Delhi elections 2020 will be considered to be a landmark event in the history of Indian politics. Extra-ordinary developments preceded the election day on February 8, the kind which Delhites aren’t used to. We had not seen the kind of strong sentiments among the public as we did this time. We had not seen violence. We had not seen such excitement around elections. Voting days have largely been peaceful in the capital as compared to other states, and no wonder the voter turnout had mostly been under 60% for many years.
This election was different. There was clarity in the campaigns of both the leading parties, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), and, even though there has been a great difference among the seat shares, the voting percentages were 53.5% and 38.5% respectively.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s campaign was strictly restricted to the issues of people (vikas) in the capital and largely refrained from the ongoing national issues, especially the CAA-NRC protests. Education, health, electrification, water, free bus rides for women, CCTV cameras were some of the issues which the Aam Aadmi Party claimed to have worked on and ‘guaranteed‘ to work for in the future. The whole campaign centred itself around these issues.
For Bhartiya Janta Party, their campaign, for the nth time, tried to cash in on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the absence of strong state-level leadership and a lack of vision and agenda for the people of Delhi. The Shaheen Bagh and the CAA protests, Article 370, Pakistan, and other nation-level issues (rashtravaad) became a part of their campaigning.
The campaign can be labeled as ‘negative’ because of the unreasonable and unverified accusations against the party in power, going as far as calling the sitting-Chief Minister a “terrorist“. The BJP seemed desperate to win in Delhi. The prime Minister to the Home Minister, and several Chief Ministers of different states, were the star campaigners
I have deliberately not named my article ‘Vikas‘ vs ‘Rashtravaad‘ (‘Development’ versus ‘nationalism’) The ‘Vikas‘ agenda of the AAP has been labelled as ‘Muftkhori‘ (Freebies) by its opponents. I don’t want to subscribe to any political party (I am not paid for this article). But, I would like to analyse the ‘Muftkhori‘ allegations, and present some arguments.
First, let’s understand where the Constitution of India, the supreme law of the land, stands on this. Many people would know that the Right to Education is inserted in Article 21-A, in an amendment in 2002, and thus, is a fundamental right. Most states have been providing free education in government schools, although the quality and commitment can be questioned.
What about health, electricity, and water? The same provision, Article 21, gives us the fundamental Right to Life and Personal Liberty. The article states that “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except by the procedure established by law.” In general terms, it means that it is the responsibility of the state to provide the basic conditions necessary for living a life of dignity.
The framers of the Constitution did not specify what exactly would be considered as these basic conditions but several judgements of the Supreme Court have extended the scope of this right. The Right to Clean Environment, the Right to Pollution-Free Air and Water, the Right to Healthcare and Medical-care, Right to Shelter are some of the rights which have been interpreted as parts of the Right to Life and Personal Liberty. Electricity is not yet included among these rights, but one can argue that it also qualifies as a basic necessity. Providing such basic necessities is the duty of the state and rights of the individuals. It is not a charity.
Secondly, how much is really being provided for free? There is a limit to it. The cost of electricity, up to 200 units, varies from state-to-state. In Mumbai, it is about ₹1,645, in Karanata about ₹1,234 and in Chandigarh about ₹1,044. Similarly, for water, the limit is just 20,000 litres. I can add free bus rides for women to the ‘freebie list‘.
To sum it all, it sums up about ₹3,000-₹4,000. If a person with a low income is saving this much amount, can it be called muftkhori, considering that there are several other expenditures a person has to make to ensure a living, rent, for instance, is higher in cities like Delhi as compared to other parts of India? Food, clothing, and other necessities are also costlier in the capital. So, if an average person is given a ‘cushion’ of about ₹3,000-₹4,000 per month, does it qualify as muftkhori?
The rich and the privileged people would not know that an average Indian person earns less than ₹10,000 per month. In a city like Delhi, this amount might be more, but then so are the expenditures. Providing a cushion to these people is what I consider rashtravaad.
Are Delhites ‘greedy’ and ‘lazy’? Do they do not want to work and enjoy the freebies? People come to cities like Delhi to work. The GDP of Delhi is growing at around 8-9% as compared to the GDP growth rate of only 4.5% overall for India, presently. So, saying that people would stop working because they are provided concessions for basic amenities does not hold true. In fact, people who were using water and electricity ‘illegally’ before this have now installed meters, which has actually resulted in profits for the Delhi Jal Board. It is easy for the government to monitor the usage and work on the improvement of these services.
The ‘upper’ class argues that the so-called ‘lower’ classes feed-off the tax-payers’ money. They argue that they pay the income tax and the ‘muftkhor‘ ‘lower’ classes are feeding off them.
About 4% of the population pays income tax. The tax goes the central government, which then distributes it to the state governments. Delhi has been receiving only ₹325 crores from the Centre government while citizens of Delhi pay income tax worth ₹1.5 lakh crores. So if the upper class wants to complain of what happens to their income tax, they should complain to the central government.
Delhi government runs on the indirect taxes it collects, which are paid by all people, rich and poor. On every item, ranging from a pin to a luxury car, we all pay indirect taxes. This is where the subsidies on water and electricity come from.
Despite providing these subsidies. Delhi government is running in profit. It has doubled its treasury from ₹30,000 crores to ₹60,000 crores. According to the CAG report, it is the only state government to be running in surplus. It is an important lesson for other states who might be considering distributing free stuff to ‘win elections’.
One needs to calculate how much stuff you can provide to the people, and more importantly, get rid of corruption. Supposing the Delhi government did not provide the subsidies? Who would have it benefited? Their ministers would have put the surpluses money in their pockets as it happens in other states.
Another argument is the economy. The reason why the Indian economy is facing so much problem, I think, is that there is a lack of private demand. There is a lack of demand because of which the cycle of capital is not flowing, and the GDP is going down. Now, if the people can save about ₹3,000-₹4,000 they would definitely spend at least half of the money back into the economy. Consider the time of Diwali. People receive a bonus and they spend the money in the markets and there is a boom. Now, there can be a Diwali every month.
The sum it up, providing basic necessities up to a specified limit can do wonders for the lives of people, the development of the economy and thereby, the development of the nation. It is not muftkhori. It is rashtravaad.