Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why Delhi must vote for the Congress today….

One simple reason. Over the last 15 years, the city has been totally transformed. It is much closer to being a world city today than it was 15 years ago when Sheila Dixit stepped in. It boasts of world class infrastructure – a global standards metro, India’s best airport, wide roads, airconditioned buses, well kept parks, uninterrupted power supply, large number of jobs…..need we go further?

Are there problems the city faces? Of course there are. But the kind of problems that are listed by the BJP and AAP are themselves an acknowledgment of the progress that Delhi has achieved. The power bills are too high say both….but neither says that power cuts are a problem (something that was a perpetual problem in Delhi). There is too much traffic they say, acknowledging that economic prosperity has led to a surfeit of cars (and this in spite of the metro ferreting more than 2 million passengers every day). It takes 2 hours to go from Gurgaon to Noida, they cry, accepting that the city/NCR has grown so much that it has made the entire NCR come to life.

And what is driving all this growth? A solid economy. Over the last 10 years, the Delhi government has delivered a near (or over) 10% annual GSDP growth. This is probably the highest amongst major states (Yes, Delhi is a major state considering its economy is more than Punjab’s and Haryana’s), definitely better than the APCO-propped Gujarat’s. Today, the most job creation happens in the NCR, thanks to booming IT/BPO/Manufacturing/Hospitality/Construction sectors. Today, most MNCs prefer to settle in Delhi, not Mumbai. Today, most construction happens in Delhi, not Mumbai or Pune. Since the last census in 2001, Delhi’s population has also soared past Mumbai’s. Delhi is today the most buzzing of all cities in India….

What is the AAP promising really? That it will cut electricity bills by 50%. Does it have a plan for this? No. It does have a lot of rhetoric though. The party acknowledges that electricity wastage (T&D losses) has been cut from 40%+ fifteen years back to barely 15% now. In fact, it uses this achievement to demand that the savings that have so accrued be passed on to the people. Well, this presumes that the savings are not getting used effectively; that maybe someone is pocketing them. Do they have anything to support this? Nada. Will the AAP reduce prices if elected. It will have to, considering it is their main poll plank, but what it will do to Delhi’s power situation is obvious. A look Goa, where the BJP reduced petrol prices to Rs 50 odd levels, should be evidence of that. With drastically reduced tax collections, the state’s economy has been devastated.

The AAP also promises that the Rs 400 crore surplus in Delhi Jal Board will be distributed amongst the people in the form of free water. Who will tell the AAP that if all profits are distributed, there will be nothing left for investments? Does he not know what problems the Indian Railways faces because of the exact same reason (prices were not increased for nearly 10 years…..).

What are the other issues the AAP stands for? A highly unconvicing position on the Lokpal (actually Lok Ayukta). Unconvincing because most knowledgeable commentators today acknowledge that another watchdog in the form of a Lok Ayukta will not curb corruption. Better systems, less discretionary powers, more realistic laws, more usage of technology and more competition will. But is there a plan for all this? At least I haven’t heard so. For anything on corruption, there is just one mantra. Lok Ayukta. Bizarre.

The BJP is a complete write-off in Delhi. The party that chooses to anoint its leaders before the elections could finalize its leader only a few days before the elections. Was this delay because the party has a huge number of eligible leaders? Nah….because if that was the case, it wouldn’t have relied on its national leaders to campaign on its behalf. The reality is that the BJP is a badly divided house in Delhi.

The BJP clearly looks like the B-team of the AAP. If there is a strong opponent of the Congress, it has to be the AAP. The only advantage that the BJP has over the AAP is that it is perhaps better organized, being a much older party. The party cadres also appear to have been energized by Modi. Will this swing the vote towards the BJP? I doubt it.

If performance should be rewarded, then the Congress deserves to win. But are there other issues that will harm its chances? It’s possible, but its surely not a certainty. On corruption, the BJP’s double standards on the Lokpal issue are well known. Its corruption standards are comparable to the Congress’s. On women’s issues, if Delhi is the rape capital amongst the metros, BJP ruled MP is at the national level. Is anyone saying that the BJP will lose MP because of this? Also, considering most rapes take place inside homes, and by people known to the victim, is it really possible to lay the blame on the government? In other words, can a change of government help reduce rapes? I’m not sure. What can reduce this shame drastically is stronger laws (which the Congress has enacted), an alert media (which we have a lot of!), and a huge change in the mindsets of people (which is bound to happen given the previous two points).

What the Congress really suffers from is poor communications. The Congress has no match for Modi when it comes to delivering speeches (even though those speeches are full of errors, lies and more!). Most people I have discussed the 2G scam with for instance agree that the CAG report was vastly exaggerated; but they also say that the Congress did little to defend its position. Ditto on the coal scam. In politics, a party that cannot communicate suffers. If the Congress loses Delhi, it will not be for a poor performance record; it will be for a really poor communications record.

The real truth is that the Congress has done wonders for Delhi, making it India’s numero uno in development, infrastructure, jobs creation, education…..and much more. It has set a benchmark for other cities to follow. No other government could have achieved as much. I hope the people of Delhi remember this when they go to vote today….

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