The Left’s last citadel in India has crumbled, with the Bharatiya Janata Party set to replace the 20-year old rule of CPI(M)’s Manik Sarkar in an election that has proved to be quite revolutionary. The BJP is leading in 40 seats, crossing the 2/3rd mark after counting began this morning for the 59 assembly seats, giving a decisive push to its Mission Northeast.

From securing around 1.5 per cent votes in the last assembly election in 2013, to this historic election verdict, it has been an impressive performance of the BJP that aligned with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. The party carried out an aggressive campaign in the state with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party heavyweights like Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Yogi Adityanath leading the campaign.

The CPM could only manage its lead in 20 seats and is now a distant second. The Congress, which had been the main opposition party in Tripura, has been completely decimated this time. With most of its leaders switching over to the saffron camp after its decision to align with the Left in the last West Bengal assembly elections, its performance hardly comes as surprise.

The voter turnout was commendable at 89.9 per cent. The tribal outfit and BJP’s partner, IPFT, managed a lead in nine seats from a zero presence in the outgoing assembly. Elections for the Charilam constituency, due to the death of CPI(M) candidate Ramendra Narayan Debbarma, is scheduled for March 15.


Exit polls broadcast by Indian television channels have projected India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi


Exit polls broadcast by Indian television channels have projected India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead in the key state of Uttar Pradesh while Congress is poised to return to power in the northern state of Punjab after a ten-year hiatus.

Most of the exit polls are unanimous that BJP is expected to return to power in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand the coastal state of Goa.

The BJP also appears set to win north-eastern state of Manipur from the Congress. If that happens in actual counting of ballots on March 11, this will be the second state in the region to have a BJP government after Assam.

However, here is a word of caution: Indian exit polls often go off the mark.

The high-pitched Assembly elections in the five states of UP, Goa, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur concluded on March 8 with the last phase polling in Uttar Pradesh and Manipur. The polling in all other states – Goa, Punjab and Uttarakhand – came to an end earlier.

The election results will be a key test of Mr Modi’s popularity and a referendum on his dramatic decision in November last to ban high-denomination notes to crackdown on corruption, black money and tax evasion.

Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly has a total 403 seats. While three exit polls show a hung assembly with no party winning a clear majority. The majority mark is 202. Nearly all the exit show the BJP emerging as the single-largest party.

India News channel shows the BJP is ahead with 185 seats and SP-Congress getting 120. Times Now shows the BJP at 190 to 210 and the SP-Congress at 110-130. News channel ABP says the BJP will get 164-176 seats, while the SP-Congress Alliance about 156-169 seats. And India TV channel shows the BJP getting 155-167 seats with 135 -147 for the Alliance.

For Punjab which has 117 assembly seats, India Today-Axis exit poll show shows Congress ahead with 62-71 seats and Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)  at 42-51 seats. But India TV shows AAP winning 59-67 seats with Congress getting 41-49. India News shows Congress and AAP tied at 55 each. And similarly, News 24 has Congress and AAP tied at 54 seats each.exit-polls

The BJP is expected to record a landslide win in Uttarakhand, which has 70 assembly seats, according to three exit polls but a fourth poll shows the BJP and the Congress tied. Three exit polls for Goa which has a total of  40 seats show the BJP is ahead.



assamIn politics, it’s necessary to sift myths from realities. Undoubtedly, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s spectacular victory in Assam assembly elections has helped the cadres and leaders to forget its losses in Delhi and Bihar in 2015, but a close look at its performance in Kerala, Assam and West Bengal along with Puducherry presents another picture.

Assam victory has helped the BJP leaders and cadres to come out of the spectre of its defeat in Delhi and Bihar last year. It will go with a renewed vigour and determination in the next year’s assembly elections whose electoral outcome will determine the course of national politics to the general elections in 2019.

The electoral outcome of the five electoral contests is not going to either make or mar the prospects of the BJP getting a second term in 2019 as the party’s victory is reduced to a state which sends 14 MPs to the Lok Sabha while next year elections will matter more.

Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, which sends 116 MPs to the Lok Sabha, only 11 NDA MPs were elected to the lower house in 2014 while in 2017 when assembly elections will be held in Goa, Punjab, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand then they will cover102 Lok Sabha seats where the NDA’s strength was 86 in 2014 general elections.

Statistics crunching

But a close look at the numbers and statistics of the electoral performance of the political parties contradicts the broad media narrative that   the Congress or the Left are on deathbed and national politics is again turning unipolar because the BJP has arrived on the national scene. Yes, The BJP has expanded its electoral base a bit in areas where it was either very weak or was non-existent but whether this expansion will help it in 2019 seems doubtful.

Before we proceed, it would be correct if we present a wholesome picture of all the five assembly elections. There were 824 assembly seats at stake in four states and one Union Territory. The BJP has won 64 seats in all the five while the Congress has managed to retain 115 seats. The Left, which continues to be a much diminished national party, has won 124 seats in Kerala and West Bengal. Rest 540 seats have gone to regional parties.

At the same time, the BJP had contested at 696 seats and the Left had fielded its candidates in 452 assembly seats while the Congress was fighting at 363 seats. Thus the strike rate of the Congress stands at 31.6 per cent and the BJP’s strike rate is 9.1 per cent which is the poorest of the three national parties. The Left’s strike rate stood at 27.4 per cent.

At the same time, by losing power in Assam and Kerala, the Congress has failed to arrest its downward journey but it must also be added that the grand old party (GOP) was suffering from anti-incumbency factor in these two states. A small consolation has come to the Congress way when it wrested power in Union Territory of Puducherry from AINRC.

Regional forces on upswing

Message from the election is straight that national parties are facing a serious challenge from regional forces and the BJP should harbour no illusion that it is above this threat.

The BJP’s poll percentage, compared to its performance in the 204 Lok Sabha elections, has come down in most of the states barring Kerala where it has marginally improved. In West Bengal it came down from 18 per cent to 10.2 per cent. In Assam, the BJP’s vote share in Assembly election stands at 29.5 per cent while in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls it had polled 36.50 per cent votes.

The RashtriyaSwyamsevakSangh (RSS), as always, played a significant role in just held assembly elections. First, the RSS cadres work on a long term basis developing areas for the growth of the Hinduatva ideology and thought which in long term helps the BJP to grow politically. Secondly, at the time of elections, the RSS sends extra cadres for election management purposes while the old cadres who know the area well having worked in that area for months and years guide the party and its candidates.

The RSS influence over the BJP after the coming to power in 2014 has grown and is constantly growing. It may appear that its old issues like the Ram Janmabhoomi temple at Ayodhya, Muslim Personnel Law, abrogation of Article 370 or a nation-wide ban on cow slaughter are on the back burner but in reality they are not.

The RSS’s most favourite project which lies at the core of its ideology and conviction is being already pursued vigorously by the NDA government. The RSS’s target has always been school books and education system as it has always wanted to purge it of what it calls Left and secular values and orientation. Human Resource Development Minister SmritiIrani has been working in close consultation with RSS ideologues and has been appointing RSS backed academics and experts to top academic institutions like the universities.

As a matter of fact new issues like the aggressive nationalism, rewriting of history or removing alleged wrong facts from school books, insistence on slogans like Bharat Mata ki Jai have been added to the agenda. Love Jihad, beef bans or enforcement of moral code of dress for women are some examples of the RSS agenda .Rising intolerance towards the other view or other opinion are sharpening social and communal conflicts.

The RSS influence has grown in the last two years and the government will not do anything or will not make any policy change without its overt or covert approval. The RSS is supreme and there is no BJP leader today who can question or challenge the supreme organisation.

Election results have further consolidated the hold of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah Duo on the party and has silenced critics who had begun to raise their heads after the party’s defeat in Delhi and Bihar assembly elections in 2015.

