MOCKERY OF DEMOCRACY: Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and three Delhi ministers have been on dharna at Lt Governor’s house since Monday
By Brinda Karat
That the elected Chief Minister of the National Capital territory of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, should be forced to take the unusual step of staging a sit-in dharna inside the office of Lt. Governor Anil Baijal, has not moved the Central government to intervene and ensure that the LG opens a reasonable dialogue to redress the legitimate issues raised by the Chief Minister. The LG has refused to discuss the issues, leave alone give an assurance of resolution. The LG functions as the representative of the Central government and presumably his adamant and arrogant approach to the elected Chief Minister of Delhi reflects that of the regime he represents.
The immediate issue is the refusal of officers of the Delhi government to fulfil their duties and cooperate with the elected AAP government. The spokesperson of the IAS Officers Association, Manisha Srivastava, who even while claiming that officers were not on strike and had in fact prepared the budget papers and answers to questions in the Assembly, admitted that “the officers are not attending routine meetings called by the ministers and the chief minister.” In other words, they are refusing to fulfil their duties.
The animosity of the IAS officers to the AAP government in this instance is attributed to the dispute with Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash who accused two AAP MLAs of manhandling him in the Chief Minister’s presence at his residence in February this year. The Chief Minister and the AAP MLAs disputed the charge. Matters escalated. There could have been better ways to tackle it by the AAP leadership, which is why they did not get much public support at the time. But as it was, the Delhi police, which works directly under the LG, filed an FIR, the accused MLAs were arrested and were in jail for two weeks before they got bail. The Chief Minister and his deputy were cross-examined by the police for several hours in the case. This itself is unprecedented. In any case, the matter is now before the court. But in spite of this, if the entire group of officers defy the state government, it is because they have the patronage of the LG and the Central government.
Ever since the sweeping victory of AAP in Delhi, the Central government has done everything to sabotage the work of the AAP government using the office of the LG under the earlier incumbent, and now, more directly and aggressively under the present LG. Barely a few months after the State Assembly elections, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification in May 2015 that appropriated for the Central government rights of the Delhi Government to transfer or post personnel in the services and also took away control of the Anti-Corruption Bureau. The then LG strongly enforced this directive, cancelling appointments and selecting personnel suited to the interests of the Central government. This undeclared war on even the limited autonomy of the state government under the present set-up also sent a strong message to bureaucrats working in the capital to recognize who their boss is.
Unfortunately, the blatant encroachment on the rights of the State government was legitimised by the surprisingly one-sided judgement of the Delhi High Court in August 2016 on the petition filed by the state government. It upheld the LG as the “administrative” head of Delhi and completely devalued the status of an elected government, calling its acts “unconstitutional and illegal.” The matter then went to the Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court which completed its hearings in December 2017 but reserved its judgement. This is the present “legal” position.
It is in this context that the demand for legislation to grant full statehood to Delhi has an immediate relevance. The demand is not new. But what is new is the extent of the hypocrisy being displayed by the BJP.
The attitude of the BJP to a particular issue before its government is not on the merits of the issue but based on a calculation of whether it will help its partisan interest and if not, the merit be damned. The demand for statehood for Delhi has long been a demand of the BJP. But now that it is the AAP in power, the calculation is that it will help the AAP government, so it has no hesitation in doing a complete u-turn on the issue.
One of the main promises made by the BJP in the Lok Sabha campaign in 2014 was that if voted to power, Delhi would get full statehood. After the victory and the BJP’s sweep of all seven seats in Delhi, the then head of the BJP Delhi unit, Harsh Vardhan, had said “the first issue we will take up with Narendra Modi-ji as PM will be to grant full statehood to Delhi.” Four years later, the present BJP Delhi unit chief, Manoj Tewari says “the present federal structure is flexible enough to cater to the developmental needs of the city.”
It was under the Vajpayee government that a bill for statehood for Delhi was moved in parliament by his deputy and the country’s Home Minister, LK Advani, in 2003. It lapsed under the UPA government. However, when the AAP government moved a somewhat similar bill in the State Assembly, the BJP strongly opposed it.
The BJP has been helped by the Congress party unit in Delhi which seems to have lost a sense of balance in its all-out campaign and criticism of the AAP government without uttering a single word against the Modi government’s authoritarian actions and mockery of cooperative federalism. This only reminds people of the similarity in the basic policies of the BJP and Congress which at the present juncture amounts to a series of self-goals by the Congress in Delhi.
The people of Delhi have suffered because of the multiplicity of authorities, their concerns and rights being kicked around like a football between the Centre and the State government. There is no accountability to the people of Delhi by either. Each blames the other for reneging on promises. Yet, accountability to the people is surely the core of good governance. But this set-up with a bureaucrat selected by the Central government as its “administrative head” is like a colonial regime where the Viceroy has all the powers but is answerable only to the monarch.
Unfortunately, the strategy of AAP in its current agitation is rather narrow in that it has pitched the issue as a party-based one rather than involving a much wider section of citizens of the capital in the battle to win more rights for Delhi as a full-fledged state. Nevertheless, the democratic demand for statehood for Delhi, long advocated by the Left, should be supported; equally, the dictatorial actions of the Central government and its administrative representative must be opposed. The issue is relevant and urgent not just for residents of Delhi but for all those who believe in the federal structure of our country as envisaged and mandated by the constitution.
Modi-ji has maintained a deafening silence through all this. More than individual fitness videos for which he has time, the tag for the Prime Minister is “Democracy fit toh India fit”, but he is spectacularly failing this challenge.