There is a song from a rather obscure Raj Kapoor film which goes thus: "Tumhari bhi jai, jai, hamari bhi jai, jai/ Na tum haare na hum haare" (We've both won, nobody is a loser here). After today's verdict by the Supreme Court on the issue of who is the real boss of Delhi, something similar can be said about the antagonists - Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal. In its balanced pronouncement, the apex court has not categorically ruled in favour of one or the other, telling both that they must act within the parameters outlined for them by the Constitution's Article 239AA, which defines the limitations of the powers of the L-G and the elected government of the city-state.
Arvind Kejriwal seems delighted with the judgment as it has circumscribed the L-G's authority to hold back files and policy decisions of the elected government except in the three domains earmarked for the L-G, namely land, police and law and order. The reported obstruction by the L-G of certain policy decisions of the Aam Aadmi Government of Delhi was the root of the stand-off between them. While the Supreme Court has clarified that the Lt. Governor has no right to unreasonably withhold cabinet decisions, the judges have simultaneously ruled out Kejriwal's persistent demand for granting full statehood to Delhi.
In one sense though, the apex court has said nothing new. It has only reiterated the existing norm that an elected government is the principal authority in a state administration. The confusion arises because Delhi is a state and yet not a state. It has an elected legislature in which the party commanding a majority forms a government, but its powers are restricted because the National Capital Territory is a union territory in which the writ of the centre (and therefore that of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs) is final, executed through the L-G. In an earlier order, the High Court had in fact stated that the Lt. Governor has the power to over-rule the state government in a union territory - something the state government had challenged.
Over time, instead of uncomplicating issues about the division of powers in UTs, the central government has complicated matters by creating different categories of UTs. However, in most UTs, no major political conflicts have arisen so far. Only if either the Chief Minister of the Lt. Governor is combative do conflicts arise - Delhi and Puducherry being classic examples. In the latter, Ms Kiran Bedi, a celebrated police officer from Delhi, has been at loggerheads with the elected Chief Minister. In Delhi, on the other hand, the relentlessly aggressive Arvind Kejriwal has been daggers drawn with the incumbent L-G as well as his predecessor, Mr Najeeb Jung.
Chief Minister Kejriwal is gifted with a remarkable ability for drama and indulges in the most unconventional tactics. Within weeks of becoming Chief Minister, he sat on dharna in a tent outside Rail Bhawan on the eve of Republic Day, giving anxious moments to the Armed Forces waiting to commence rehearsals on Raj Path. On that occasion, the issue of transferring two police constables was relatively minor; Kejriwal knew he had no power to transfer police officials for that is in the L-G's domain. This time, the Chief Minister and some of his colleagues entered the L-G's official residence and made his visitors' room their dharna venue for a prolonged nine days in an attempt to tame recalcitrant bureaucrats to fall in line and cooperate with ministers.
Although these actions of the Chief Minister may appear outrageous to those who believe in strictly adhering to constitutional propriety, Kejriwal's own supporters are rarely disheartened by experts' comments or media critics. And he also has an uncanny ability to generate a crisis almost out of thin air. As a former IRS officer, he has enough knowledge of the constitution to know that he cannot assume the same powers as a Chief Minister of a full-fledged state, say UP or Haryana, as long a Delhi is a union territory. He must also be aware that the present dispensation at the centre is in no mood to concede statehood to the NCT of Delhi for a host of reasons including the BJP's political differences with the Aam Aadmi Party.
So both the Chief Minister and L-G of Delhi have to reconcile to working harmoniously as directed by the top court today. How long this forced, uneasy truce will last is anybody's guess. The Chief Minister is certain to keep pushing the envelope in the bid to highlight the issue of full statehood. He is also likely to plan another set of agitations to mobilise public opinion for this demand especially as other political issues are not visible on the horizon. In order to garner support keeping the 2019 elections in mind, the Chief Minister is further likely to force another confrontation with the L-G, this time with the Narendra Modi Government as his principal target.
Kejriwal knows that the next assembly elections will not be a cakewalk for him. Despite performing well in terms of providing health, education, water and electricity supplies, AAP will face a reinvigorated BJP which was reduced to just three seats in the Delhi Assembly last time. But then, in the Lok Sabha polls, BJP riding high on the Modi wave, swept all seven parliamentary seats in the capital. With the Modi-Amit Shah duo determined to wrest maximum seats across the country, Kejriwal has to heighten confrontation with the centre in order to galvanise sympathy.
In the absence of emotive issues at present, statehood is the only option before the Aam Aadmi Party. However, its efficacy is not known. Kejriwal will have to demonstrate to the voters the tangible gains from statehood, especially as the city will face a serious funds crunch if the centre withdraws its financial cover (which it will if Delhi becomes a full-fledged state). Basically the Chief Minister desires a pliant Lt. Governor who readily concurs with populist schemes proposed by the Delhi Government, such as delivery of ration supplies to doorsteps. But two seasoned bureaucrats who have successively held office as L-G in Delhi are unlikely to oblige the Chief Minister.
In other words, Kejriwal may have exulted in his "victory"rather prematurely. In the foreseeable future, the ongoing deadlock between the Chief Minister's residence and Raj Niwas may continue as long as two politically antagonistic parties retain power in the state and the centre respectively.
(Dr. Chandan Mitra is a journalist, currently Editor of The Pioneer Group of Publications. He is also former BJP MP, Rajya Sabha.)
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