Question whether Hindu nationalist issues will replace economic agenda in the BJP’s electoral strategy in coming months leading to assembly elections in 2017 cannot be answered in yes or no. It would depend upon as how the country’s economy fares in coming months. If prices stabilise, job are created and there is a feel good factor, then the BJP will go in for economic issues otherwise it would try to win election with an emotional issues.

Elections in UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab are very crucial for the RSS controlled BJP and therefore nothing will be left to chance to ensure a win. Sharpening communal divide for polarising Hindu votes is surely a weapon whose deployment cannot be ruled out in coming weeks and months.

What it means for Congress

Loss of power in Assam and Kerala is a setback to the Congress but there seems to be no major challenge to Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. The Congress cannot survive without the leadership of Nehru-Gandhis. If the family takes a back seat and leaves rudders of the party to other leaders then the Congress will undergo multi splits and the country would have many parties.

Rahul Gandhi’s role in the party is going to incrementally increased in coming months. Neither Rahul nor Priyanka are going to be CM’s face in UP elections though their role and presence in the state is likely to go up.

The Congress will face resource crunch in coming months as donations to the party are bound to come down but the party will do its best to dig resources from its reserves to make a pitch for UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab. However, it would have no problem in finding candidates for assembly elections.

Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu Mamata Banerjee and Jayalaltihaa will help the Modi government to push some of the bills through the Rajya Sabha but dealing with highly unpredictable and mercurial temperament of the two lady chief ministers is not going to entirely smooth. It would require not only a deft handling in the spirit of give and take.

(The author is a Senior Fellow at the ORF. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author.)




The northern state of Bihar in India has always been synonymous with caste-based crime. However, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of Janta Dal (U) has managed to change this image and is steadily taking the state towards an inclusive growth.

A resource-rich state with a vote bank of 66.82 million, Kumar has managed to put up an issue based election agenda here. But leaders of rival political parties have managed to pull back the caste politics ahead of the development plank ahead of the crucial assembly elections.

Playing caste card

Development has not lost its sheen yet but whenever a discussion on winning the battle surfaces the caste card is played around. The caste arithmetic on all sides is heavy and has a role in the political spectrum. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is looking to tap the upper caste Brahmin and Bhumihar, Kayastha and lower caste Mahadalit votes while the grand alliance, led by Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, is eyeing the backward castes of Kurmis, Yadavs and Muslims.

Speaking to India Writes Network, Dr PK Basant, a Delhi-based academician and a native of Bihar, said, “I was born and brought up in Bihar. A large part of my formative years were spent there. I know for sure that the caste quotient is high on its thought process. We really need to understand the mathematics here. We are taught from childhood that certain castes are not allowed to sit with upper class people. They are served in separate utensils. The caste divide is also visible in schools. So that cannot be separated with the demand of growth in the state. The electorate wants the growth to be introduced through its caste.”

A lot of efforts are being made to ensure the correct distribution of tickets in the constituencies and field the ‘right caste’ candidates in each of the 243 constituencies to get the desired vote share.

BJP’s strategy



During the Lok Sabha polls, the Narendra Modi wave with the development issue and promises of better days marched ahead to victory. The BJP also managed to put caste equations behind.

This time, however, the BJP is moving ahead cautiously. The party has not announced its chief ministerial candidate yet to ensure that the caste-based vote share remains intact. The BJP is also trying to reach out to Kushwahas, who have become politically relevant now. But it is surely not easy. The Modi factor may still work but the joint opposition of prominent leaders may force them to rework their caste alignment.

Speaking to India Writes Network, Bhupinder Singh, incharge of the Bihar elections of BJP, said, “Every state works on caste based equations. Why single out Bihar? Discrimination was a thing of the past. Development is the key. BJP will turn around the state in terms of development and the electorate believes that the party can deliver.”

Caste your vote: Which way will it swing?

