Will AAP’s Success in Addressing People’s Issues in Delhi Be a Template for Large Cities?
Delhi’s maverick chief minister Arvind Kejriwal delivered another landslide victory to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in one of the nastiest poll battles in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) had tried to give the election a national colour by getting its top leaders and chief ministers to throw their might behind a venomous and divisive campaign. And yet, it suffered a crushing defeat, made more pitiful by its leaders who touted a 6% increase in vote share and five more seats that took its tally to just eight.
Arvind Kejriwal correctly attributes AAP’s victors to the ‘kaam’ or work done by his government’s work in the past five years. But the true genius of his campaign, probably crafted by ace political strategist Prashant Kishor, was to keep people focussed on the AAP’s performance while opting for the middle ground or silence on religion, Citizens’ Amendment Act and National Population Register.
In the process, AAP proved what seems like common sense but what politicians refuse to see: people will reward good work, especially done against all odds. It has undoubtedly been a tough five years. Less than a year ago, News18 had reported how 140 cases
have been filed against AAP MLAs (members of the legislative assembly) and members and 13 of its 67 members had been arrested
at one time or the other.
In the long run up to the election, AAP changed tactics, closed out defamation cases (often with an apology), dropped its aggressive confrontation with the Central government and focused on showcasing the amazing work done at its mohalla clinics and in municipal schools, while continuing its subsidies on water, electricity and more recently in public transport for women.
Importantly, while offering freebies, the Delhi government actually ran a surplus budget, which has doubled from Rs30,940 crore in 2014-15 to Rs60,000 crore in 2019-20, with a steady increase in revenues even while Central allocation declined.
Clearly, the people of Delhi did not lose sight of this performance and refused to be swayed by other considerations. Economic reforms and good governance was the main slogan of BJP as it swept to victory in the 2014 general elections. By 2019, it had inflicted a lot of pain on its citizens (Aadhhar, demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax) instead of delivering on its promises and so it had to come up with a last-minute trick of a surgical strike at Balakot to sway swayed voters with 'recency effect'.
But vote-getting slogans like Ram Mandir, Kashmir and Article 370 have already been played out, while the constant fanning of fears about Pakistan is beginning to grate at a time when the ‘muscular’ nationalist government has no answers for the economic slowdown and lack of jobs.
Since Arvind Kejriwal started out as a committed activist, there is excitement among activists about whether a pincer focus on local issues could see some transformation at municipal levels elsewhere in the country.
For instance, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest civic body in India, recently presented budget for 2019-20 at Rs33,441 crore. This is bigger than the Delhi state budget in 2014-15 when AAP took charge of the capital state. Fortunately, Mumbai has a surplus budget
and hefty reserves of over Rs78,000 crore.
This makes it all the more surprising that the Corporation is riddled with corruption and rent-seeking, unable to cope with crumbling civic infrastructure that was left untouched, even as the city remained mute to the successive state governments extracting every last penny of wealth from its expensive real estate.
Over the years, the state has denuded the city through the exploitation of mill lands in the name of development, its roads are clogged with illegal hawkers and business blessed by rent-seeking officials and infrastructure contracts are repeatedly given out to ‘tainted contractors’, despite allegations of corruption.
The same would apply to other major cities such as Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune. Can a sharp focus on local issues catalyse more civic activism and thereby transform India?
We invite your thoughts and comments.