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26 May, 2015

Strange power games in Delhi

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A tussle is on in Delhi between the Central government headed by Bharatita Janata Party’s Narendra Modi and the administration of the National Capital Territory headed by Aam Admi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal. 

It was Kejriwal who put an end to Modi’s unbroken run of electoral victories. Modi had led his party to convincing victories in all Assembly elections held after he became Prime Minister except the one in Delhi. 

During the colonial period, Delhi, of which New Delhi, the national capital, is a part, was directly under the British Indian government. Under the Constitution which came into force in 1950, as a Union Territory, it remained under the Central government.

The Union Territory of Delhi had a council of ministers headed by a Chief Minister from 1952 to 1956. Thereafter the Centre ran it with the help of officials. In the 1990s, in response to popular demand for statehood, it was renamed the National Capital Territory of Delhi and given a Council of Ministers responsible to an elected Assembly with limited powers.

Under the new dispensation, the BJP ruled the state for five years. Thereafter the Congress was in power for 15 years, winning three elections in a row. In 2013, the BJP emerged as the largest party in the Assembly but could not muster enough support to chalk up a majority. Kejriwal formed an AAP government with the support of the Congress, which had been pushed down to the third place. The government lasted barely 100 days.

When fresh elections were held last February after a spell of President’s rule, the AAP won hands down: it picked up 67 of the 70 Assembly seats. The resounding victory was the result of a consolidation of non-BJP votes behind it. The Congress vote dropped so low that it could not win a single seat.

Since the BJP had made a clean sweep of all seven Lok Sabha seats of Delhi in last year’s parliamentary elections, it thought it would have an easy victory. Though Modi, as usual, campaigned vigorously, the party could get only three seats. The humiliating reverse apparently still rankles in him.

Kejriwal, who is given to theatrics, had staged street protests during his first term as Chief Minister. He began his second term by expelling from the party activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan and psephologist Yogendra Yadav, who were his closest associates since he broke away from anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare to enter politics, saying one had to get into the system to reform it.

Kejriwal did not start the present fracas, and he is not in direct confrontation with Modi. It all began with Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor, Najeeb Jung, appointing Shakuntala Gamlin as Acting Chief Secretary overlooking his wishes.

Kejriwal, who has been trying to pressure the Ambanis and other business groups into reducing power rates, accused Gamlin of siding with the firms. He also relieved the Principal Secretary (Services), who had issued her appointed order, and locked his office.

Jung hit back. He asserted that he alone had the power to appoint officers and cancelled all appointments made by Kejriwal. 

At this stage the Centre intervened and issued a notification vesting full powers over appointment of Delhi state bureaucrats in the Lt-Governor. It also used the opportunity to curb the powers of the Anti-Corruption Bureau which the Kejriwal government had set up. This made it clear that it was motivated by considerations other than posting of bureaucrats.

The BJP was until recently an ardent advocate of full statehood for Delhi. It has now given up that position and is seeking to rule by proxy the state which rejected it convincingly in the elections.

Delhi has a population of about 11 million. There is, no doubt, force in the argument that as the seat of the central government Delhi has to be treated on a different basis from the other states. However, the democratic rights of its citizens need to be protected. It is absurd to suggest that that the Centre’s interests will be in jeopardy if the democratically elected government of Delhi has administrative control over its officers and is able to act against corrupt elements.

Both Jung and Kejriwal have raised the issue before President Pranab Mukherji. Since the issue involves interpretation of the constitutional and legal position, the Supreme Court is the right forum to resolve the issue. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 26, 2015.

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