From the Viewsroom

Urban interests

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on February 10, 2020

Can the AAP expand its focus beyond Delhi to the rural areas?

Have India’s cities always received a raw deal? We’re a predominantly rural nation and 830 million Indians — nearly 70 per cent of the population — live outside the towns and cities, the 2011 Census shows. Against that number are 370 million urban-dwellers. These figures make it obvious why national politics have always been skewed towards helping farmers and landless labourers. The interests of urbanites in Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru must always come second. But the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — whether it wins or loses Delhi — could stake its claim as the first strongly urban-focussed party that looks to address the needs of India’s urban masses. Therefore, emulating rural-focussed parties, it has offered free power and water for small consumers which have, by all accounts, gone down very well with voters. In addition, it has correctly identified that Delhi residents need better medical facilities and inexpensive government schools. Accordingly, almost 26 per cent of Delhi’s 2019-20 Budget went into building new schools and universities and improving existing ones. Add to this, heavy spending on surveillance cameras to ensure women’s safety.

It could be argued the AAP can’t claim the accolade of being the first urban-base party. After all, the Shiv Sena began by being the Mumbaikers’ voice and representing the interests of the horribly overcrowded city. But as it spread into rural Maharashtra, the Sena had to change its Mumbai-focussed policies and represent people around the State. Perhaps it was easier for the party to cross the urban-rural divide because Maharashtra is one of the country’s most urbanised States, where 45 per cent of people live in the towns and cities. By contrast, Uttar Pradesh has 200 million people, of whom 77 per cent are rural and only 22 per cent urban.

If the AAP’s a Delhi-centric urban party, can it spread its wings beyond the city? It failed to gain traction in Bengaluru, where it had high hopes of scoring with the city’s educated youngsters. In Punjab, too, where it had to make a pitch to a more rural audience, it enjoyed only limited success. If it wins this election, the big question will be whether it can spread its appeal beyond the urban electorate into the hinterland.

The writer is Editorial Consultant with BusinessLine

Published on February 10, 2020

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