Few cities in India, if not the world, have a past as glorious as Delhi. The Lodhis, Mughals, British and even us in present day India, have chosen this city-state to be our capital. Even after factoring in my bias, being born and brought up in Delhi, i can still say Delhi is one of the greatest cities of our country.
And yet, Delhi has lost some of its honour. First, it is considered the hotbed of corruption. Partly due to Delhi`s importance, India`s biggest scams have originated here. Second, the most horrific cases of crimes against women have come from Delhi. Today, few talk about Delhi as glorious and great. Many talk about Delhi as corrupt and unsafe.
It isn`t fair to Delhiites — 99.9% of them did not tarnish the city. A few bad elements ruined the metro`s reputation. Of course, statistics show many Indian cities are equally unsafe on a per-capita basis. Corruption is probably as rampant anywhere else in the country. However Delhi, being high profile, bears the taint more than others.
Will Delhi ever restore its glory? Can Delhi ever become the most aspirational city to live in India? Can it be a role model for other Indian cities? Can it be a place where merit scores over corruption, and citizens are safe? There are no easy answers. Reputation, after all, takes long to rebuild.
However, next week Delhi has a chance to redeem itself. Delhi faces an unusual assembly election. It is an election the country will watch. The way Delhi votes will decide if it deserves the mantle of a great city.
It isn`t an easy election. It is a triangular contest between three plausible alternatives. The first choice is the Congress, with a dynamic CM seeking a fourth term. Despite misconduct allegations, the fact remains Sheila Dikshit has overseen a transformation of Delhi`s infrastructure, almost unmatched in any other Indian city. However, her misfortune remains her being from Congress, which faces a loss of confidence amongst the middle classes.
The second alternative is BJP. They have tried to position a clean-image CM candidate in Harsh Vardhan. He is not as high profile as candidates of the other two parties. However, he benefits from association with BJP, traditional alternative to Congress and the party of Narendra Modi. The Modi wave, as smartly calculated, is helping every BJP candidate get that extra push.
Of course, many Delhiites know the difference between the national Lok Sabha election and the local assembly election. Support for Modi may well be kept in reserve for Lok Sabha 2014. For the assembly election, Delhi has the option to vote for another, new party founded on completely different principles. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is the most exciting part of what might otherwise have been a fairly dull election.
The AAP is unlike any other Indian political party. Its origins are fascinating. It did not rise from representing an identity, common to almost all new political parties in the last 20 years. They are not representing Marathis or Muslims or Dalits. The non-divisive AAP represents the battered Indian who struggles through life without really making it. Their core values, at least on paper, revolve around integrity and service. In some ways, the AAP has trapped itself into extreme accountability.
Yet they are far from perfect. Controversial sting operations on them aside, they have a long way to go in terms of striking a balance between issues such as: idealism versus practicality; appeasing the aam aadmi in the short term versus making good policies for the longer term; staying fiercely independent versus working with other parties. Post-election disappointment from AAP is likely, given the burden of expectations.
However, do realise the larger benefit of the AAP winning a significant number of seats in Delhi. Overnight, the main political parties will take notice. Till date, many senior and powerful leaders across parties believe corruption and governance are fictitious issues created by the media and not really relevant to the Indian voter. However, if AAP can benefit politically from its platform of integrity, i can bet the major parties will undertake overnight reforms to make themselves cleaner.
If AAP can make clean, qualified candidates win, it will start a race within parties to get good people into politics. AAP would gain from this of course. However, what would gain most is our democracy and nation. For even BJP and Congress will look for good candidates and clean themselves up. The call for clean politics has always been there. AAP`s success will provide the incentive to turn this call into action.
Politicians are and should be chameleons. They change with the environment. An AAP success signals a new environment. The AAP broom won`t just clean up Delhi, it can clean up politics around the nation.
If all this happens, Delhi will redeem itself and restore its honour. The city has been ridiculed and shamed far too much. In deciding their 70 assembly seats, it has the chance to show the nation why it deserves to be India`s capital. Go Delhi. Go out and vote. Go get your honour back.