The Delhi election is going to be a referendum on not just Modi, but Kejriwal as well.
For Delhi, which votes on May 12, the Lok Sabha election is of particular significance. It is coming not just after five years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime at the Center, but also almost five years after the ruling Aam Admi Party’s came to power, under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal, with a landslide win.
And, most importantly, Delhiites are witness to Congress springing back to action with full force after Sheila Dikshit being out of power for five years. The initial green shoots of Congress revival were visible in the municipal elections.
AAP, which came to power with the claim that it alone would be able to establish the law of land and fight for the right cause, seems to have got caught in the same trap of vested interests over the years, as the other parties. With respect to the regularization of illegal colonies, AAP is no different from the Congress party and Bharatiya Janata Party. Indeed, AAP has been mainstreamed fast. The less said the better about the one-upmanship of the current leadership, which had the audacity of throwing out leaders like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan.
But what about the governance in the state?
It is indeed a mixed bag. The improved performance of school learning outcomes could definitely be claimed as a big feather on its cap. After ages, AAP has shown that the government schools, too, could have PTAs with annual meetings.
But the stance of the government that it would want to regularize the services of the guest teachers in schools (60% of whom have failed to clear a test ordered by the court) shows the unwarranted heights to which populism rules in policy circles in the state, even when it comes to one of its pet subjects: education
Many of its poll claims, like reserving 80% of the seats in Delhi University colleges for the Delhiites, sounds highly parochial, much like the policies of the rightwing Shiv Sena in Mumbai. Should Delhi stand in the way of the dreams of the aspiring students from Bihar to Kerala and Mizoram to Kashmir? There has been massive investment in the educational infrastructure in Delhi in post Independence India, with the money from taxpayers countrywide. It is a travesty of justice to deny people from outside Delhi their right to learn in these colleges of excellence. The residents of Delhi should not fall into this trap, which sounds Trumpian. This will undermine the very spirit of multiculturalism, which has been on the rise in Delhi over the decades.
However, the growing gross enrolment ratio in the country should force the political leadership to think in terms of expanding affordable higher education countrywide, lest we end up in a situation that the US middle classes now confront, with the growing student loans becoming a big burden on families.
Both AAP, which asserts full autonomy for the National Capital, and the BJP, which wants to abrogate Article 370 of the constitution that gives autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, seems to forget their constitutional obligations.
Though pre-poll surveys predict a BJP sweep in Delhi, results are likely to go down to the wire. Even adversaries admit that former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who has been viewed as synonymous with Delhi’s recent development, has a fair shot at the North East Delhi Lok Sabha seat. Another Congress candidate, Ajay Maken, too, exudes confidence. He reminds government employees of the favorable public sector pay hike they got in the 6th Pay Commission, as against the 7th Pay Commission. From the AAP, Atishi seems to have the best chance, though she faces a tough competition from retired cricketer Gautam Gambhir.
Most of the pre-poll surveys have given all seven seats to the BJP. However, even at its worst, the Congress could get two and AAP one. The surveys also predict the return of Modi. Will that happen? That’s going to be a long summer sweltering wait till May 23rd.
Krishnakumar S. teaches economics at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi.