What cities want

AAP's success could help begin a long overdue conversation on urban politics and governance.

The eye-catching success of Delhi's new chief minister-to-be may have something to offer to the rest of India. Arvind Kejriwal and his party have little experience of traditional politics or governance, but they have the unique experience of having crafted a new mobilisation in the city, and having an immediate understanding of the most burning urban concerns. The AAP might resist being described as an "urban party" because that confines its ambitions. And yet, it is one of the few successful political movements to emerge out of a city, destroying myths about the listless urban voter and the electoral appeal of an issue like public corruption. Could this triumph set the template for a new kind of urban politics?

Census data shows that India is urbanising sharply, and now almost a third of India lives in its cities. The edges between rural and urban are blurring. Yet, political parties have been slow to respond to the city's needs, for a variety of reasons. First, it is more difficult for citizens' demands to travel upwards, given that urban decentralisation has been an afterthought, and much less successful than rural self-government. The representation ratio between citizens and leaders is about ten times larger in cities on average, making the state that much more distant. Ward committees and corporations do not reflect the desires of most citizens. While Delhi is an exception, being a pampered city-state, other metropolises are much worse off. With Mumbai and Bangalore, for example, governance rests with state governments who view them mainly as a site of extraction. There are multiple criss-crossing agencies without accountability, and the state's political executive is not particularly invested in the city's welfare, because there aren't enough MLAs to press its case. While both the Congress and the BJP have benefited, nationally, from the urban upsurge, they have not given cities priority attention.

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