The NDA’s main allies, Ram Vilas Paswan and Kushwaha, were with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the JD-(U) in the 2010 assembly polls. Their tilt towards the BJP in 2014 created a powerful coalition of castes, thereby strengthening NDA’s hand in the state. The BJP has an edge because the new Dalit icon, Jiten Ram Manjhi, will help pull more Dalit-Other Backward Caste votes into its kitty. The grand alliance is clearly rattled by the extension of the BJP’s support base in Bihar.

Between them, Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad control a big chunk of the lower caste vote in Bihar: Prasad with a bigger Yadav vote share while Nitish Kumar with just three per cent Kurmi votes.

As the slugfest intensifies, the question many are asking is: Will the people cast their vote for development and resurgence of their resource-rich state or vote for their castes?


Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling party which currently leads the National Democratic Alliance coalition, has become the largest political party in the world, with nearly 80.8 million members, overtaking the Communist Party of China.

According to BJP’s vice-president Dinesh Sharma, the numbers of members have grown to 80.8 million till March 29, surpassing China’s Communist Party (CPC), which has nearly 80.6 million members.  This staggering growth in the cadre-based party has worked as a confidence booster to BJP president Amit Shah’s vision of enrolling 100 million members in the party.

Just Dial: Target 100 million 

The BJP initiated a hi-tech drive, in which one could become a party member by just dialing a mobile number. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched this drive in November last year by renewing his membership through the assigned mobile number for the campaign.  Although the number of enrollments fell short of the set target of one billion memberships by March 31, 2015, this strategic move has worked in the BJP’s favor, as nearly 10 million people have joined the party in the last eight days.

Founded in 1951 as Bharatiya Jan Sangh, under the leadership of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, it merged with several other political parties after the 1977 emergency into a grand anti-Congress coalition, called the Janata Party. After defeating the Congress Party in 1977 general election, the Janata Party dissolved in 1980, and the Bhartiya Janata Party was reborn. In the 1984 elections, the BJP won just two seats. The party’s fortunes saw a sharp turnaround after the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement in 1989. The BJP went on to lead ruling coalitions at the centre in 1998 and 1999. Today, the BJP party has become a political juggernaut, especially since Mr Modi emerged as the undisputed leader of the party and led it to a spectacular victory in the 2014 elections.

The BJP members said that maximum enrollment came from Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is aiming at forming its government after the 2017 assembly election. With the upcoming election in Bihar in 2015, Shah is likely to extend this drive, which might work well for the party’s ambitions to win this crucial eastern state.


budget-jaitleyClothes truly make a man. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s budget, presented to Parliament today, turned out to be constructed the manner in which he was dressed — a Modi jacket over a shirt, trousers and chappals (flip flops) for shoes. Nothing objectionable of course and yet unexceptional.

West Bengal and Bihar, the states which go to the polls soon, will receive special central assistance in addition to the increased allocation they have already got per the recommendations of the Finance Commission. This explains the renewed bonhomie between the BJP and Nitish Kumar and Didi (Mamta Banerjee) respectively, Chief Ministers of Bihar and West Bengal.

Fiscal devolution kick starts Cooperative Federalism

The biggest plus from the budget is implementation of the spirit of “cooperative federalism” by transferring 42% of Union tax proceeds to states from around 32% earlier, per the recommendations of the Finance Commission.

Transfer of an additional 20% as central grants will further boost total transfers to states to 62% of Union tax revenues. This “big bang reform” in fiscal devolution sets the stage for State governments to take direct responsibility of the functions allocated to them under the constitution. They can no longer plead a lack of resources.

FM Jaitley is right that reform is a year around activity and does not begin and end with budget promises. Let us hope he walks the talk. The biggest public service he could render is to make the budget presentation process devoid of “news value” by following a year around dialogue with stakeholders and continuous results on basic reform steps.

This was a budget without many surprises. Maybe we have evolved to being an economy, in which the budget is a mundane, technical exercise, of interest to economists and accountants, but of little immediate consequence for those who live in the real world.

(The writer is an Advisor to Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

(courtesy: ORF)


modi-christianIndia’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on religious freedom and tolerance has struck the right notes elicited appreciation from the global community.

