The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Punjab government has launched a public consultation exercise on ways to improve the ease of doing business in Punjab.
As part of this initiative, the Punjab government, headed by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, has sought views of traders, ranging from small shopkeepers to industrialists, on repealing unnecessary licences and attracting investment.
Over the years, the AAP has periodically solicited public opinion on various issues related to politics and governance under a model outlined by the party supremo and Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal, in his book “Swaraj”, in which he advocated the need for the governments to adopt the elements of participatory democracy.
It all started in December 2013, when the AAP had made a stunning electoral debut in Delhi, winning 28 seats in the 70-member Assembly. The party had then held a “referendum” to seek public views through “jansabhas” or rallies and SMSes on the question of joining hands with the incumbent Congress, which had lost the poll, in order to form its first-ever government.
Many had then charged that the “referendum” was Kejriwal’s “ruse” to pre-empt public criticism over the AAP’s bid to take help from the Congress against which the party built an anti-corruption movement that propelled it to power in the first place. But for the AAP, it marked the beginning of many such direct public consultation exercises that the party has since undertaken at regular intervals.
In 2015, after forming the government in Delhi, this time with absolute majority, the AAP pitched for a “referendum” on full statehood for Delhi. Later, acknowledging that the Indian Constitution does not have any provision for holding referendums, the AAP held an opinion poll on the issue.
In 2015, the AAP dispensation held “mohalla sabhas” across Delhi to gather people’s opinion on how to use budget funds meant for public welfare. A year later, it sought public feedback through email, IVR and SMS on the implementation of the odd-even car rationing scheme in the national capital.
An AAP leader involved in the party’s decision-making said the public consultation exercises have been mostly Kejriwal’s brainchild. “In some cases, even routine administrative decisions were announced after a quick public outreach. It’s good optics, makes people feel involved and in some cases it’s a way to build a political case for any cause.”
The reasoning behind such public feedback bids is enunciated in Kejriwal’s book, which was launched in 2012 at Jantar Mantar. “A change must be brought about where the people take all decisions and the implementation is left in the hands of the elected representatives,” his book states.
“Citizens are the owners in a democracy. The citizens have given the right to parliament and the government to take decisions on their behalf, for their welfare. But the government, the parliament and the legislative assemblies have blatantly misused this right…is it time that we the citizens take back the right that we had given to the political parties, the politicians and the government officers to take decisions on our behalf for our welfare?” Kejriwal goes on to write in his book.
Even during the Covid pandemic, the Kejriwal government had sought public opinion on several occasions over unlocking of economic activities, transportation and borders in Delhi.
Faced with the tricky task of naming a chief ministerial candidate in Punjab in the recent Assembly polls, the AAP had again held public consultation before picking Mann. The party subsequently claimed that over 93 per cent of the “21 lakh people who responded over phone calls and WhatsApp” endorsed Mann’s name as its CM face.
And, seven weeks after taking over as the Punjab CM, Mann has now made his first direct public consultation move on an administrative matter.