Tuesday, August 16th, 2022 05:04:28

Kejriwal’s Real Game Plan

Updated: May 29, 2015 11:04 pm

When the people of Delhi gave an unthinkable mandate early this year to Arvind Kejriwal and his Aaam Admi Party (that began in 2013 essentially as an anti-corruption pressure group) by comprehensively rejecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pleas for his Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)—the AAP won 67 seats for the 70-member Legislative Assembly—few had anticipated that the new Chief Minister of Delhi would be spending almost all his energy in fighting with the Lt. Governor (LG) Najeeb Jung(and through him the central government) on some pretext or the other. These days, they are fighting over who in fact should control Delhi’s senior civil servants and police. The other day, Kejriwal locked the room of a senior civil servant, who, according to him, defied his order and prepared an office note as directed by the LG to appoint a lady officer as the acting Chief Secretary of Delhi. Kejriwal did not like the lady at all because of her alleged proximity to one leading business house of the country that is distributing electricity in India’s national capital. Subsequently, the LG annulled all the bureaucratic reshuffles that Kejriwal had made.

The tussle between Kejriwal and Jung may be crossing the point of civility, but it is certainly not a case of ego clashes between the two as many, including the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, tend to believe. The issue is not simply bureaucratic or legalistic. It has serious political dimensions. In fact, it is essentially political. And the very fact that it is political, the issue has more to do with Kejriwal than Jung.

After all, Kejriwal is not the first Chief Minister of Delhi. The national capital got the semi statehood with a Legislative Assembly (and hence a Chief Minister) in 1993 when the Congress party was leading the central government. In the subsequent elections, the BJP formed the first government. Since then both the BJP and Congress were ruling the capital (in fact, most of the time by the Congress) until the emergence of the Kejriwal phenomenon in 2013. But all these years, one never saw a Chief Minister fighting with the Lt. Governor, an appointee of the central government, over turfs. Both knew their respective jurisdictions and interacted accordingly.

There are some fundamental facts about how Delhi is governed. Delhi is not a full-fledged State; it remains essentially a Union Territory, despite having an elected Chief Minister, a la Pondicherry. It has three municipal territories, each under a Mayor, selected by the councilors to the municipality, who, in turn, are also directly elected by the people of Delhi to look after the civic issues. There are certain areas of Delhi—housing the central government establishments, Parliament and the military cantonment—that are directly controlled by the Union Home and Defence Ministries; in their boards of governance, the Chief Minister is just a member.

And then we have the elected Delhi government for “the whole capital territory of Delhi”, which like any other State of the country, deals with the issues listed in the “State List” of the Indian Constitution, that is, issues that a State government can govern and legislate on (The Central List of issues is reserved for the Central government); but then there three exceptions. One, unlike the Chief Minister of a full-fledged State, the Delhi Chief Minister does not have any power over Delhi’s “Lands, Police and Public Order”. These are directly dealt with by the Lt. Governor. One may also add here the fact that unlike the case in any other normal State, Delhi has no civil servants of its own; its senior officers belong to the Union Territories Cadre. And since they serve during their service careers in two or three places other than Delhi, they cannot be accountable solely to the Delhi government. It is the central government (in effect the Lt. Governor) they are responsible and accountable to.

The second exception is that unlike other State Assemblies which are supreme in their areas of jurisdictions as per the federal division of powers in the country, the Indian Parliament can always make laws even on the subjects that are meant for the Delhi Legislative Assembly. And what is more, if any provision of a law made by the Legislative Assembly with respect to any matter is repugnant to any provision of a law made by Parliament with respect to that matter, whether passed before or after the law made by the Legislative Assembly, or of an earlier law, other than a law made by the Legislative Assembly, then, in either case, the law made by Parliament, or, as the case may be, such earlier law, shall prevail and the law made by the Legislative Assembly shall, to the extent of the repugnancy, be void.

The third exception is two-fold. One is that before introducing any Bill in the Delhi Assembly, the Delhi government must secure the approval of the central government. And the other provision is that in case the Lt. Governor is dissatisfied with any decision of the Delhi government (Chief Minister), he or she may refer the matter to the President of India (in effect, this means the Union Home Ministry) for a decision; but “pending such a decision, the LG can, in case of an urgency, take immediate action”.

Viewed thus, in the present controversy, Kejriwal does not have a case indeed. He may have been elected overwhelmingly by the people of Delhi, but that does not give him any authority, something he and his supporters are claiming, to change the constitutional arrangement under which Delhi is governed. As we have seen, even the people of Delhi elect their municipal councilors, but that does not mean that they will demand to take over the jobs meant for Kejriwal. The point is that Kejriwal is not like the Chief Minister of a normal State of India. He has lesser authority and power. But he does not realise the limitations of a Delhi Chief Minister.

Of course, making Delhi a full-fledged State was one of Kejriwal’s important promises to the electorate. But then, that has been the case with both the BJP and the Congress when in opposition. Once in power neither the BJP nor the Congress insists on making that promise a priority. Because, realistically speaking, no central government will ever make Delhi a full-fledged State. If it is ever made one then Delhi will create world history. No national capital of any country—Rome, Paris, London, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing or Washington DC, just to illustrate few —whether at present or in the past, has been a city-state that is not exactly under the control of the central or federal government. No nation can, in fact, afford that. All told, as the global window of a country, a capital city has both national and international functions and that is why it is better to be under the control of the central government which has both national and international responsibilities.

Almost all other national capitals are comfortable with a strong city government under, of course, powerful Mayors, some of whom, as in London, have Police under them. Some of these capitals do also send representatives, as in Delhi, to the national Parliament, a right not conferred, however, on the people of Washington DC, which, in fact, is treated as a federal district (District of Columbia) under the control of US Congress. The citizens of the world’s most powerful capital do not have representatives in the US Congress, their electoral power confined only to the polls for the US Presidency (they elect two members to the electoral college for choosing the President).

I am sure that a shrewd man that he is, Kejriwal knows in the heart of his hearts that Delhi is not going to be a full-fledged State. Then what his fuss all about? In my considered view, Kejriwal is not only shrewd but also highly ambitious. His ultimate aim is to rule over Delhi, not as the Chief Minister but as the Prime Minister. He is going to make the life of the Modi-led central government really miserable on some pretext or the other—today it is over the control of the bureaucracy, tomorrow it will be over the grant of more central money so that he will be distributing freebies to the people, and day after it will be violent agitation on the streets to grant Delhi the full statehood. And there will so much chaos in the process that Kejriwal will pray that the Modi government dismisses him as the Chief Minister. In that eventuality he will be a martyr and occupy the prime space in the opposition by attracting all the non-BJP parties all over the country to rally behind him. Kejriwal’s real ambition is to become “the” alternative to Modi in the next general elections.

That time it will not be Narendra Modi vs. Rahul Gandhi; it will be Narendra Modi vs. Arvind Kejriwal.

The Congress scion, better watch out.


By : Prakash Nanda

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