2013 Delhi Assembly Elections: Can Congress Afford to Play the Development Card?

The Commonwealth Games 2010 are cited as the reason why Delhi has resurrected to a swanky-looking city with wide roads, air-conditioned buses, flyovers and a plush transit system. Underpasses were built, huge green spaces emerged, and on top of that, the city found new walkways and an enviable new airport. The much-touted would-be PM of India, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, harped on these facts in his recent public speech in Delhi. Like a pro auditor of Delhi’s growth account, he pepped up his discourse by sprinkling these achievements from time to time. Although it gladdened the Delhi Chief Minister to listen to eulogies coming from Mr. Gandhi, they certainly had a touch of partisanship.

In contrast to the flamboyance of Congress Party’s Vice President, Mrs. Sheila Dikshit was a little restrained in her speech, nicely juggling between ‘what’s done’ and ‘what is to be done’. It was not just the world-class airport or the regularization of unauthorized colonies that she talked about, but she also ventured into the grey areas. The crowd gathered at Mangolpuri in northwest Delhi was served what can be called a snippet of her wish list. From empowering youths to become job-ready to improving water supply, she tried to touch on some of the most pressing concerns of a ‘Dilli wala’.

The Chief Minister struck an emotional chord as she talked about doing everything needed to ensure that nobody remains starved in Delhi. In case you don’t know, the Food Security Programme witnessed its debut implementation only last month, and close to 75 lakh people are reportedly its first-hand beneficiaries. These facts are not farther from the truth. From the city edition of the Hindustan Times to the special sessions in news channels, reports claim how Delhi has become a major educational hub and how the government is acting as the custodian of right to food and work.

However, BJP is not convinced. The party doesn’t buy the story of development and that’s precisely why it has sharpened its criticism against the present government. They have chosen safety of women as the moot point to play the perfect iconoclast and trash Congress’s prospect of winning the elections. The northward trend in crime-rate and the conspicuous absence of social security is a heavy-weight factor that the opposition plans to cash in on.

Lack of enough life-saving devices in government hospitals, erratic supply of drinking water, high failure rate of the Laadli Scheme, and the closing down of government schools are some of the issues hand-picked by the BJP to make a strong case against the Congress. It also demands an answer from the Chief Minister on the inadequate arrangement for treating the poor in private hospitals, the rising unemployment rate, and the increase in power tariff in the last 15 years. The BJP seems to be asking a lot of pertinent questions these days, and one of them is related to the government’s claim of giving special incentives to students from the weaker sections of society. As the opposition is all set to pin-prick the balloon of growth claims, Sheila Dikshit knows that counting progress in terms of 130 flyovers and better roads would be little too amateurish.

Those who have watched the Chief Minister speaking in her defence in the popular talk show ‘Aap ki Adalat with Rajat Sharma, would realize that Delhi is not immune to fallible planning as Dikshit herself admitted how certain developments never took off. While some of them remained only in paper, others fizzled out years after the public announcement. This is a strange duality cohabiting Delhi. Mrs. Dikshit’s own words sum up the present state of Delhi quite aptly, “We are not where we need to be. A lot needs to be done.”

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