MCD Polls: A battle for relevance

Shibu Kumar Tripathi

Delhi’s civic ills once again make for bold subheads in various political manifestos as the city prepares to vote on April 23. Whether the promises are kept is a future issue

 

As the municipal elections in Delhi draw closer, almost every political party has dived into the fray so as to be part of a civic body that manages a budget of Rs 5,000 crore. The excitement and energy among volunteers and party workers has reached fever pitch. Delhi has become the site of a triple-sided contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress, while new entrant Swaraj India has nothing to lose but everything to gain come April 26. At the same time, all three main parties acknowledge that the recently concluded elections in five states are fresh in the minds of the electorate.

As the National Convener of AAP and Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, took to Facebook to address his volunteers post the Punjab debacle, it became amply clear that the party was trying hard to project strength after the fatal blow to its plans of coming to power in two states. Kejriwal urged his volunteers to “maintain faith” in the objectives of the party. Things went awry in one of his initial campaign rallies when a group started chanting, “Modi! Modi!” during his speech. The worst came on April 13 when the Rajouri Garden assembly seat vacated by AAP went to the BJP in the bypoll, sending anxiety levels in the fledgling party through the roof.

AAP now has everything on the line: after the disastrous results in Goa and the unanticipated loss in Punjab, this is a much-needed victory for Kejriwal to stay afloat in his barely five-year-old political career.

For the Congress, the upcoming elections are a chance to prove its relevance given that it is being routed and cleansed from national politics in one state after another. The party will draw some solace from its win in the Punjab elections under the aegis of Capt Amarinder Singh. However, the BJP, which is on a roll after the humongous victory in Uttar Pradesh, is a force to reckon with. 

When it comes to civic body elections, both AAP and Swaraj India are novice forces. While this will be an electoral debut for Swaraj India, AAP had initially opened its account in the corporation by winning five seats out of 13 during the 2016 by-elections, but the party saw a considerable fall in its vote share compared to the 2015 election results. The corporation at this time is controlled by the BJP which has an upper hand in all three civic bodies.

Poor sanitation & cleanliness 

When the BJP launched its campaign in the 2012 municipal elections it promised a clean Delhi where garbage would be segregated, properly processed and well-disposed of. Five years down the line, while there has been an increase in waste-to-energy plants, the levels of cleanliness have remained unchanged. The continuous strikes by the sanitation workers due to delayed salaries have worsened the state of affairs. Workers of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) alone have gone on strike five times, leaving behind a trail of garbage, dirt and poor living conditions. While the BJP blamed the AAP-run state government for not releasing the payments, AAP rebutted this claim by accusing the BJP-run MCD to be “rotten with grave corruption”. Releasing Rs 119 crore to ameliorate the crisis-like situation, the Deputy Chief Minister said, “The MCD has been saying that the Delhi government has not given them funds. So, I am presenting some of the figures in this regard. In 2012-13, Rs 399 crore was given as funds, in 2013-14 Rs 416 crore and in 2014-15 it was Rs 441 crore, in 2016-17 we have released Rs 609 crore so far.”

While sanitation has taken a hit over the years, the worsening situation of the landfills which have turned into dumping hills demand immediate attention. People living in proximity to the landfill sites have been complaining of poor air quality due to excess methane being released from burning piles of garbage. BS Vohra, President, East Delhi RWA Federation, expressed his alarm at the situation, “Civic bodies have done minimal work when it comes to clearing or disposing of landfills, the Ghazipur landfill has emerged as a danger over the years, the methane released in the air is extremely harmful but our authorities are least concerned.”

The government, which has been promising to transform these landfill sites into processing centres, is yet to take any concrete step. Swaraj India has said that it will make Delhi “garbage-free” and “epidemic free”.

Quality of education

Primary schools run by the civic bodies in Delhi have been a cause for concern for the government over the years. Most of these schools cope with the challenges of infrastructure, shortage of staff, poor quality of mid-day meals and so on. Officials in the state government have been blaming the BJP-run MCD for lack of coordination to improve the situation. The Kejriwal government has proposed to construct 10,000 new classrooms in 2017-18. However, the shortage of teachers can only be tackled after permission from the Lieutenant Governor (LG).

Poonam Singh, a Congress candidate in the upcoming polls, specifically blamed the BJP sitting corporators for the challenging conditions in the schools. She said, “BJP corporators have done nothing in the last 10 years and everyone knows that. It is only the Congress which can revive the condition of these schools because even AAP has failed to do so, they have only focused on state-run schools, ignoring the schools run by corporations.” The bad shape of the schools can be gauged from the fact that most of the MCD schools failed to provide the required textbooks to the students at the beginning of the new academic session on April 1. While the school authorities claim that the textbooks will be provided in two weeks, it has surely affected the momentum of the new academic session.

