Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party can't speak for India's cities

Written by Subhomoy Bhattacharjee | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 30 2013, 19:10pm hrs
Arvind KeijriwalDelhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal speaks to media at Secretariat building in New Delhi. (PTI)
At the heart of the switchover to Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) by the Delhi electorate is a broader political question that urban Indians are demanding an answer for. It is the question about who speaks for their socio-economic needs.

The six megalopolises account for over 23 per cent of Indias urban population. Even more significantly, the income of these six cities is more than the GDP of Pakistan or of Thailand, as a recent paper by the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research shows. The paper shows each of them is now equivalent to that of the economies of good-sized countries, when measured by PPP dollars. For instance, Mumbai is within striking distance of Finland and the smallest of them Hyderabad is up there with Uruguay.

Within India too each of these cities now occupies a disproportionate percentage of their state GDP. For example the municipal revenue of Mumbai is 38 per cent of Maharashtra state GDP. Bangalore is at 31 per cent.

These are massive numbers. Yet these cities together account for only 48 members in the two houses of our Parliament. For obvious reasons the political leadership of any state will not be comfortable with giving the leaders of any cities larger independence as it will be a huge threat to their position.

This is creating a huge and rapidly growing dissonance between the economic and political heft of these cities even as they are rapidly transforming themselves into Indias future political theatre. Worse, they undermine the quality of governance of these cities which is the reason why they score so badly on global indices of quality of living.

Yet it is these gap between the size of these cities and their puny political fist which has engendered the space for AAP and future others. To the urban citizens the problem becomes visible when they see the multiple of agencies meant to service them but mostly locked in internecine squabbles. It is enough evidence reason for the population to get frustrated, even without any hint of corruption.

The CPR paper shows that even for water and sanitation, except Delhi none of the other five have less than three agencies to service them. There are eight bodies in Bangalore for making policy and guide industries. Mumbai has over twenty. And all these while for rural areas the state and central governments have agreed they need a single window clearance system to make decisions work.

In some respects Delhi is special within the group as it is the only one which has a state government broadly co-terminus with the urban area and therefore holds out the promise of faster decision making. The problem of decision making lies in these other Indian cities, locked in a political Gordian knot. Delhi is simpler to unravel but here too the silence of AAP on for instance Delhi and NCRs contrasting needs show they are unaware of these complexities. Cutting water or power rates is not the most pressing among those.

Subhomoy is a deputy editor based in New Delhi