Activists can destroy Kejriwal

The inputs of facts, research, commonsense, and reason should be the matrix of governance at any level. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, however, has disdain for such inputs; what stimulates him, and his government, is the preposterousness of activists like Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science & Environment (CSE). Therefore, despite the findings of experts that the odd-even experiment is not the panacea for the Capital’s air pollution, he has decided to revive it for the second half of this month.

To be fair to him, his government did take this proactive step, howsoever ineffective it might have been, to tackle the problem of pollution in the Capital. For that, it deserved all the plaudits it got. However, Kejriwal should have tried to build on the goodwill he had earned. Instead, he chose to lend his ears to the likes of Narain. For it is quite evident that neither odd-even drastically reduced pollution nor it has the potential to do so.

Soon after the earlier edition of the experiment during January 1-15, the Central Pollution Control Board concluded: “Overall, it can be stated that while some reduction in air pollution is likely to happen due to odd-even scheme, a single factor or action cannot substantially reduce air pollution levels in Delhi. Therefore, a comprehensive set of actions following an integrated approach is required to make substantial improvement in air quality.”

Even before the commencement of the experiment, in its study, ‘Air Pollution Source Apportionment,’ IIT-Kanpur had clearly said that the odd-even car formula alone could not bring desired results. The IIT-K, commissioned by the Delhi government in 2012, was carried out between 2012 and 2015. Like the CPCB report, it too suggested a comprehensive approach.

A few days ago, a study by IIT-Delhi has also reached the same conclusion: the odd-even experiment didn’t do much to bring down the air pollution levels in the national Capital or even congestion on city roads.

Needless to say, all these findings by experts have no bearing on the thinking of Kejriwal; in his scheme of things, activists are more important than experts. Merriam-Webster defines ‘activism’ as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” A social reformer, too, does the same. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was one such person who emphasized direct vigorous action in support of the anti-Suttee legislation.

Over a period of time, however, words assume a life of their own. The word ‘activist’ is one such term. Though indistinguishable with the reformer earlier, the activist today is much different from the reformer. While both stand for change, their attitudes towards the change are poles apart. The reformer wants the change to be gradual and, as far as possible, volitional; he relies on persuasion. On the other hand, the activist wants radical, drastic change—ban diesel vehicles immediately, implement food security at once; he wants to impose the change; and he relies on confrontation rather than persuasion. The reformer listens to the other side, and tries to address their concerns; the activist bulldozes the opponents who anyway represent ‘vested interests.’ This also explains the activist’s endeavor to use the coercive instrumentality of the state to further his agenda. In short, reformers and activists have emerged as specimens of different species over the years. At any rate, reformers are on the verge of extinction.

Unsurprisingly, the activist also has a disdain for experts, who use the scientific method of studying and analyzing empirical evidence. The expert uses facts to come up with the big picture; the activist already knows what the big picture is and, thus, picks up facts selectively and fits them into it.

Unsurprisingly, again, Kejriwal, the quintessential activist who has made it big, has no use of the studies carried out by experts of reputed institutions; for him, what matters is the opinion of the CSE, the body notorious for tendentious views and ideologically-motivated campaigns.

The surprising part is that he gets away with his idiosyncrasies. There were no major protests against his scheme; even many car-owners who were adversely by the measure supported it. So, immediately after the odd-even experiment, he not only congratulated the people of Delhi for making it successful but also patted his own back. “No government tried to engage with its people like this before. This was the first time. People supported and followed the rule. People of Delhi are terrific when governance is taken out of the secretariat. They have set an example for the world,” he said.

Kejriwal has proven his point. It is time he started working on comprehensive measures to bring down air pollution in Delhi. Experts can help him in doing that; reliance on the ilk of Narain will ensure that he comes to grief.