 

Delayed regularisation of unauthorised colonies

More than 1,600 unauthorised colonies spread across the NCR shelter nearly 40 lakh people, who are struggling to access even basic civic amenities. One of the biggest poll promises of political parties in the city has been the regularisation of these unauthorised colonies. When AAP launched its campaign for the 2015 elections it announced that it would regularise them within a year. The manifesto said, “We will provide water, sewer lines, electricity, schools and hospitals in a systematic and phased manner. A multi-pronged approach is the only way to empower unauthorised colonies and has never been attempted by the BJP or the Congress. Within one year, these unauthorised colonies will be regularised and residents will be given ownership rights.” However, even after two years the process is yet to be initiated. The process has been stuck in regulatory hell ever since the Ministry of Urban Development raised queries regarding the population of these colonies, their size and other parameters. Meanwhile, the BJP and the Congress have been blaming each other for the delay. Both are promising to ease the situation after being elected; however, past performances contradict their claims. With new forces rising in the regional politics of Delhi, Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj India is also eyeing the situation. The party talks about implementing a three-tiered approach to prevention, control and remediation in jughi-jhopri (JJ) clusters, slums and unauthorised colonies to curb epidemics. 

Puzzle of Purvanchali voters

Migrant population from the states of UP and Bihar settled in the national capital form a voter base of nearly 35 lakh in various constituencies of Delhi. Most of this population is settled in the areas of Badarpur, Burari, Laxmi Nagar, Seelampur, Kirari and other places. Political parties have been trying to harness this vote bank over the years. Owing to this reason the incumbent Bihar Chief Minister launched the Janata Dal (United) campaign from Meethapur, calling this population “not migrants but residents of Delhi”. While the JD (U) is contesting 101 seats, AAP has given tickets to 36 candidates from eastern UP and western Bihar. Trying to woo one of its core vote bases, the AAP government had announced it would make a budgetary provision to construct a permanent Chhat ghat in the city. The government has announced that the construction will be completed this year before the festival. AAP also launched its poll campaign from Burrai where Kejriwal addressed his first rally with the hope of garnering a similar response as in the 2015 elections. AAP has leaders who hail from the Purvanchal region, cabinet ministers Gopal Rai and Kapil Mishra, and its state convener, Dilip Pandey, all come from the region. Pandey said, “Many of our MLAs and leaders still live in the unauthorised colonies with the Purvanchali community. That’s the reason they understand their problems and know the conditions they live in.” The BJP also played the master card of roping in Manoj Tiwari, MP and a Purvanchali superstar, as its state president ahead of the election. Tiwari spent a night in one of the slums inhabited by people from Purvanchal and promised them development.

Anti-incumbency factor

The 10-year rule of the BJP in the Delhi MCD has been marred by numerous controversies and the ineffectiveness of its ward councillors. The seriousness of the issue was such that the party took the extreme step of fielding new candidates in all 272 seats in the city, shattering the hopes of sitting councillors. The BJP managed to win just three seats in the 2016 municipal bypolls held in 13 seats while five seats each were clinched by AAP and the Congress. The failure of the BJP-ruled MCD to perform its primary job of ensuring cleanliness has enraged the public and this might backfire in the coming elections. Talking to Hardnews, Ajit Jha of Swaraj India said, “Though there is anti-incumbency against the BJP in the civic bodies, their recent victory in the state elections has surely made it a challenge for other parties. Their cadre is energised in Delhi and this will go in their favour.”

The BJP had demanded two conditions from the candidates, that they should have a vision for Delhi and they should believe in the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party has managed to get rid of old faces to counter the anti-incumbency factor by targetting young voters in the region. Meanwhile, the BJP has also tried to turn the tables by making the polls a referendum on the two-year rule of AAP in the state. The party released an Aarop Patra against AAP, highlighting the failure of the state government in fulfilling its manifesto promises.

The 2017 MCD elections will see national parties like the BJP and the Congress going head to head with upstarts AAP, Swaraj India and the JD (U). The entrance of Swaraj India and the JD (U) into Delhi’s electoral fray will act as a disruptor and harm the core vote bases of the Congress, AAP and the BJP, making it a tough challenge for all. For Delhi, April 26 can’t come soon enough.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2017