Delhi goes to polls on Feb. 8, 2020, the first one this year and is expected to be a game changer in Indian politics for more reasons than one.
The very first being that the electoral fight is a head to head battle between two parties, the Bhartiya Janata Party, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Aam Aadmi Party, headed by Arvind Kejriwal, both presenting extremely contrasting governance models for Delhites to choose from.
The Modi government has centered its entire narrative around national issues like the implementation of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, which has triggered agitations throughout the country, constant references to the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, by creating a scare around Pakistan and by polarizing the vote bank. The Kejriwal government, on the other hand, is showcasing an extremely efficient governance model, focused on education, health, water, electricity, infrastructure, social welfare schemes, in a long list of achievements, all aimed to make the life of the common man a little easy.
Ironically, both the parties came to power with promises of tackling corruption. A leading cause of corruption is the source of electoral funds, and the lack of transparency in it. Instead of ushering in transparency as promised, the Modi government brought in electoral bonds, opposed both by the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission, where anybody can donate any amount of money to political parties, by buying these electoral bonds, and donating it to the party. The donor can stay anonymous. However, both the bank and the government are privy to their identities, automatically helping the government keep track of its donors. All criteria of who qualifies as a donor has been removed. BJP was able to corner 60 percent of the electoral bonds, raising Rs 2410 crores just last year.
The AAP, on the other hand, continues to hold on steadfast to its anti-corruption plank, by keeping the entire process of its funding clean. AAP is the only political party which disregards corporate funding and takes donations from individuals, through a transparent banking system. This level of transparency has scared donors away, who have been harassed by tax officials apparently at the behest of the Modi government. The party which had aimed to raise Rs 50 crores for Delhi elections, is expected to now raise only Rs 28-30 crores.
The government has aimed to provide quality education in world class government schools to all, which is proving to be a great leveler of the rich and poor divide, the upper lower caste divide and the majority minority divide. An estimated 95 percent of the student population in Delhi was deprived of quality education, with education and health never being a priority with political parties in other states as well.
AAP was also successful in creating low cost but high-quality health centers, where the most expensive of medical tests are offered for free, besides free consultation and medicines. It has even launched schemes to provide most expensive surgeries for free, costs of which would earlier wipe out the savings of an entire family. Unlike other state governments, AAP does not create institutions earmarked for just the poor, which would mean downgrading their services. All are considered equal, both direct and the indirect taxpayers, and the same quality of services is offered to all.
This model where there is some benefit for everyone, irrespective of the party they belong to, the religion they belong to, the caste they belong to, or the class they belong to, therefore appeals to many.
For the very first time in the history of Independent India, a political party is seeking votes on the strength of their work in the first term, not just promises made in manifestoes, rarely fulfilled. If they manage to win the Delhi elections, it would be an emphatic vote for good work, and will change the narrative of future electoral battles.
(The writer is an independent journalist and political activist, based in Dallas, Texas.)