By Kamal Mitra Chenoy
New Delhi, 17 May : Though the results of the state elections in Kerala, Bengal and Assam have left people agog, there is another phenomenon which has not been adequately assessed and analysed. That is the rise and rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). When it won the largest share of Assembly seats in early January 2014, many saw it as a one day wonder. It’s efforts to get through a Janlokpal Bill were scuttled by a combination of the BJP, Congress and the Lt. Governor. Instead of struggling through with little autonomy, AAP’s charismatic leader Arvind Kejriwal (AK) decided to resign.
The Union government delayed the Assembly elections as long as it could, until the judiciary intervened, after the General Elections. Even then the AAP performance in Varanasi was formidable. Despite fewer finances, limited local cadre and the alleged deals by one of the parties with the jailed Don Mukhtar Ansari, apart from denial of access to the Banaras Hindu University where Amit Shah held court, AAP came a creditable second. National politics witnessed the rise of a new star then.
In the Delhi Assembly re-election, the AAP had a historic landslide. It won 67 seats out of 70, with the BJP getting a paltry 3 seats, and Congress a whitewash. It then began to fight a two-sided battle. On the one hand, it fought the Union government and its proxy the Lt. Governor. Whether it was shared control of the Delhi Police, Bills that the LG wanted to scrutinise, yet not pass, even the civil service officers who would serve in the Delhi government, every issue became a major contest.
The root cause of this was that the Delhi government was neither a Union Territory nor a state. For reasons best known to itself, the Congress which ruled Delhi for the greatest period, with stalwarts like Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, never moved to make Delhi into a Union Territory, much less a state. Yet despite this politically motivated act, AAP though under some pressure fought its way out.
Shrewdly it sidelined its concerns about statehood, though keeping up its campaign about it, and concentrated on development, particularly for the poor and the middle class. Unusually for a political party, it stuck to its manifesto. Water is a critical issue in Delhi. AK insisted that the poor and middle classes get sufficient water, and allotted 20 kilolitres to the poor and lower middle classes, free!
Similarly, he substantially subsidised electricity, another critical requirement which the poorer sections often could not afford. In recent months, drains have been cleaned to guard against flooding during the monsoon. Water pipelines have been put in place where none existed before. Critically, the repair and up gradation of government schools became an urgent task. Educationists and well regarded social workers were made members of the School Management Committees ( SMCs). Many schools did not have serviceable toilets or no separate toilets for girls. That was quickly addressed. New schools were constructed with gymnasium facilities and swimming pools. Most importantly, private school fees were controlled.
Apart from the great support from the Delhi public, AAP in the municipal bye-elections has won 5 out of the MCD seats, Congress 4, and BJP 3. The MCD was long a BJP stronghold, but the AAP impact is clear. Reading, seeing and speaking about AAP’s innovations e.g. 10 litres of drinking water for Rs. 2 available in an increasing number of areas, has led to increasing support and interest in Punjab.
The idea of Mohalla clinics is a masterstroke as well as a boon for all types of people in a city that has a variety of diseases including dengue. Punjab has a serious drug problem. More clinics would be a boon for the harassed people. For decades, people in Punjab and elsewhere have looked for better civic amenities. AAP has provided this in a relatively short time in Delhi. This experiment in better civic life and amenities was scoffed at initially. Other political parties and movements would do well to learn from this experience, as Punjab seems to be doing, and take from it what they may need in their own towns and cities.