Millennium Post

Diluting Delhi dialogue

A few months back in this very column your reporter had analysed the hot-button issue of statehood for Delhi becoming the centrifugal point of Centre-State relations in the coming months. Soon after he was anointed the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal in his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (the only one-to-one meeting between the two leaders so far) made it clear that the issue of statehood would be the fulcrum of the relationship between the Delhi state and Centre.

At that point of time, Delhi’s former finance secretary Shakti Sinha had a made a very pertinent observation about Delhi’s relationship with the Centre. In his remark, Sinha did not focus on the powers over Delhi Police but rather on the most pragmatic matter of funds which are needed to run the national Capital. Sinha had mentioned, “If Delhi lives within its means, it has unlimited fiscal autonomy, like any other state, but this state of affairs is dependent on its positive cash balance, which is fast drawing down. Once it tries to spend beyond its means, it loses that autonomy and becomes a subordinate office of the Home Ministry, like other UTs. If that were to happen, all financial decisions, and effectively all decisions, since you cannot even put security guards on buses without money, would become an authority of the Home Ministry, and the full-time job of Delhi’s Chief Minister and his ministries would be to run up and down the Raisina Hill as a supplicant.”

Over the years various chief ministers in the national capital, including the redoubtable Sheila Dikshit, have cried hoarse over the multiplicity of authorities in the city-state. They have also not failed to mention that the elected Delhi government did not have its way in the governing the city. Since the promises made by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the run-up to the assembly polls, that is if they were to translate into reality direly needed the infusion of great deal of funds for providing subsidised power, free water and wi-fi among other freebies, one had expected that the fight between the Centre and Delhi would be more about functional autonomy in the civil arena rather than martial matters. 

Dikshit, who won three elections in a row, beating the dreaded anti-incumbency factor twice, was clever enough to keep focus on issues of development rather than matters of law and order and cadre management of the officers. The fact that she had a Shakti Sinha and SN Sahai, both at one time part of the Vajpayee PMO, as part of her governance team spoke volumes for her administrative acumen. 

One would have expected a former bureaucrat like Arvind Kejriwal to engage Centre in the matter of statehood at the same level, if not a higher level, as Dikshit did. He would have mobilised his officialdom to be his strength to take on the Centre rather than treating them as his enemy. When Dikshit had appointed S <g data-gr-id="64">Reghunathan</g> as her principal secretary on becoming chief minister, many an arched eyebrows were raised.

<g data-gr-id="68">Reghunathan</g> was seen as the blue-eyed boy of the outgoing BJP government: having introduced the successful literacy programme in the city as its powerful education secretary. As Sheila Dikshit’s most trusted bureaucrat, <g data-gr-id="69">Reghunathan</g> conceptualised and launched the Bhagidari programme along with the Stree Shakti Programme and instituted good governance practices for everyone in the government to follow and gradually adopt. Both the programmes won international acclaim and reaped a bumper political harvest for Dikshit, not once but twice in assembly polls and as many times in the Lok Sabha polls.

Unfortunately, Kejriwal has created more enemies within his own team rather than the usual norm of having an arch nemesis on the outside. Dikshit did not have the best of relationships with Tejendra Khanna and BL Joshi, who were Lieutenant Governors during the larger part of her tenure. While the former was a hard-boiled bureaucrat, Joshi enjoyed the patronage of 10 Janpath. Both had their political ambitions but she still managed to have her way thanks to support she enjoyed within the larger bureaucratic community.

In his attempt to engage the Centre on larger issues, as the events are unfolding, it is increasingly becoming clear that Kejriwal is getting more and more unnecessarily enmeshed in the mundane matters of Delhi. The level of Centre-State engagement too is coming down the hierarchical ladder. Whereas once the Prime Minister engaged with the Chief Minister, now it is the Commissioner of Delhi who deigns to have a discussion with the Chief Minister.

The latest salvo in this protracted turf war being Anti-Corruption Branch chief MK Meena ordering an investigative probe into the tendering process for award of the contract to operate an anti-corruption helpline number. Meena in his order has sought a detailed report on whether the due procedure was followed while awarding the contract to a private firm and also questioned the competence of the agency in handling corruption-related issues.

 The Delhi Police has also issued a note to Delhi Government asking them to clarify how they arrived at the figure of 32 stab wounds in the Anand Parbat murder case when the post-mortem examination report mentioned just eight wounds. AAP leader Ashutosh was most recently heard on Twitter crying over the chief minister getting a threat from Commissioner Police on a daily basis in the form of interviews and notices. Somewhere the AAP leaders should also have to ask if the situation has been of not their making.

 The AAP government would still do <g data-gr-id="63">a great deal of</g> services to the city by changing the grammar of dialogue from being unnecessarily combative and cantankerous. It would do well to adopt a cohesive and thoughtful approach at tackling governance bottlenecks. A shrewd and intelligent politician like Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will have to re-evaluate his strategy and look for issues on which he can negotiate with the Centre in a longer and tougher dialogue. He recently cited a 2011 letter from then Home Minister P. Chidambaram explaining what a government meant in Delhi. It’s also important for Kejriwal to note in what particular context Sheila Dikshit could extract such a letter.

(The author is president Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post)
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