As people who have been reading my ramblings for some time would know, I am an absolute devotee of the Aam Aadmi Party. I believe it is the only party in India, and perhaps in the world, that proudly displays its integrity by listing all donations on its website-no hiding behind electoral bonds, or hundreds of thousands of small anonymous donations.
In addition-and, critically-the AAP government has been delivering the goods over the last five years in Delhi. Importantly, its approach to governance is systematic, which means the changes are likely to be sustainable. Its improvements are well-known in education-the Delhi government spends 26% of its budget on education versus an average of 15% in all Indian states-and healthcare, where it spends 12% of its annual budget (5% is the average state number) and anyone, even people with high incomes, can get completely free and highest quality (comparable with private hospitals) service for the widest range of medical conditions. Its reforms in power, water, and transportation have resulted in most people having higher disposable income-an Uber driver in Delhi, for instance, who makes about Rs 30,000 per month, is at least Rs 6,000-Rs 8,000 a month better off than his counterpart in Mumbai since he doesn't have to pay for education or healthcare plus, depending on his usage, electricity or water. Additionally, there is the recent effort to improve costs for women by providing free public transportation. And all this, while maintaining the strictest financial discipline-in five years, the budget has nearly doubled, with tax collections having increased 55% without any increase in tax rates.
The environment remains an extremely difficult area, and while there have been some improvements in the average pollution levels, it is a tough nut to crack, particularly as the winter comes in, and the pall in the air is visible. Nonetheless, AAP's approach, as in other areas, is structural, and I have little doubt that their commitment will win out, assuming the central government and the governments in adjoining states work together.
Of course, while all of this is old hat to me, what is interesting is that many people who used to roll their eyes at my AAP-love as "there he goes again", are becoming less dismissive. Most haven't yet bought in completely, but where they would scoff outright, they now are simply quiet and listen, before politely changing the subject. Perhaps, the dire state of governance in the rest of the country has engendered an increased willingness to at least listen.
But, the biggest joy and surprise came when I took some clothes to the dry cleaners on Saturday morning. While I waited my turn, I listened in on the conversation between four men, two of whom worked in the shop, and the other two were customers. One of the customers said that he saw on TV that the Sena weren't going to give in, and would get the chief ministership by joining hands with NCP and the Congress.
I piped in, "I think it would be great if Aaditya (Thackeray) became the CM. I don't know too much about him except that he wants to keep bars open all night. But he is just thirty years old, and we need young leaders in our country".
Everyone seemed to agree, but the other customer said, "It hardly matters. All the parties are equally corrupt."
"Except the Aam Aadmi Party," I said, ready to deliver my usual lecture.
To my amazement, one of them-I think it was the boss of the shop-said, "You're right. Actually, they should be running the whole country. You should see the government schools in Delhi-they're like GD Somani (one of the better private schools in the area)".
It was such a wonderful surprise to see that information about what AAP has been doing had seeped into this little middle class outpost of Bombay despite the near-zero media or other fanfare.
The other customer said, "We never hear of any good things that are happening. Bas TV par Arnab aur uske dost bhaukte rete hai (On TV, Arnab and his friends keep shouting)".
The boss continued, "AAP will come to power here also, but it may take some time". Then he asked me, "Do you know Raju, who runs Tikamdas, near Regal? He's the head of AAP in Colaba. If they had run a candidate this time, I would definitely have voted for him".
I had a flabbergasted and delighted smile on my face. AAP has arrived!
Of course, they need your help-they are a poor party that run a rich government in Delhi, in stark contrast to all other states and the Centre, where we have parties that are rich running governments that are poor.
AAP will certainly win Delhi again, which will hugely strengthen their brand, and then, look out-here comes India!