Despite the many challenges before it, what AAP has achieved in Delhi during its two years in power is commendable. When compared to the purely negative campaigns of other parties, the decision is clear.
There was a time when having knowledge meant having access to information. Today, it means knowing what to ignore. Come elections, this fact resonates at a deafening pitch. High-frequency radio ads and hoardings by political parties for the Delhi municipal elections try their best to convince the people of the fallibility of their opponents rather than presenting a bold – no, any – vision for the city. Claims and counter-claims are the flavour of the season, while hard facts are difficult to come by. A closer look at the track record of the primary contenders, however, has helped me reach a decision.
Let’s start with the BJP. Having governed the municipal corporations for the last ten years puts it in a particularly good position to fight elections based on its accomplishments for the city. A reality check on the state of Delhi’s sanitation and primary education (primary functions of the MCD) probably explains why its campaign skips any mention of the party’s achievements and instead focuses on the prime minister’s name.
Let’s take the case of sanitation. Delhi, outside the preserves of the NDMC area, never enjoyed the reputation of being a very clean city. The 2012 municipal elections were fought with the promise of transforming the sanitation situation in the city, with the BJP promising citywide door-to-door garbage collection and waste segregation, and public toilets at all busy spots catering especially to women. Five years on and three years after the launch of the prime minister’s much-hyped Swachh Bharat Mission, the sanitation situation in the city has only worsened: sanitation workers have gone on strike no less than five times, leading to mounds of garbage strewn all across Delhi, incidence of dengue and chikungunya reached an all-time high last year, while the local bodies struggle to spend even 1% of the funds allocated to them under Swachh Bharat. A survey conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development last year (Swachh Sarvekshan 2016) provides damning evidence on what the real sanitation situation in Delhi looks like: only 9% of Delhi’s residents rate their city as clean, 14% claim that they are always able to find a dustbin and only a quarter of the city is covered with door-to-door waste segregation.
What’s most disturbing about sanitation in MCDs is the near-complete state of disrepair of public toilets. I have seen the public toilet just around the corner near my house remain stinking and dirty for the past three years. But this isn’t an isolated incident. A recent independent survey of 229 public toilets managed by local bodies in Delhi revealed shocking facts: 70% toilets weren’t clean and 50% had no water supply. The survey pointed to several reasons why the toilets are a serious safety hazard for women: 35% toilets had no separate section for women, 28% toilets did not have doors and over half did not have any lights.
Let’s consider the BJP’s performance in education. The three corporations under MCD run a total of over 1,800 primary schools – that crucial stage of building foundational skills in students before they join schools run by the Delhi government from class 6 onwards. A survey conducted by the Delhi government last year on basic reading skills among class 6 students showed that over half of them couldn’t read at all and only 26% were able to read their class textbooks. This not only points to a state of dysfunction in MCD schools but also of criminal neglect that compromises on the future of an entire generation of children.
As for the Congress, it fails to excite me as a voter for the simple fact that it was the main opposition in the municipal corporations for the last ten years and yet it failed to bring the BJP-run corporations to account for any of its failures. Moreover, the party in its campaign does not offer a credible vision for the city that goes beyond its plank of “anubhav” (experience) that is checkered with scams like the Commonwealth Games.
Which brings me to AAP. Its two years in the Delhi government have been an occasion for countless debates and critiques. I have been disappointed particularly with its style of shrill politics and inadequate focus on the environment and public transport. But its strong performance on the two most important yet systematically ignored sectors in India – education and health – is commendable. The AAP government has consistently allocated a quarter of its budget towards education, focusing simultaneously on upgrading physical infrastructure and initiatives targeted to improve learning outcomes. These initiatives have so far successfully helped one lakh students who were non-readers in Delhi government schools to become readers.
Universalising primary healthcare through mohalla clinics seem to be at the centre of AAP’s vision for health sector. Last Saturday, I decided to visit a mohalla clinic. Located in the narrow lanes of an unauthorised colony, the clinic was bare bones – clean with basic furniture and amenities – but highly functional. A board outside the clinic listed the 200 tests that could be conducted for free through the clinic. Over a casual chat with the women lined up there I was disturbed but glad to know how the clinic was a boon for them, since they would usually prefer to suffer from small ailments rather than spend their money in a private clinic.
Transparency and corruption-free governance were the core issues on which AAP fought the state elections. This may have taken a backseat, with the Lokpal Bill stuck for approval with the central government for over a year. But Delhi government’s recently released Outcome Budget reassures me that this is not a lost cause. The budget, for the first time for any city or state in India, assures tangible deliverables of governance against each expenditure – a veritable twin-edged sword for any political party. Forget political manifestos that can be tracked only after five years, the Outcome Budget gives the voters a powerful tool to hold the AAP government accountable every year.
Despite the Central government taking away critical functions, despite the high court adjudicating that the powers of the Delhi government reside with the lieutenant governor and despite Delhi’s fractured governance structure, it seems commendable that the AAP government has managed to achieve the above in its first two years. But what use is a mohalla clinic if basic sanitation is not ensured? What use are model schools if the foundations laid in primary school are insufficient? And what use is the idea of mohalla sabhas if the municipality cannot be held accountable for my unusable colony road? This means that the only chance my half-vote for a half-state can ensure any substantial change is when the same party is in charge of the state and its local bodies. This fact, coupled with AAP’s noisy but infectious political will, makes it a clear winner in comparison to the rest. I say ‘aye’ to you, Aam Admi Party, in the upcoming MCD elections.
Padmapriya Janakiraman is a Delhi-based National Award-winning actress, dancer and public policy researcher. Views expressed are personal.