By Dushyant Shekhawat Aug. 28, 2018
#FromTheArchive: Despite tasting defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, popular AAP member Atishi came back for the assembly elections to win, proving that public service can still be a route to political success.
The 2019 elections are now looming around the corner like board examinations, and all the political parties are scrambling to get ready for the test. The Aam Aadmi Party has also started its campaign in earnest, announcing Atishi Marlena, former education advisor to Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, as its first candidate for the polls. As a topper from St Stephens, Delhi, and a Rhodes Scholar from Oxford, Marlena doesn’t fit the mould of holy man or ex-convict that typifies most Indian politicians.
But given her track record in improving Delhi’s public education system, one hopes Marlena will be able to buck the trend. In a classic case of Indian politics at work, she’s already dealing with controversy even before entering the fray: There are reports that AAP asked her to drop her last name and that all campaign material only has her first name, Atishi. According to this report, “sources claimed it was because the BJP has started targeting her, telling voters that she is a Christian.” (Marlena is actually a portmanteau of “Marx” and “Lenin”.)
While this will be the first time Marlena is contesting elections, it isn’t her first time serving the public. In her previous role as education advisor to Manish Sisodia, she received widespread praise for her hands-on approach to raising the standard of Delhi’s public schools. In a nation where too many people think of school as a place to dump their kids until they’re old enough to work or be married off, her Mega Parent-Teacher Meetings were crucial in bridging the gap between parents and faculty. She supervised the establishment of School Management Committees to forge a strong link between the schools and communities they served. In fact, the only way she could have been a bigger help to the students of Delhi would have been to pass them chits during their exams.
AAP’s fielding of Marlena as a candidate for 2019 points to her commitment toward continuing her work of improving Delhi.
Marlena’s biggest contribution to the Delhi’s education system was Mission Buniyaad – a three-month-long campaign with the goal of ensuring basic reading, writing, and mathematical skills were imparted to all students from grades III to IX. The project was launched in April this year, merely days before Marlena was dismissed from her advisor’s post by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, on the grounds that Delhi’s AAP government created her post illegally.
Perhaps her princely salary of one rupee a month was too exorbitant to justify her appointment, or maybe nobody wanted Mission Buniyaad stealing the thunder of some other flashy government initiative like Make in India or Swachh Bharat, but for all her contributions to the people of Delhi, Marlena was unceremoniously sacked.
Getting rid of a voluntary advisor is easy, but elected officials are not as easy to fire. Which is why AAP’s fielding of Marlena as a candidate for 2019 points to her commitment toward continuing her work of improving Delhi. As a Lok Sabha member, she’ll have more than just matters pertaining to education on her plate. While Marlena has proven capable before, how she tackles Delhi’s myriad problems, from declining air quality, to water shortages, and public safety will be the true test of what kind of neta she really is, and whether AAP made the right decision in fielding her.
When there’s a big test coming up, it never hurts to have a topper by your side.