DHARNA: For the first time in the history of democratic governance in the country, a chief minister and his cabinet colleagues, were force to undertake a sit-in strike in the reception area of the LG’s office, with two senior ministers hospitalized following their hunger strike
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
The babus of Delhi, with the support of Lt Governor Anil Bhaijal, acting under instruction from Narendra Modi, paralysed the administration over as sensitive issue as delivering rations at the door step of the poor. The Modi government has been frustrating the functioning of the AAP government which was elected by an almost total majority — getting 68 of the 70 seats in the Legislative Assembly
WHy wereChief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Cabinet colleagues on a sit-in protest, some of them on fast, in the waiting room of the office of the Lt Governor of New Delhi, Anil Baijal? This is comparable to the newly returned Manohar Parrikar and all his Cabinet colleagues holding a hartal in the waiting room of the Goa Governor Mridula Sinha.
Kejriwal and his deputy Sisodia were waiting for an appointment with the head of state, which normally is the Lt Governor in a union territory, not for eight minutes or eight hours but for eight days! This could even have happened in Goa before 1987 when it became the state if the governor had belonged to rival party and was hostile to the ruling group. The complaint of the Delhi CM was that the babus of Delhi are on strike and were refusing to carry out his orders under the instruction of Home Minister Rajnath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Even though Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP party won the elections for the Delhi Assembly by an over whelming majority, having bagged 68 of the 70 seats wiping out the Congress and the BJP, ever since Modi came to power as prime minister in Delhi the government has not been allowed to function. The government which has the support of the people is not allowed to fulfill its promises of bijli, pani and sehat because Modi and company don’t want them to succeed. Never mind that the World Health Organization has praised the ambitious ‘Mohalla Clinics’ project started by AAP. And parents of children are very grateful to Kejriwal who has banned donations and reduced the backload of primary and KG kids going to school.
To understand the crisis one has to explain why though Kejriwal is the chief minister of Delhi with no Opposition in the Assembly, he is not able to perform his duties. Unlike in the case of States, which are independent of the Centre and can take their own decisions on matters in the state list of the Constitution which includes health, education and law and order, Union Territories are under the control of Home Minister Rajnath Sinha. Laws passed by a Union Territory Assembly have to be approved by the Lt Governor, who is appointed by the Central Government in power.
Until 1987 Goa was also a Union Territory in which every decision taken by the government and the Assembly had to be approved by the Lt Governor, the agent of the Centre. Effectively this meant that the IAS officers, who come under the Home Ministry, were maharajas.
I remember a former Chief Secretary of Goa telling me that he enjoyed much more power and responsibility when he was Collector of Goa in the Union Territory days than during his days as Chief Secretary of the State of Goa.
In the case of Delhi there is another complication. Law and order, which means the police, is under the Central government, Delhi being the capital of the country. Similarly, the courts are also under the Central government. So if Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Sinha want to, they can arrest and file cases against Kejriwal and his colleagues any time they want to. There have been many cases filed on the AAP minister. Except for a couple of defamation cases in which Kejriwal settled the matter, all have been dismissed by the courts.
It all started because Kejriwal tried to break the monopoly of the distribution companies (discoms) which are companies which distribute power to the national capital. Kejriwal found that the powerful discoms, which included Reliance, were overcharging the people of Delhi. AAP had promised free electricity to slum dwellers in Delhi and cheap power for the poor. When the AAP government filed cases against industrialists like Anil Ambani, who were close to Modi, war was declared.
The second provocation for the standoff between Kejriwal and Modi was AAP’s decision to appoint 14 Parliamentary secretaries to ensure that there would be no revolt.
Having won 68 of 70 seats Kejriwal had to keep the MLAs happy and prevent them from wandering to the BJP or the Congress. The number of ministers is limited to 10% of the members of the Legislative Assembly. So only seven elected members could be included in the Cabinet. To satisfy more MLAs Kejriwal created the post of Parliamentary Secretaries. He made one mistake and did not exempt the post of Parliamentary Secretaries from the office of profit. Elected MLAs and MPs are banned from occupying any office of profit in the government except if they are specifically excluded from the list of all those considered offices of profit.
Even Sonia Gandhi who was the chairperson of the Nehru Centre, was forced to resign her post as MP and re-contest and win the elections. Fortunately for Kejriwal the Delhi HC upheld the appointment of the Parliamentary Secretaries as they did not receive any salaries or other benefits.
The latest provocation for the war between the babus and Kejriwal was the allegation that colleagues of the Chief Minister had attacked the Chief Secretary of Delhi.
Apparently some AAP MLAs were very angry about the constant breakdown of power in their areas. Kejriwal summoned the Chief Secretary to his official residence where there were some AAP ministers and MLAs. In the argument between the AAP minister and the Chief Secretary the latter got pushed around and may have got minor injuries.
The Chief Secretary was of course most upset as top bureaucrats are always treated with great respect by the chief minister of any State or Union Territory. When he claimed that he was beaten up, all the officers went on strike. They refused to accept the files sent by the ministers or sign them. This brought the government to a halt.
While in theory it is the chief minister and the ministers who are supposed to decide on all policies, in practice they cannot sign even the appointment letter of their own personal assistant or peon. The chief minister and other ministers cannot function without officials because even if a tap in a bathroom attached to their chamber gets spoiled, an official has to sign and sanction money for repairs.
In practice, of course, since the future of officials depends on confidential reports of their bosses and they want to share in the loot and plunder, officials are usually anxious to please and sign whatever the minister wants them to do. But the system of checks and balances stipulates that the minister must sign the file before the official issues the order. All orders, including the order for the appointment of the chief secretary and the DG of police, are issued not by the minister but by the secretary or the undersecretary of the department concerned who is like an upper division clerk. In a way nobody has more power in the government than the undersecretary.
To counter the strike by the officials Kejriwal and his cabinet went on strike, sitting in the reception area of the LG waiting to ask him to order the officials to reports back to work. Obviously, under the instructions from Modi, the LG refused to see them. In fact he decided to work from home, although as both the official and ministers are on strike, its doubtful he had any work to do.
The officials were claiming that they are not on strike but cannot carry out order of the ministers as they have not taken the permission of the LG.
Delhi is the only State in the country where the ruling party has a much bigger majority than even the BJP at the Centre but is not allowed to work. Which is why the recent stand-off is being called a Constitutional crisis.
The only solution is to make Delhi a state so that the chief minister has full power and does not have to dance to the tunes of Modi and Rajnath Sinha. It is high time Modi learnt that he is not the baadshah or a Mughal emperor and he should respect the democratic rights of the people of Delhi who voted AAP to power in 68 of the 70 seats in the Legislative Assembly, a 97% success rate, which even Modi could not achieve.