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Delhi Election Results: A vote for Urban Governance

Beyond the crescendo of electoral turbulence and frenzy, the city emerges as the future. I

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The results of the Delhi election are a victory not so much for – this or that brand of politics, for State versus the Centre, but for—strong urban governance. It is sharp evidence that city issues are overwhelmingly more evocative than abstract, distractive and salacious issues of national importance that may dazzle at first sight but have scant visceral relevance. It is also proof that given a choice – citizens are essentially rational and are concerned about their immediate well-being.

By 2040 almost 50% of the total population will be urban. And yet, historically we have neglected urban management issues, to the point of Urbanization Commissions even being apologetic about urbanization. It is notable that the winning party in Delhi astutely concentrated merely on a few of the issues that are relevant for the urban citizen: launching the odd-even scheme to reduce cars on the road to combat pollution (thereby conveying their intent to fight pollution); increasing the number of auto-rickshaw licenses; augmenting supply of water; exempting electricity consumption below 200 units and halving the price for those who consumed less than 400 units, fighting for CAG audit of power discoms (showing a motherly sincerity to fight injustice); bringing transparency in water supply through tankers by digitising the Delhi Jal Board, ensuring 20 kilolitres of water free per month; setting up a helpline number for citizens to avail government services at their doorstep; increasing minimum wages; positioning marshals in buses; providing housing pattas to the homeless; installing wi-fi stations and creating playgrounds. They worked on improving the government school infrastructure and ensuring that schools got teachers and that fees were kept at reasonable levels. However, analyzed closely, these were not stellar policy initiatives that impacted citizenship across the board. They were all essentially the kinds of day-to-day social palliatives that well-meaning municipal governments undertake world-over for the benefit of their inner city communities. 

And so they got away without having to go deep into tackling critical and tricky civic issues which impact citizens across the board – Delhi’s environmental pollution, Delhi’s weak policing and security, traffic congestion, transport connectivity, transit-oriented development and town planning because these functions have been kept by the Central government with itself through its agencies like the DDA. The sad and remarkable thing is that the average citizen of Delhi is so terribly starved for good governance that even a small hint of success (even if it doesn’t work directly for him) stirs hope and confidence that apparent civic collapse can be averted.

In the instant case, the existing municipal bodies in Delhi were governed by elected bodies whose Councils lacked vision, strategy and sophistication. Thereby they gave the Government of Delhi a chance of completely overshadowing them and initiating civic reforms when in fact it should have been the other way round. Going forward, the ideal situation would be if the disparate municipal bodies and the State government would converge – fashioning a Municipal Corporation of Greater Delhi – with full local powers. Then clearly, the State Government would become formidably more effective and if it performed well, then that much more credible.

Beyond the crescendo of electoral turbulence and frenzy, the city emerges as the future. In quick, efficient and effective mayor-type governance also lies the key to a winning electoral template. There is also an underlying message for the need to reform the structure of urban governance. Therein lies the essence of this verdict!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Delhi assembly polls 2020 politics

Raghav Chandra

Former Secretary Government of India

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