Written by Anita Tagore
There is election fever again. The Aam Aadmi Party is riding high on electoral gains in civic and panchayat polls in various states. From a party with a presence in one state, AAP is graduating to a party with national ambition. The promise of replicating the Delhi model of pro-people governance seems to have struck a chord with people in other states.
The party’s political ascendancy is expected to be strengthened by the consolidation of its political popularity, and its likely translation into effective votes in the upcoming municipal elections in Delhi, scheduled for February 28.
The by-polls will be held for two wards under the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and three under the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC).
The BJP has held office in three corporations in Delhi for more than a decade. This status quo in the municipal administration has had a bearing on the local body’s propensity to assess its achievements and also investigate its shortcoming.
The party has been on its toes ever since it won the Delhi Assembly elections in February 2020 to focus on municipal administration for more inclusive governance. The basic faultline of confrontation between the BJP ruled Centre and AAP controlled state is premised on the division of powers emanating from the constitutional status of Delhi as not being a full-fledged state. The fall out of this power tussle has directly affected the city’s municipal governance.
The key agenda of the AAP’s campaign in MCD elections is the gross financial mismanagement and institutionalised corruption in the BJP-ruled MCD for 15 years. Interestingly, both the BJP and AAP have been accusing each other for the MCD’s failures. The repeated suspension of AAP councillors during the confrontation with their BJP counterparts over policy issues point to the decline in the quality of the municipal institutions. The dismal performance of MCD in Swachch Survekshan has substantiated AAP’s claims about the agency’s failures in its cleanliness functions. AAP has raised the issue of failed landfill waste management by the MCD and the irregularities emerging from engaging machines at inflated costs. The human cost of pollution adversely affecting the lives of the population living around the three landfills remains un-estimated.
The incompetence of the municipal administration is visible in its inability to pay the legitimate dues, whether salaries or pension, to its employees. The repeated strikes by the municipal staff and the consequent Court intervention are indicative of the financial precarity of these agencies. The failure to frame policies that create sustainable assets has led the MCD being trapped in a vicious circle of financial crises.
AAP’s electoral advantage in this by-election lies in its micro-strategy for political mobilisation. There has been a strategic channelling of political activity with a massive churning in its party organisation. New kartyakartas have been appointed to infuse new life in electoral management. The party has reached out to people in urban habitats through direct interaction channels, mohalla sabhas for example. This has enabled it to mobilise a new support base and sharpen the anti-incumbency trend among the voters. The mohalla sabhas were reinvented, monitored through an app and trained party karyakartas were assigned specific tasks for raising awareness about the woes of municipal administration of the city.
AAP’s political investment in these by-elections seems to be much more than the other political parties. The party has a huge support base among the downtrodden and vulnerable in the city. Its pro-poor policies that address inclusiveness, whether in education or health, have been a powerful force of influence amongst the electorate. Disaster preparedness and Covid management by the Delhi government and the relief in terms of dry ration, free food distribution centres, cash transfer schemes during the pandemic is likely to stand the party in good stead. The party’s vigorous campaign is testimony to its enthusiasm.
The writer is Assistant Professor, Kalindi College, University of Delhi