Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Saturday that the upcoming elections in Delhi will be fought on the performance of his government, which has forced principal rival Bharatiya Janata Party to respond politically on an agenda set by his Aam Aadmi Party instead of issues of caste or religion.
The CM listed his administration’s work in schools, health care and civic infrastructure – initiatives that he said gave hope that governance in India can be turned around within five years – while acknowledging that more needs to be done in the area of pollution and public transportation.
“When BJP fights elections in other states, it fights on caste and religion. When it comes to Delhi, their people talk about unauthorised colonies, about water. If we hadn’t done all the work that we did, they would have turned the discourse into a Hindu vs Muslim issue,” the CM said, speaking at the closing session of the 17th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
Delhi is set to hold elections for its 70-member legislative assembly – where the AAP scripted history in 2015 by winning 67 seats as a political start-up – in the next couple of months. The main challenge for Kejriwal is largely being seen from the BJP, which controls the federal government.
At an interaction following his opening remarks, the AAP leader took numerous jabs at his rival, saying, “if the barat (wedding procession) is here, they should tell us who the dulha (groom) is”, and that the political slogan for the BJP “will probably be ab ki baar, teen paar (this time, we will cross 3)” – playing on the party’s current strength in the assembly.
“Ab ki baar 300 paar (this time, we will cross 300)” was one of the main catchphrases used by BJP leaders during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that it swept.
In recent electoral battles, AAP has been outperformed by older political parties such as BJP and Congress, which won the Punjab state elections in 2017. “We will definitely contest the next Punjab elections,” Kejriwal said, on a question if whether the AAP’s national plans were on hold after the setbacks.
The CM also took a shot at BJP’s state unit president Manoj Tiwari. “He sings very well, doesn’t he? Have you heard his song Rinkiya ke papa,” he responded to a question on whether he saw Tiwari as a direct challenger for the CM’s post.
Later, Tiwari – who is a Bhojpuri actor and singer — hit back in a tweet: “How clueless, careless and visionless Arvind Kejriwal is! He ran Delhi only on the basis of blaming and badmouthing others. Now after 5 years, the CM has woken up to the fact that he is totally clueless about the reason of Delhi pollution.”
Tiwari was referring to comments by the CM in which he acknowledged the need for more steps to curb pollution in the national capital.
“I completely accept that Delhi has pollution and a lot of it. In winters, there are climatic phenomena that make it worse but we admit that during times like now, pollution increases due to local sources,” Kejriwal said, adding that the government will deploy from April a new mechanism in collaboration with an American university to identify specific real-time sources of emissions in order to target interventions.
The chief minister spoke at length about what he said were successful initiatives taken by his government. “The last five years has shown that the hopelessness among people, that things won’t improve in the country, can be changed. People look at Delhi and they think, things can change,” he said.
The big changes his administration brought, he said, were in the public health care system (which he said has become an attractive option for well-to-do people), government-run schools (which he said was consistently outscoring private institutions), civic infrastructure (particularly in unauthorised colonies) and the state’s financial health that left room for the government to cut taxes and offer sops.
“Recently, an audit said we are the only state government with a budget surplus. We stopped wasteful expenses and our work convinced citizens to not evade their taxes… We are giving it back to the people. For instance, making bus rides free for women will cost ₹140 crore. We chose to spend on that instead of buying a VIP helicopter, like the Gujarat government did,” he said.
The CM said that 96.5% 12th graders in government schools cleared the board examinations, more than the 92.5% students in private schools. “This means 1.6 million students in Delhi government schools, who used to have a dark future, now have bright prospects. Students from poor families now have the chance to become engineers, doctors, lawyers and some day, they will be here in these halls, attending the HT Leadership Summit,” he said.
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