Last week, I met the next chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. His name is Alok Agarwal, an IIT alumnus who has been working assiduously and quietly in social service for two decades or more. Call him an Arvind Kejriwal without the drama. Indeed, they call him the second brand of the Aam Aadmi Party. I had never heard of Alok till a few weeks ago when some AAP people asked me to meet with him; neither did I have any idea that AAP had a presence in Madhya Pradesh. But they do—over 150,000 members, of which 30,000 are booth level volunteers—and are gearing up to increase their on-ground presence for the assembly elections in November. As part of this process, they have been talking to the people, understanding their concerns and explaining the excellent work the AAP government has been doing in Delhi; their outreach has been quite successful to where the local media—Bhopal-based Star Samachar, for instance (March 30)—acknowledge AAP and Alok as one of three possible options for the MP Assembly, the other two, of course, being the BJP, which has been incumbent for 15 years, and the Congress.
That the people are fed up with the BJP is obvious, not just locally, where there has been no meaningful development, but nationally as well, where in its desperation, the party seems to be ever more aggressively trying to shred the fabric of the nation. Fortunately, poor and deprived though most Indians may be, Indian democracy is far too strong to be destroyed. Witness the increasing dissatisfaction on the streets, on social media and in corporate suites. The rallying cry for 2019 is already—with no insult to the Swedish multinational—ABB, Anybody But BJP. With this belief, when I met Alok, I told him that all non-BJP entities need to come together to bring down the current horrifying temperature in the country. Quietly and confidently, he explained to me the situation on the ground in Madhya Pradesh, where people are completely done with the BJP, but are also tired of the Congress, which has five state-level leaders all jockeying for power. The Samajwadi Party is trying for an opening there, but has had very limited success. “The AAP, on the other hand, has found extraordinarily fertile ground, particularly when they talk about their successes in Delhi,” he added.
What success, I asked. “Well”, he said, “let’s talk about education. First off, in Delhi we have increased the budget for education to `40,000 crore over four years, which is 22% of the state budget; the average for other states is around 16%. We have been able to make this increase because of several continuing initiatives—for instance, eliminating corruption in all government contracts; lowering/rationalising of taxes, leading to increased compliance, etc, and investing the savings back into the budget. As a result, our annual budget is up from `32,000 crore in 2015 to `53,000 crore today.” “The money is being used to (1) improve infrastructure—we have created 54 model schools, where the infrastructure is comparable with the best private schools; 13 of them even have swimming pools; (2) building capacity of teaching staff and principals; (3) making school administrations more accountable and, (4) of course, improving learning outcomes. It is a big job, but we are already seeing some impact—in 2016-17, for the first time in several years, school enrolments stopped falling, and we have recently even seen students shifting from private schools to the state schools in some areas,” he elaborated. A more detailed report is available on https://aamaadmiparty.org/undertanding-delhis-education-revolution/. “Then there is the work we are doing in healthcare. In addition to our direct outreach in schools and homes (screening of health/nutrition, vitamin supplements, immunisation, etc), our mohalla clinics are working extremely well. About 160 mohalla clinics have been set up and, in 2017, 32 lakh Delhiites used their services—that’s 16% of the population. We have much more to do—our target is to set up a total of 1,000 such clinics—and it is heartening to see other states (Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka) following our lead in using this model for health services delivery.”
Enough, I said, reeling with all the information. He said, “there is more, much more—bijli, paani, roads, transportation, social welfare, urban infrastructure, arts and culture. We are implementing programmes in all these areas that are already improving the life of the people—particularly the poorest—in Delhi, and there are many more initiatives that we are developing. And, it is these experiences and stories that have the people in Madhya Pradesh excited.” But don’t you think the AAP would be spreading itself too thin? “We have our own team, our own volunteers in MP, and, while we plan to contest from all 223 seats, we are focusing on about 150 seats where we believe we can win,” he said. How many women candidates will you have? On this question, he said, “we don’t have any reserved seats for anyone—we will field the best person we can find from each constituency, but given who we are and how we operate, I’m sure we will have a much higher percentage of women candidates than any other political party.” “What we need is your help to raise our profile among people who can support us with resources.” So, boys and girls, if you want to sustain and develop a corruption-free government in India, log on to www.aamaadmiparty.org and help in any way you can.