LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh — Two weeks after launching the Aam Aadmi Party’s campaign for the 2022 Assembly election from the temple town of Ayodhya, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia was back in Uttar Pradesh, exhorting people to make education the issue in the upcoming state polls.
At a town hall on education in UP, organized by AAP in Prayagraj, formerly Allahabad, Sisodia said, “The biggest mistake we have made since Independence is not working on education… any country that wants to move ahead has to work on education…When Arvind Kejriwal became CM for the first time, the first thing he told me to do was to make schools.”
Despite the persistent refrain — UP is not Delhi — AAP, which will contest its first Assembly election in India’s largest state, is urging voters to consider its governance model in Delhi — free electricity, better education, and more CCTV cameras to boost security. After spending a quarter of the national capital’s 50,000 crore budget on education, Kejriwal, in the 2020 Delhi election, had urged its residents to vote on education. Last month, The Times of India reported that about 2.4 lakh students studying in private schools in Delhi had applied for admission in Delhi government schools.
At the town hall in UP, Sisodia said that AAP would spend a quarter of the state budget — approximately five lakh crore — on education if they came to power. In its fifth and final budget, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party allocated 13.3% of its total expenditure for education in 2021-22, which, according to PRS India, is lower than the average allocation (15.8%) for education by all states.
In this conversation, we spoke with Sisodia about the unusual choice of organising a town hall on education in an election campaign for UP, a state where factors like caste and religion ultimately decide which party wins, and whether the three-time MLA believes it was really an issue that people would vote on.
You are back in UP, trying to get people to make education an election issue.
As I said in the town hall, if we are to dream about the development of Uttar Pradesh, we cannot dream without making education a priority. Development is not possible without education. Education is an election issue. We want to tell people that you can vote to improve the schools that you send your children to. UP has a legacy of quality education. The problem is not a lack of quality teachers. The only missing thing is political will. What happened in Delhi? In 2013, Kejriwal ji came to power and he prioritized it. The example of the last seven years in Delhi is that if the political party in power prioritizes education then things can change. Wonders can happen.
We want to tell people that you can vote to improve the schools that you send your children to.
What is wrong with education in UP?
It is not one point. There is a lot of corruption in education in UP. They ate up the money of Kasturba Gandhi school during Covid. They ate up the money from midday meal schemes. They then jailed the reporter who reported it. Second, there is no vision. It is not enough to open two good schools. As the government, you have to ensure that each child gets a quality education. You have to guarantee that. In Delhi, we have guaranteed that. We have got schools where the sky’s the limit of competition and quality, but in every school, we have a bottom line. We guarantee a minimal quality of education in every school. The same is required in UP, whether it is a private school or a government school. If a class 6 or 7 student is not able to read a class 2 book, it is a shame.
As the government, you have to ensure that each child gets a quality education.
Education is still regarded as a “soft” election issue. Do you really believe in a caste-ridden and religiously polarised state like UP, people will think about voting on education?
In Delhi, people showed that people vote on education. When we fought the first time, the issue was corruption. The CM said that corruption-free India is a means, it is not the target. When you have a corruption-free government, you have to work for health, education, and development. In the second election, education was one of the biggest reasons that the Aam Aadmi Party won the election by a thumping majority in Delhi. The problem that people in UP are facing is that they don’t have options. There is an A party and a B party. A talks about one religion and caste, B talks about another religion and caste. Things have gotten stuck. But we are giving people an option — the Aam Aadmi Party is talking about health and education.
A talks about one religion and caste, B talks about another religion and caste.
UP is not Delhi.
We hear this so often. We hear that things are easier in Delhi. Things differ from state to state and city to city. There are many problems in Delhi as well. We are not able to get land in Delhi. Our budget is 50,000 crore. In UP, the budget is 5.5 lakh crore. UP has its own challenges. Delhi has its own challenges.
When we think of AAP, we don’t think its leaders would go to Ayodhya and take the blessings from sadhu-sants in an election campaign.
There is nothing wrong with being religious. But to discriminate on the basis of religion is dirty politics. Unfortunately, the BJP discriminates against people on the basis of religion. We have religion in our hearts. I follow Lord Ram. I have done Ganga maiya aarti at the Sangam. I also have religious feelings, but I don’t discriminate or hate other people because of that feeling. BJP does hate politics. Everyone should practice their faith. And everyone’s kids should get a good education. That is our dream and our politics.
You are seeing BJP’s Hindutva and nationalism agenda, but altering what it means.
BJP is hypocritical. They are talking about Ram, but what about what happened in Mainpuri, where the utensils of Dalit children were kept separately, and the cooks had refused to serve him. Five years after they came to power, BJP has not been able to get the message of equal rights for all to the grassroots. The Mainpuri kind of discrimination cannot happen unless there is some space to do these things. It would not happen if you would hang the culprits upside down.
Is UP a tough state to contest in? What will be your measure for success?
The same thing was being said in 2013 and 2015 (for Delhi). In 2013, we came with a little less majority. In 2015, we came with a larger majority. We know that if we tell people that a new party will come and make a government, it may seem odd to hear, but we hope for the tide to change. We also know that when people change, they change very quickly. The Congress-ruled for 15 years in Delhi, but they have got zero seats in the last three elections. BJP is in power in the Center, going strong in the country, but it rolled up in three seats in Delhi. When people change their minds to the right thing, no one can stop them. There are always opportunities in politics. We are trying our level best day and night. But eventually, it is the people who will decide whether the politics of education will win over the politics of hate.
We hope for the tide to change.
Will you ask for votes on caste and religion?
We will only ask for votes on education. I want to tell the people of UP that you have the power to improve schools and change the education system of the state with your vote. Consider the rich legacy of the state. There was a time when Allahabad, now Prayagraj, gave the country so many IAS officers that the Chief Secretaries of many states in the country were from UP. Kashi used to be a word associated with wisdom. ‘You have studied from Kashi’ — people would say. UP has been a hub for wisdom and knowledge but unfortunately, there was no political will to improve the education available to children. When AAP comes to power, we will do it.
You have the power to improve schools and change the education system of the state with your vote.
AAP has had a mixed bag of wins and losses while trying to expand outside Delhi. How do you pick yourself up after a loss?
It is our first time-fighting in UP. We have had some success in the zila panchayat election. The first time that we fought in Punjab, we got four MPs (2014). The second time that we fought in Punjab (2017), we got 20 MLAs. For a new party like AAP, we have been doing well.
In Punjab, do you feel recent events have buoyed AAP’s chances in the election next year.
AAP will form the government in Punjab after the elections happen in February. AAP is the biggest alternative that people have today.
The Congress Party debacle helps you.
Congress is exposed. They keep saying this satta (authority) and that satta. They don’t care about Punjab.