How an AAP victory in Goa or Punjab could change India
According to my fake taxi driver journalism, the elections in Goa on Valentine’s Day are going to cause a massive shock. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be replaced by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), say many taxi drivers, who scam everyone and call politicians corrupt. I don’t suffer from such inner beauty that I take taxi driver journalism seriously. But these drivers, who are locals with a vote, unlike migrants in most Indian metros, are among a wide range of Goans who had backed the BJP in previous polls but are now disenchanted with it.
There has been no progress in the state. On the contrary, it looks uglier, like other parts of India cursed with so-called “development”, which means delayed road projects, many holes dug with good intentions and jetties that hold nothing back. Covid has also impoverished Goa, with spendthrift tourists staying away. In any case, I don’t know of any other state government more unworthy of tourism revenue than that of Goa.
I would like AAP to win Goa or Punjab.
I am more curious than political. If the AAP takes control of an area whose statehood is unambiguous, unlike Delhi, and if the party can assume full responsibility for the state, with the police and all the bureaucracy firmly under his authority, it would be the beginning of a great experiment in our democracy.
The AAP victory in Delhi demolished an old Indian assumption that you cannot win an election without being corrupt. If AAP wins an appropriate state, we will get answers to several questions. Can a government in India be really clean? What happens in the short term when a government is clean? can cleanse politicians at the top of corruption in all levels of governance below them; or is corruption the inevitable compensation for the inefficiencies of the system? Indeed, does the same force rule the corrupt bureaucrat and the local taxi driver in Goa who steals because his legitimate salary is too little?
First, are all types of corruption bad or is there good corruption? In his book, China’s Golden Age: The Paradox of Economic Boom and Extensive Corruption, Yuen Yuen Ang said that there are four types of corruption. Small theft, big theft, quick money and access money. Petty theft is the bribe obtained by underage politicians and bureaucrats. Speed money is the bribe citizens pay to bureaucrats to gain access to services they are entitled to get for free. The grand theft, in the Indian context, is the grand embezzlement of public funds by powerful or sophisticated politicians. Ang says these three forms of corruption stunt economic growth and impoverish people. But the fourth type, “accessing the money”, is much more interesting. It refers to the massive bribes companies pay to make things happen or disappear.
Ang says China is a corrupt place, but has progressed because its predominant form of corruption is “access to money”. As a general rule, in economic evolution, societies suffer from the most destructive forms of corruption; then they progress to the “access to money” phase. One of the things it does is create new projects very quickly. It can be an airport in a small town or a monopolistic online retail store. The lure of access money has locked powerful Chinese bureaucrats in a competition to promote massive and complex projects; and to kill competing forms of corruption like petty theft, grand theft and quick money.
If AAP is true to his word, he will try to end the four major types of corruption. It will be easier to end the form of corruption that Ang says has helped China: access to money. And the forms of corruption that the AAP will find hardest to root out are the deadliest that reduce Indians’ quality of life and ruin businesses. But then the party promised to put an end to all forms of corruption, the smallest and the most sophisticated.
Additionally, the AAP would be able to change a very visible form of chaos: the roads. The only rational thing about an Indian road is what made Indians so weird. Corruption and incompetence create poor and even comical road design, which encourages Indians to continue their ruthless ways of driving. Misconduct, like bribery, is a form of compensation. In a full-fledged state, the most visible evidence of the AAP’s effect would be on its roads.
The AAP is idealistic in governance, but practical in some areas. It is a modern Hindu party that will not antagonize Hindus, within reason. Additionally, it may not favor tourists over locals, such as letting app-based taxis arrive. Moreover, I don’t have the impression that the party respects the media. He won’t waste his time trying to promote free speech and all that. It is no longer a naive organization which tries to imitate a certain imagination of European liberalism and finds itself in a whirlwind of chaos. So there is a lot to be done for the party to focus on the fight against corruption.
If AAP wins and brings more aesthetic classrooms in public schools and cleaner, smarter public hospitals; makes life cheaper for the poor and middle class through generous subsidies, as has been done in Delhi; brings orderly traffic, humane public transport; and clean up all layers of government, the party would transform Indian politics forever, for then the older, bigger and more conventional parties in other parts of India would have no choice but to transform.
If the AAP takes full control of Goa or Punjab, and is unable to end corruption, or becomes corrupt itself, or is unable to transform the quality of roads or public transport , then we can accept that we are probably predestined to be doomed. There is peace in there. Hope is a form of unhappiness, but the certainty of unhappiness is peace.
Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist and creator of the Netflix series “Decoupled”
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