By Pranuthi Vedulla
There is much debate and discussion around the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) model of governance. The AAP party prides itself on its focus on service delivery. Many commentators argue this is a new wave of governance and is the need of the hour for many citizens.
On the other hand, critics argue this is not feasible in other places due to variation in size and complexity. Almost all the discussion surrounding this model has led us to believe that it is a unique model of governance. The AAP project is not entirely new and many subnational states in India have previously executed it successfully and continue to do so.
What is the AAP model?
The AAP when it came to power said that it would prioritise education and increase its tax revenue by minimising corruption. There is not much data on the latter promise. But, the AAP government has managed to increase its tax revenue without substantially increasing tax rates and amidst stagnant devolution from Centre. CAG report has also applauded AAP for its fiscal responsibility. However, Delhi government has higher tax revenue as its economy is performing well partly accruing to its historical capital status.
On the other hand, AAP’s education model has garnered significant attention nationally and internationally. The AAP’s model, entails that the government would prioritise in one area, the public education system, a key social sector mainly through increasing allocation and boosting school infrastructure. On closer look, the AAP model of education has also focused on improved teacher training, leadership and curriculum development and empowering School Management Committees for monitoring.
The singular focus on one social sector with improved spending and monitoring is not new to India. Two examples are explained from the Indian subnational literature. All of them share striking commonalities.
HIMACHAL PRADESH- EDUCATION
This hill state in the North is one of the leading states in primary education. The state only lags behind Kerala in its literacy rate. Despite, the harsh terrain and lack of industrialised economy, the state’s enrolment rates are one of the highest. According to NUEPA 2012-13, the period between 2002-2011 the state opened 375 primary and 1308 middle class schools which is close to 15 percent increase in a decade. PROBE report has also revealed that these schools are located closer to inhabitations of students prompting high attendance as well as retention. Beyond Infrastructure, service delivery through mid-day meal provisions are also quite impressive.
Akshay Mangla in his research thesis has identified how Himachal Pradesh has shown impressive results by comparing it to its neighbouring hilly state of Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand despite similar conditions couldn’t show the same results. He reveals a participatory approach that involves public agencies, civic actors and elected representatives. Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the government and bureaucrats engaged with civil society organisations and citizens to implement and improve its functioning. Mobile Van education for nomadic tribes, Mother Teacher Associations for monitoring, running schools despite low populations etc are some of the positive outcomes of this model. These are not prescribed in the official guidelines of the Central Government and have been improved on due to local conditions by public agencies using a participatory approach.
Orissa’s success in Nutrition is another perplexing case. Orissa has been the first to come out with Nutrition Budget in India. It has been identified as a positive deviant in Nutrition policy making(Kohli, 2017).These do not mean much if outcomes are not translated at grassroots. The State during 2000-2016 has reduced stunting and prevalence of anaemia by over 10 points (Avula, 2020). Both immediate(diet, health) and underlying(water, sanitation etc) determinants have seen considerable improvements. Orissa is on track to achieve the targets set by the World Health Assembly by 2025. The case of Orissa becomes extraordinary as it is not a highly rich state and has historically been fiscally conservative .
The state has shown to completely decentralise the Supplementary Nutrition Programme(SNP) under the ICDS and has significantly improved its Anganwadi infrastructure. It has capitalised on its strong SHG culture and has made them partners with various frontline workers(ASHA, Anganwadi workers) delivering nutrition. The state has also effectively incorporated social audits, a tested evaluation and monitoring tool. The state agencies are always on alert on mapping the lagging districts, villages etc in co-operation with real time data and civic actors. The recipe for its success is political will assuring tenure, space & learning to its bureaucrats who strengthened the links with Civil Society for improved outcomes.
The above cases have shown us how the AAP model for all of its attention is not new to India. In fact, the above states are far more disadvantaged economically and fiscally. However, the AAP’s focus on education has rekindled the attention of governments towards service delivery. Many states are looking up to its model. Maharashtra recently expressed its interest in Delhi’s education model. Telangana, inspired by Delhi’s mohalla clinics is setting up BastiDawakhanas in Hyderabad. The attention for AAP’s model is partly accruing to the fact that it is a Capital city and that it is a new party challenging the ground set by both national parties BJP and INC. But, among all the models the common factor for success is investing in State Capacity.
State capacity in the crude sense is the “ability to get things done”. The ingredients for this as observed are strong political commitment which enables talented and flexible bureaucrats. They in turn, engage with civic actors promoting decentralisation and culture of innovation. This holds not just for states focusing on a sector but also at a scheme. Examples include Andhra Pradesh’s success with MNREGA which showed the country how a social audit should be done which had the same contributing factors. There is a rich subnational literature highlighting states focus on service delivery. Unlike in Delhi, the budgetary allocation is not a huge share in other states accruing to multiple focus areas and complexity.
All of them began with reforming physical infrastructure. In development discourse, physical infrastructure is considered a low hanging fruit to see outcomes particularly in areas of education and nutrition. But, committing to this path will fetch returns slower than expected though.
Hence, it is worthwhile for governments to invest in State Capacity. Apart from better service delivery, they are other incentives like
- The culture of open and collaborative approach promotes penetration of democratic values such as social justice and democratic decision making. This are useful values to be institutionalised in any democracy.
- The politician-bureaucrat nexus when used positively promotes hope for people in electoral politics and can provide electoral dividends for governments.
- This co-operative environment invites engagement with civic actors. Many of these national and International Civil Society organisations offer sources of finance and technical know. In times of shrinking fiscal space, this is extremely helpful.
These insights offer us a nuanced way of looking at state capacities across Indian states. The AAP model’s success invites Indian states to once again share and learn experiences of boosting state capacities in their local contexts.
The views expressed above are author’s own.