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Debate revived: Delhi statehood

After a referendum in the city-state, there will be renewed agitation from July 1.

Debate revived: Delhi statehood

Twin goals of Delhi impasse

The recent sit-in agitation by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi is less for its immediate reasons and more for Delhi statehood and non-Congress non-BJP federal front. Now that there is an uneasy truce between the Lt Governor and IAS officers on one side and the elected government on the other, the ruling party in the city-state, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is going ahead with a huge rally to demand Delhi Statehood on July 1, Sunday, at the Indira Gandhi Stadium of Delhi, and is going to make it their major electoral plank in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2020 Vidhan Sabha elections. The AAP volunteers have also embarked upon a door-to-door campaign to get one million Delhi citizens to ratify the demand of statehood.

The 2015 AAP Manifesto notes this promise with regards to statehood, "Acting within the Constitutional framework our government will use its moral and political authority to push for full statehood for Delhi. This will ensure that institutions such as the DDA, MCD, and Delhi Police will be accountable to the elected government of Delhi. This way land will be made available for the common man, there will be greater synchronisation and shared purpose among civic services with regard to service delivery and the law and order machinery will be accountable to the citizens."

To this end, the AAP government has passed a resolution in the state Assembly calling for full statehood and passing a draft bill for the same; Kejriwal had called for a referendum in the city-state, and a renewed agitation now starts from July 1 ahead.

The draft bill passed by the Assembly says that Delhi being the national capital can be divided into two parts. What is commonly known as Lutyens' Delhi and is administratively governed by the NDMC Act should be under the direct control of the Central government, given the sensitivities involved and the experience of national capitals world over. This resolution also notes that the rest of Delhi can no longer be denied its right to full statehood. The bill introduced by then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, LK Advani, in the Lok Sabha on August 18, 2003, and fully endorsed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, then headed by Pranab Mukherjee, has to be the guiding document.

Interestingly, 2009 and 2014 Delhi Assembly polls manifestos of Congress and BJP also included the promise of Delhi statehood on similar lines. While Congress continued with its promise in 2015 polls too, though could not win a single seat in the Assembly, BJP changed its stance in 2015. It decided to not release a manifesto for the Delhi Assembly polls and instead released a 'vision document.' The indecision over Delhi statehood was the real reason behind the vision document. BJP leaders then said that there were 'practical difficulties' in bringing up the Delhi statehood especially when the party was in power at the Centre. The contentious issue of providing law and order and land acquisition rights to Delhi were some of the factors that forced BJP to not pursue the issue.

The reason for both the BJP and Congress to oppose statehood at this juncture appears to be that both these established parties have a common goal in ensuring that the AAP government fails in Delhi so that these two could bounce back.

Fundamental Constitutional questions

The cardinal questions that AAP government's continued conflict with the Centre has thrown up are fundamental to the functioning of an electoral democracy. Does an elected government have the right to make policies and implement them? Do bureaucrats have the right to strike work just to embarrass a particular government? Most importantly, what good are elections when elected representatives are rendered powerless and held hostage by a non-elected government nominee?

The Delhi state is governed by elected state government, nominated Lt Governor, Delhi Development Authority under LG, SDMC under Centre, all land under Central Urban Development Ministry, Delhi Police under Central Home Ministry, services of all staff under Central Home Ministry, Delhi Cantonment under Defence Ministry, and civic affairs under other Municipal Corporations. This maze of multiple agencies, with overlapping authorities as well, is a natural breeding ground for misgovernance, miscommunication, and non-cooperation stalling work. The petition of the AAP government pending before the Supreme Court with regards to demarcation of rights, responsibilities and authorities of the elected state government and the nominated LG may hopefully see some action now. The issue needs to be settled once and for all to enforce rule of law and avoid chaos.

Response of the opposition

This may well turn out to be a significant moment for AAP to ramp up the Centre-state battle, transforming it into a full-fledged political and Constitutional confrontation. Interestingly, unlike the last time around during the Kejriwal dharna of the winter of 2014, this time in the summer of 2018, a plethora of regional parties, significantly SP, RJD, JDU, JDS, RLD, NCP, TMC, TDP, TRS, DMK, CPI and CPM have expressed complete support to the agitation of AAP, and Congress is understandably seen on the same side of BJP.

Paradoxically, despite leaning towards a broad united front against BJP, Congress continues to treat AAP as a political pariah. This stems from the fact that AAP has decimated Congress to come to power, is the major challenger of Congress in Punjab, and is focussing on building its organisation bottoms-up in states which are bipolar between Congress and BJP and is hence a short-term adversary for Congress first there. But, the current stoicism of Congress would rather make it suspect in the eyes of various regional parties and is not in the interests of its 2019 plans.

Sheila to Kejriwal: Some Constitutional differences

Dikshit's party was in power in Delhi and at the Centre for 10 years. Also, she could have the LGs of her choice, and most importantly, she had not faced the May 21, 2015 notification issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, barely three months after the AAP won 67 of 70 seats in Delhi Assembly. This MHA notification took away services and the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) from Delhi government — meaning all transfers and postings and the ACB were placed under the direct control of the LG (meaning the Central government).

On August 4, 2016, the Delhi High Court interpreted this notification to rule that the LG is the administrator of Delhi and the aid and advice of Council of Ministers is not binding on him. Could those who amended the Constitution to pave the way for an elected Vidhan Sabha in Delhi through the 69th amendment in 1991 have ever imagined such a state of affairs? This matter will finally be settled by the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, where the arguments concluded on December 6, 2017, and the judgment has been reserved.

Democracy makes the electorate say the final word

The sinister designs of the Centre through the recent non-cooperation of the IAS officers with the elected government et al, seem to be moving towards a massive anti-democratic angle. Do not let the Delhi government work. Then it will not be able to deliver on its electoral promises and be voted out in the next electoral cycle. The Central government wants to make the citizens of Delhi believe that that the Delhi government would not be allowed to function with AAP at its helm, and that voting for AAP is going to be what psephologists could call a wasted vote. A Central government sabotaging all works of a state government, at this scale and with all possible means, is unprecedented.

However, a lot would depend on what the citizens of Delhi do. Would they give in to this coercion? Would they be ready to suffer for another five years by voting the current government in? Would they uphold the ideals of a democracy that our forefathers enshrined in our Constitution? Will Delhi show the way to the entire country? Or is Delhi just another capital that favours establishment, and political and moral corruption?

If the citizens of Delhi decide to vote out the present Delhi government, it would only prove that democracy is not just dead, but that it never really existed in essence because democracy is actually all about co-existence of competitive ideologies and strategies. Bereft of that, it is nothing but fascism of one variety or the other.

(The author is a distinguished media academic and columnist, previously Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Ujjwal K Chowdhury

Ujjwal K Chowdhury

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