Raj Chahal is the first Asian American as well as Indian American councilmember in Santa Clara City, California. He also served as Vice Mayor for 2021. The views expressed are his own.
Punjab’s two major parties have brought the quality of life of its people to its worst level. From being India’s number one state, Punjab has suffered major losses to its economy with record budget deficits. A drug menace prevails in almost every village; corruption for the common person is all pervasive. Mafia raj, specially of the liquor and sand mafia, and criminal gangs have played havoc. The failures of governments run by the Congress and the Akali Dal-BJP alliance are well-known.
It is clear what was at stake this year for the people of Punjab: either vote for business as usual and bring back the Congress or the Akali Dal, or look for an alternative.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), as the name suggests, is the common people’s party, a byproduct of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement of 2011 as well as volunteer work of AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal.
Critics who accuse Kejriwal of using Hazare’s movement for personal gain forget that he was conferred with the Ramon Magsaysay award (Asia’s Nobel Prize) for emergent leadership in 2006 for his involvement in a grassroots-level movement, Parivartan, which he founded in 2000.
Since 2015, AAP has been ruling Delhi and has contributed a lot toward the quality of life of the people. To name a few achievements of the AAP government in Delhi: excellent school education, reforms in water supply, power sector, health care. Specially in education, Delhi has done phenomenal work.
The election in February was an opportunity for the people of Punjab to try AAP for the next five years. Bhagwant Mann, who has been highlighting social issues since he was 19, has a clean record as a member of Parliament.
AAP ran the election by selling hope to the people of Punjab and assured them that what they are talking about is real. For a change, a party ran an election not on fake promises but on its track record. In decades a party ran for election based on what it had achieved in Delhi since 2015 and assured the electorate that it will replicate Delhi’s policies in Punjab.
As an elected official myself, the major difference I find in the United States versus India is that most common persons in United States do not have to worry about food on the table, corruption, school education, affording a car, getting a driving license, starting a business, etc. The broken governance system in Punjab prompted the people to elect AAP with a clear mandate and with high hopes.
Under Bhagwant Mann as chief minister, the Punjab government has many challenges. Some of them are: providing a clean, corruption-free government to the common people; eradicating the menace of drugs and gangs; generating employment for the youth; abolishing mafia raj (sand and liquor); Improving civic amenities like health care and education.
Punjab is India’s fourth most debt-ridden state with a deficit of more than Rs3.5 lakh crore, which is approximately 42 percent of the state GDP. We all hope the AAP government can manage this.
AAP’s performance in Punjab is important for India’s future politics. So far Chief Minister Mann’s decisions to regularize around 35,000 temporary workers, announce 25,000 more jobs, withdraw the security of VIPs, streamline legislator pension (by eliminating pension for each term they serve), compensate crop damage, and announce an anti-corruption helpline have gone down well with the people. According to my sources in Punjab, the people have started getting their day-to-day work being done without paying bribes. I hope this government can really bring about a change.
In democracy a healthy opposition party is a must at the national level. Unfortunately, there is currently no opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India. The Congress is in a shambles, for reasons of its own, including overdependence on the Gandhi family, lack of democracy and leadership at the party level.
People both in India and abroad have high hopes from the AAP government in Punjab. If AAP succeeds, it can play the role of a healthy opposition party at the national level and maybe there will be an AAP government at the Center in 2029, if not in 2024.
The success of AAP’s governance model in Punjab can help it become a strong contender for power in upcoming state elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh this year and Haryana next year.
People in Punjab and India as well as those abroad have high hopes!