At last, the three-week noisy and high voltage campaign marked by a slew of accusations, name callings and mud throwing is over. With the official closure of the campaign on February 5, it is time to take a close scrutiny of what the key political parties have been promising for the citizens of one of India’s biggest and richest metropolis. From free drinking water, reduced electricity tariff to free housing for poor, it’s raining freebies in Delhi. Of course, the Delhi poll promises are in conformity with the national trends – that populism and crass populism is non-negotiable aspects of country’s democratic politics. Yet, one thought political parties of this ‘enlightened’ metropolis that was turned into an epicentre of nation-wide anti-corruption stir in recent years and gave way to political newbie like AAP, would beat the national trend and offer something better.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the key contender for Delhi, was the last entity to release its poll promises – though not in the form of a “Manifesto” as the normal practice. It preferred to roll out a Vision Document based on the 6-S principle — Surakshit (safe), Swach (clean), Saakshar (literate), Sakshum (capable), Sanskari (culturally and ethically rich), and Sab ki Dilli (a Delhi for all) — propagated by the party’s CM candidate, Kiran Bedi. It is assumed that to make Delhi a world class city, the first area of improvement needs to be infrastructure. The BJP states its intention of doing so by promising to incorporate within the city an interconnected and wide-ranging Metro Rail, DTC bus, Metro feeder buses, trams and ring railway service. Construction of alternate roads and improving connectivity to rural regions such as Najafgarh, Narela, and Bawana, is also high on the agenda. Of equal importance is the issue of public safety and it is here one can see the stamp of Kiran Bedi, a former police officer. Police training, special police station for women, a special call centre for women’s safety and a Women Security Force based out of the CM’s office, and women only DTC buses, are just some of the initiatives flagged up by the party. With regard to knotty tariff issues, the Vision Document promises to reduce high electricity tariffs through competition amongst service providers, along with a CAG audit into existing discoms. In line with the national agenda of the Modi government, it promises efforts to make Delhi ‘the Solar Energy Capital’. Rain-water harvesting, development of areas around the Yamuna, increase in Green Area/Green Belt to 35%, WiFi-enabled cyber city, housing for slum dwellers, compulsory health insurance for all citizens, improvement in quality of primary education in rural areas, are just some of the other key issues of the document. And finally free housing for the poorest.
There are, however, glaring omissions in the document. For instance, the BJP has gone back on what it promised in 2013 by not promising statehood for Delhi. With no clear explanation offered, it has left the voter bemused as to how the BJP plans to get the Delhi Police, MCD, and DDA under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government. Another major issue which has not been spelt out very clearly is that of corruption. Since Kiran Bedi was part of the movement which fought so hard for the Janlokpal Bill, once she was nominated to become the CM candidate, it was expected that such a legislation would be high on her agenda. Instead, the BJP promises to set up an Accountability Commission (about which very little information is available) and strengthen the existing Lokayukta. The steps to decentralise power and improve citizen engagement also seem to lack credibility.
As regards to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), its 70-point manifesto is mostly a repeat of its 2013 election promises. The party that promises a transparent, participative and interactive government vows to legislate the Delhi Janlokpal Bill in fifteen days. Introducing a Citizen’s Charter in all Delhi government offices and providing protection to whistleblowers also comes under the ambit of fighting against corruption. The second key issue is of decentralisation. AAP promises to legislate the Swarajya Act to devolve power directly to citizens so that issues concerning local communities can be tackled directly by the citizens. The third issue taken up in the manifesto is of full-Statehood for Delhi. To bring the Delhi Police, MCD, and DDA under the State government, the AAP has vowed to use its political and moral authority to get Delhi full statehood. Apart from these three key issues, the AAP promises to reduce electricity prices by 50 per cent and will order an audit of discoms preferably by the Central Auditor General (CAG). In addition, the party claims that water is a basic right and if it comes to power, it will provide clean drinking water to all citizens at an affordable price. Their promise of lowering VAT and creating a business-friendly environment by putting a stop on “inspector raj” and “raid culture” have been lauded by the traders’ associations.
So far so good. But the problem arises when the party makes claims such as creating 8 lakh jobs in the city without substantiating as to how this is going to be done. Another similar claim is to build 500 new schools. Where does the party plan to build so many new schools? Also, there is already a shortage of teachers in existing schools. So how does the party plan to fill this gap? The AAP has also offered free WiFi in public places, albeit without a clear roadmap how it would roll out such a programme and how the costs will be met.
The Congress manifesto largely basks in the glory of Sheila Dixit’s 15-year rule. Its poll document highlights the achievements of the Congress during that period — such as Delhi Metro, making DTC the largest bus service provider in the world using clean energy (CNG), introduction of pensions for destitute women and transgender for the first time, making Delhi the first kerosene oil free city in the country, best rated implementation of the Right to Education Act, regularisation of 895 unauthorised colonies, and construction of six flyovers, 67 foot-over bridges, and 29 underpasses. The second part of its manifesto promises the right to housing, shelter, and property rights to slum dwellers and so on. This act will also include a provision of property rights through a “legal document of entitlement” giving freehold rights to all slum dwellers. Some other plans of the Congress include building double decker flyovers, underpasses, and introducing new Fast Metro Trains to combat the traffic chaos, opening four government-run vegetable shops to tackle inflation, providing special sensitivity training for police officers and government officials with regards to violence against women, opening 20 new colleges under Ambedkar University along with 150 new schools every year for 5 years.
While the Congress is successful in showcasing its past achievements, it fails to project what its vision is for the future of Delhi. Take for instance the issue of women’s security. While both the BJP and the AAP have come up with innovative methods to tackle the issue, the Congress has nothing new to offer. The same is the case for electricity and water issues — the party promises uninterrupted supply of both without giving any indication as to how this will be made possible. The lack of any concrete solutions to the acute problems are surprising as the party had run the State till 13 months ago and may have the knowledge about the problems and the way forward.
To sum up, principal parties are trying everything – from free water, subsidised electricity to guaranteed shelter – to woo the voters. A close scrutiny of promises makes it amply clear that big ideas such as Mohalla Sabha, Swarajya, Jan Lokpal or the right to shelter are for only side shows. The real competition is around freebies and easy handouts to garner support. In that sense, this elections are about freebies, crass populism and easy handouts. Even the BJP, with all its grand noises about good governance and tough measures on subsidies, has come out with its own freebies and lollipops for Delhi voters while many long term and vital issues such as Delhi’s fragile ecology (air pollution) or addressing migration, health and housing issues have received negligible attention from the main parties. So much for making Delhi a ‘liveable’ global city.
(The writers are public policy analysts with Observer research Foundation, Delhi)
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