existing Government dispensaries. AAP’s Delhi Government inherited a vast network of health infrastructure, including dispensaries. Yet not only was no effort made to strengthen existing better equipped infrastructure but in many cases, staff was transferred from dispensaries to nearby mohalla clinics. There was too ample corruption in a flagship scheme of this self-certified anti-corruption party: many mohalla clinics were operating from AAP workers premises at inflated rents; someone other than the empanelled doctor was attending to the patients in some clinics; prescriptions were being written on kachhi parchis in many instances; and patients listed in records denied having ever visited the clinic (doctors are reimbursed on a per patient basis). It is also remarkable that in high contrast to the huge publicity, mohalla clinic OPDs represent a mere 2.5% of all Government OPD and just 1.62% of all OPD in Delhi! The outcome of AAP’s focus on propaganda over public health was evident when the Government was caught napping during the outbreak of vector borne diseases in the city. The complete report on mohalla clinics with proof and pictures can be downloaded from https://goo.gl/D4mLaR.
In education too, the AAP’s propaganda has decoupled from substantive reform. Out of more than 1000 schools, AAP has selected 54 schools to develop as “model schools”. There is evidence of disproportionate allocation of resources towards these 54 schools for AAP’s publicity campaign, wherein the leadership repeatedly claims that “government schools will be better than private schools”. Social media has been inundated with pictures of beautiful government schools to buttress these claims; however this is publicity not reform. For instance, the school on Rouse Avenue was reportedly renovated at a cost of Rs 10 crores. The total education budget of Rs 10,000 crores will be eaten up by such renovations if similar amounts were spent on all 1000 schools leaving nothing for more important aspects of public education such as teacher salaries, books etc. Some model schools have also been provided with professional vocational classes at a cost of Rs 25,000 – 30,000 per month for 50 students while the rest of government schools have been left to their own devices. There is too provision for Rs 25000 for stage or photo “exhibition” in such schools, which will no doubt be used for further publicity by Delhi Government. Such disproportionate and unsustainable allocation of resources to select schools is not just discriminatory but also calls into question AAP’s commitment to egalitarian public education. There has been too a virtual takeover by various NGOs marginalising state DoE and SCERT functionaries in the process. “Reforms” under this new management show strains of thought processes that advocate forced vocationalization of marginalized students and de-professionalization of teachers. Amidst this high publicity, it is startling that enrollment in Government schools has fallen by around one lakh students for the first time under the AAP even as the total number of students in ‘All Managements’ Delhi Schools has gone up between 2013-14 to 2015-16. Furthermore, Class 10th board results have dropped to their lowest level in 6 years after showing an increasing trend in pass percentage since 2010. Delhi parents were also shocked to hear reports of rats being found in children’s mid-day meals in a Delhi Government school. The MDM supplier is the father-in-law of an AAP MLA. An overview of some of the issues previously raised by the Congress Party in consultation with senior and well-respected educationists can be found at https://goo.gl/1Nl3sE and https://goo.gl/X9eyIW.
By now, it is evident that the common thread between AAP’s “reforms” in health and education have less to do with public interest than publicity. In both areas, AAP has showcased a few “models” for the media and visitors. These few mohalla clinics and schools may indeed look good. However, this is by no means tantamount to reforming public health or education. The Congress Party has repeatedly demanded transparency of expenditure and “reforms” being undertaken by the Delhi Government in these two areas. However, the Chief Minister, a former RTI activist has ignored these demands. The question to be asked is why should Delhi Government shy from transparency when it is spending so much money on publicity?