The 28-nation European Union welcomed Mr Modi’s statement, saying his remarks were entirely in line with the fundamental spirit of Indian Constitution.

European Union ambassador in New Delhi, Joao Cravinho, said that Mr Modi’s comments were “upholding the basic principles of freedom of religion, were very welcome and unremarkable” because they are “entirely in line with the Indian constitution, and it is not surprising he made the remarks.”

“We welcome that because we know very well there are elements of discordance resulting from radical statements by different groups and it is important for political leaders to be aware of the explosive potential of religious divisiveness and communal conflicts, and Prime Minister Modi’s statements were highlighting such concern,” Mr Cravinho said on February 18.

The spokesperson for the United States Department of State Jen Psaki was also appreciative of Mr Modi’s speech on religious freedom.

“I can say broadly that, certainly, religious tolerance and freedom is something that we support around the world, including in India,” said Mr Psaki.

Americans of Indian origin also applauded Mr Modi’s remarks on the right to practice religion of their choice.

”Until the right to retain one’s religion is part of the international legal framework and understood to be essential to constructive interfaith engagement, we will continue to witness the annihilation of entire cultures and civilizations,” Suhag Shukla, Director of Hindu American Foundation, said on February 17.

Mr Modi’s remarks in support of freedom of religion came in the wake of tragic attacks on churches in the capital and controversial activities by saffron right-wing elements.

US President Barack Obama had recently stressed on the growing religious intolerance in India. During his visit to India in January, Mr Obama had said, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines”. Later, during a National Prayer Breakfast meeting in Washington, Mr Obama noted that Mahatma Gandhi would have been shocked at the acts of intolerance in India.

Speaking at the Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on February 17, PM Modi had said, “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly.”

Mr Modi’s speech on religious tolerance is a significant reassurance for the minorities of India, but the entire nation, and not just religious minorities, is expecting him to redeem his pledge to protect the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural diversity of India.


kejriwal-victoryIn Indian politics, you have heard of a simple majority, a two-third victory, or a three-fourth sweep. But surely you have never heard of a nine-tenths tsunami.The Aam Aadmi Party’s victory in 67 out of 70 Delhi Assembly seats has simply blown the established parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress out of the water.It has inflicted by far the most crushing defeat to its opposition in independent India’s electoral history.
At least when the Janata Party swept the Congress out from every seat in an arc from Gujarat to Orissa in the post-Emergency election of 1977, the Congress managed to retain some ‘izzat’ by sweeping the poll in Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala.But the BJP and Congress have been left with no comfort in the Delhi Assembly 2015 poll outcome.
In terms of political geography, defeat in a state which returns just seven members of Parliament, may not appear too devastating. But Delhi is a slice of India, peopled as it is by lakhs of Punjabis, Biharis, Uttar Pradesh-wallahs, South Indians, Bengalis, North-easterners, Christians, Muslims and so on. And the victory in Delhi is comprehensive, it has cut across caste, class, religion and ethnic divides and incorporated every demographic — from the old to the first-time voter.
The angst
Remarkably, it has been done by turning Modi’s own formula against him. It was Modi and the BJP which was able to harness middle-class angst at the UPA’s non-performance to get a 7/7 verdict in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Delhi. Earlier, Manmohan Singh’s UPA had written on the expectations of the same middle class to get a 7/7 victory in 2009.

Modi’s strategy lay in harnessing the “neo” middle class — poor people, who aspired for middle class status in terms of income and assets. This time around, Kejriwal has ridden to his crushing victory, harnessing the aspirations of the “neo” and the continuing angst of the actual middle classes who thought that the BJP’s victory of 2014 would set a new course for the country.Instead, they found the party setting a backward course, characterised by anti-modernity and obscurantism. The venerable Indian Science Congress was made to hear a lecture on ancient flying machines; bizzare schemes of ‘ghar wapsi’ were unveiled to convert the country’s minorities.

