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19 June, 2018

A strange political struggle

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A colonial building in Delhi has been for more than a week the scene of an unusual power struggle between two constitutional authorities, the government of India and the government of Delhi, which in popular parlance is a state but is actually a union territory. 

It was in this building that the highest colonial officer of Delhi lived before the British Indian government moved  from Kolkata to  New Delhi, built by Edwin Lutyens. It is now Raj Niwas, official residence of Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor, Anil Baijal.

On June 11, Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, went to Raj Niwas with Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Ministers Satyendra Jain and Gopal Rai. Since then they have been camping in a waiting room there in what is described as a sit-in to press for the rights of the people of Delhi. Sisodia and Jain are also on fast. 

Baijal met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who has direct responsibility for Delhi affairs, but neither of them has made any move so far to put an end to the sit-in. If the condition of the fasting ministers deteriorates, urgent intervention may become necessary.

The Raj Niwas developments perhaps have no parallel in the annals of democratic societies. But extra-constitutional activities are not new to India.

What is on is a political battle. Kejriwal is agitating against the Central government’s attitude which hinders his administration from giving effect to some policy decisions it has taken in the interest of the people.  

Delhi is one of seven Union Territories, whose administrations are amenable to Central control through the Lt-Governor, even if they have elected Assemblies. A constitutional amendment of 1991 made certain special provisions for the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, but did not change its status.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party made a clean sweep of all seven seats of NCT. However, in the following year’s Assembly elections, Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party took 67 of the 70 seats, leaving BJP with a paltry three.

Modi has still not forgotten that humiliating experience. Kejriwal had a running battle with Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung, who, he believed, was putting obstacles in his way at the Centre’s instance.

When Najeeb Jung, a former civil servant, hung up his boots Modi picked for the post Baijal, another former bureaucrat who had been associated with the pro-BJP think tank Vivekananda International Foundation since retirement. And the battle between the two constitutional functionaries continued.   

Kejriwal is a civil servant who quit the job to do public service through a non-government organisation. After taking an active part in the anti-corruption movement, he broke away to launch the AAP. Its stunning victory in Delhi raised hopes of its becoming a major national player but they did not materialise.

The AAP government’s work has produced good results in the fields of education and health and won praise nationally and internationally. After a fight with big producers, it drastically reduced electricity tariff. It also extended water supply to several hundred localities where the poor live.

Speaking at the government’s third anniversary in February Kejriwal said the Central Vigilance Commission had reported an 81 per cent reduction in corruption in the NCT in three years. He accused the Centre of using the Lt-Governor to stall his government’s legislative initiatives.

Recently Central investigators raided Kejriwal’s office and questioned him as part of a probe into an alleged assault on Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash while attending a meeting there. The immediate provocation for Kejriwal’s sit-in was  a tiff with Indian Administrative Service officials following that incident. In a letter to Modi, he sought his help to end the ‘strike’ by the officials.

The IAS Officers’ Association denied its members are on strike and released photographs showing them at work in their offices. The Kejriwal protest has become a new issue on which opposition parties can combine against Modi. Almost all opposition parties except the Congress is backing him.

Four Chief Ministers, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Andhra Pradesh’s Nara Chandrababu Naidu (Telugu Desam), Karnataka’s HD Kumaraswamy (Janata Dal-Secular) and Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan (Communist Party of India-Marxist), who were in New Delhi  for a meeting called by the Centre planned a solidarity visit to Kejriwal.  Baijal denied them permission to visit Raj Niwas,  Later they conveyed their views  to Modi. He did not respond. 

Modi cannot pretend that the matter does not concern him. .He has to intervene and resolve the issue in the interests of smooth working of the democratic system. --Gulf Tiday, Sharjah, June 19, 2018.

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