The stunning victory of the aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) in the Delhi state election last month has changed the national political discourse. For the better. Development — especially human capital development — is on the national agenda for the first time. The sheer scale of the AAP victory — it won 62 of the 70 seats in the Delhi legislative assembly — has stunned political pundits, the chattering classes and not least, the haughty leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It boggles the mind that less than nine months ago in General Election 2019, the BJP swept to power in New Delhi for a second term with a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha.
AAP’s victory in Delhi is of historic significance because the party’s leadership fought its election campaign entirely on development issues — water, health, improved public transport (including free bus travel for women), electricity and very importantly, improved education in state government schools. The party’s election manifesto and campaign highlighted that the AAP government’s allocation for education at 25 percent of its total budgetary outlay, is the highest among all the states of the Indian Union. Moreover, the party’s election campaign on television and the media focused on infrastructure upgradation, sending government school teachers for training to top universities and B-schools in India and abroad, and the fact that three Delhi state schools are ranked among India’s Top 10 government schools and that one of them (Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya) is ranked above all the Kendriya Vidyalaya schools of the Central government in the annual EducationWorld India School Rankings 2019-20 published last September.
On the other hand, the BJP’s campaign focused on macro issues such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and an all-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) directed at the country’s Muslim community. Clearly, development issues triumphed and BJP’s regressive, negative campaign blew up in its face.
But while there is cause for celebration that the AAP leadership has demonstrated that education and health of generation next are election winning issues, a word of warning is warranted against venturing down the broad and easy road to populist socialism. To win its huge mandate, the AAP leadership showered the people of Delhi with numerous freebies (bus rides) and subsidies (water, electricity, food) valued at Rs.2,500 crore.
As the Economic Survey 2020 belatedly acknowledges, post-independence India’s “dalliance with socialism” was an “aberration” and completely against the millennia-old free market and private enterprise traditions of the subcontinent. Neta-babu socialism and a huge burden of unmerited subsidies have ruined the high-potential Indian economy. The AAP leadership needs to resist the temptation to venture down the slippery socialism road.