Attacks on churches, mean-minded efforts to unmake the Christmas holiday, and a suspicious rise in what appeared to be deliberate efforts to promote communal anger increased the apprehension of the people.Sometimes, distance lends clarity to the vision. Perhaps it was this that persuaded US President Barack Obama to observe that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith? so long as it’s not splintered along any lines.”

If the BJP’s vanity is punctured, the Congress’s is confronted with oblivion. This was the party that ran the state for the past 15 years. The bustling Delhi of today is the Delhi of Sheila Dikshit. But the stench of corruption undid the Congress hold, beginning with the Commonwealth Games and 2G scandals.

The clock begins ticking now for the AAP, whose cure could well be worse than the current disease of corruption and misgovernance that afflicts the city.The people of the city have given AAP a second chance. Now it is up to the party to build on this and reach out to its destiny, which could be national.
But that same clock is also ticking for the BJP. It can take comfort from the fact that it has largely retained its vote share, and that the AAP vote-share gain was equal to the Congress’s loss.But the reality is that the result is a rebuke to Modi. What the people of Delhi have told him is that they are not interested in the politics of animus and hostility towards people of other faiths. That they are for modernity — education, good jobs and progress. They are determined to go forward, not be dragged back to the dark ages.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Obsrver Research Foundation, Delhi and Contributing Editor, Mail Today)

Courtesy: ORF


kejriwal-pollsIn a resounding triumph of new politics, Arvind Kejriwal, an activist-turned-politician, has made history, and has conquered Delhi, with a vengeance. In a virtual sweep of the broom, Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party has won 66 of Delhi’s 70 seats.

The Delhi verdict is a major blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had converted the Delhi elections into a personality-style contest between him and Mr Kejriwal.

Kejriwal has created history in more ways than one: this is the first time Delhi will get a non-Congress, non-BJP government, with an outsider to the political system set to be anointed the chief minister of Delhi. This is also the first time a party will get more than 60 seats in the Delhi assembly.

The AAP victory in the Delhi polls could be an inflexion point in national politics as it ends the winning spree of the BJP, which has won virtually every state election since the national elections in May.

Reactions: What They Said

“Spoke to @ArvindKejriwal & congratulated him on the win. Assured him Centre’s complete support in the development of Delhi,” Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, tweeted.

“We will always walk the path of truth, it is very scary, the kind of support the people of Delhi have given us.” – Arvind Kejriwal, CM candidate of Aam Admi Party (during his public appearance to celebrate Delhi elections results).

“I promise to be the janta’s Chief Minister, ending bribery top priority.” — Arvind Kejriwal.

“The defeat is mine… it is not a referendum on PM Modi.” – Kiran Bedi, CM candidate of BJP

“I congratulate the AAP and respect the people’s verdict. I hope that the AAP will fulfill its promises. I believe I should take responsibility and therefore resign as Congress general secretary. I was face of the Congress campaign and haven’t been able to win the seat which I contested in as well.” Congress senior leader Ajay Maken.

“Delhi election is a turning point of present political situation. Shows political vendetta has no place in a democracy. Country needed this change. She also congratulated Delhi voters, AAP workers and leaders for their big victory.”- Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister.

“I urge Kejriwal not to forget aandolan.” – Anna Hazare, anti corruption crusader.

“We have stopped the Modi juggernaut. Hope is alive.”- Yogendra Yadav, leader of AAP.

“Now, the interpretation is that the people of Delhi want an honest government, the people want to get rid of hollow speeches or statements like women should give birth to four children or ‘ghar wapsi’. Instead they want a government that has an action plan for Delhi. AAP has the vision for Delhi. AAP has the action plan for Delhi. AAP has the credible leadership for Delhi.” – Manish Sisodia, senior leader of AAP.

“Wow, well done #Delhi & well done @AamAadmiParty. Good luck to @ArvindKejriwal for the next 5 years,”- Omar Abdullah, President of National Conference.







delhi electionAt 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)

Courtesy:ORFdelhi election


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