Dents to democracy
Though the dent between the Centre and state has been sealed in Delhi, questions of obstructing governance and disrupting citizen convenience loom large.
Through its verdict in the matter of division of powers between the Delhi Government and the Lieutenant Governor, the Supreme Court has corrected a serious dent caused to our democracy; and, in unambiguous terms, reiterated that people are sovereign and their powers exercised through the elected representatives and the Council of Ministers cannot be usurped by anyone.
The long-awaited judgement has rekindled hopes among the hapless people of Delhi for the creation of the institution of Jan Lokpal and rooting out corruption while promoting development. It is now hoped that the AAP government that could do well in several fields in spite of all the odds and hurdles, would usher in a new chapter of development and model administration. Alas! For over two years, the people of Delhi have suffered in a tug of war between the LG and the Centre on one side and Arvind Kejriwal's AAP government on the other. Although an elected government is in place, Delhi has been virtually passing through a President's rule all this time, except that it was not promulgated and no responsibility is felt by the LG for administering the departments. On the other hand, as implicitly noted by the Supreme Court, the LG is acting only as an obstructionist.
Questions arise about why a democratically elected Central Government indulges in such blatantly undemocratic actions and why a fraud has been committed on the people of Delhi in usurping their powers, denting the very democratic system that Prime Minister Narendra Modi respects.
When the Prime Minister reverently touches the steps and his forehead with his hand as he enters the Parliament, we admire him for his respect for the highest democratic institution and his faith in democracy. People look up to him in awe when through 'Mann ki Baat' and other modes of media, he tries to establish himself as a role model for the people of India – strong-willed, dedicated and healthy, and caring for the people and people's power. Naturally, expectations also sore high for his strict adherence to democratic norms in his own actions. It is hoped that he would respect the opposition and the debates, which are the very essence of a democracy. But, barring his one-sided harangue through the media, one hardly watches him debate in the Parliament to explain and convince his stance on important issues.
A string of convincing electoral victories in states and their tenacity in clawing up to power from the jaws of defeat established BJP and Narendra Modi as invincible. However, the elections in Karnataka and the Prime Minister sharing the dais with tainted Yeddyurappa raised doubts about their methods and modus operandi in exploiting the weaknesses in our democratic system to grab power at any cost. And, now, the Supreme Court Judgement has laid bare their streak of despotism in usurping the powers of an elected government in Delhi, thereby revealing their scant respect for democratic principles and sovereign powers of people.
There appear to be some prime reasons for what has happened in Delhi. During their 49 days stay in power, the AAP government registered a case of corruption against Mukesh Ambani, some Congress leaders and others for causing a loss of Rs 50,000 crore to the nation in the Krishna-Godavari Basin gas deal. It was registered on the complaint made by some prominent people after they had failed to get the matter investigated by the CBI. This was possible since the Delhi Government has concurrent jurisdiction in Delhi to take up such matters. At the same time, corruption cases were also registered against Sheila Dixit and others in matters related to the Delhi Government. Then, during the President's rule that followed, when efforts were made to get the FIR quashed on the grounds of failed jurisdiction, investigations were stopped. Significantly, the LG, Najib Jung, who was known to be close to the Ambanis, was not removed by the Modi government, although most of the earlier appointees were eased out across the country.
In 2015, AAP again stormed to power, this time with 67 MLAs in the house of 70, entirely marginalising BJP, in spite of the high-voltage campaign by Narendra Modi as PM, and decimating the age-old Congress. While both the benumbed parties were sulking, the buoyant Kejriwal government began several developmental works in right earnest. Its Anti-Corruption Branch also began investigations in all important cases, including the gas-fraud case, and issued summons to Mukesh Ambani and others. That was all. The process of usurping the powers of the state government soon began and the Anti-Corruption Branch was taken away. Speeding up investigations to clear the names of Ambanis and others, if they were innocent, would have actually been the right way. But the stalling of investigations only raises more doubts about their complicity and the conspiracy hatched by those in power to protect them.
The fallout of the above development is that the AAP government has no control over corruption by its own officials. Since the LG has also done nothing worthwhile, corruption goes on unabated. The common man, who voted AAP to power primarily to root out corruption, is left high and dry; although the government's performance in the fields of education, power, water, health, etc is being hailed even by their political opponents in private.
Now, although the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court has given a clear verdict, there seems to be total reluctance to hand over due powers and ACB back to the state government. Myriad spins are being given to the judgement for not acting. For example, Arun Jaitley stated that ACB cannot be given back. However, the subject of investigation is a matter in the State List of the Constitution. Obviously, all these years, the Delhi government has been empowering the Delhi Police officials on deputation to ACB to act under the Prevention of Corruption of Act. By simply denying the institution of ACB to work under the Delhi government, corrupt officials are being protected and investigations in the KG Basin case against Mukesh Ambani and others are being thwarted. Whose interest is then being served? It is time the Centre starts respecting democratic principles and restores the powers of the state government in Delhi.
The Supreme Court verdict has removed the dent to democracy. But, a moot point arises. When a common man can understand the letter and spirit of our Constitution, then how can the judges of the High Court falter by not respecting the sovereign powers of the people? The order of the High Court that had killed the spirit of democracy and Constitution had only strengthened the hands of the usurpers of power. Is it a case of wisdom or judicial corruption?
If anyone indulges in wrongdoing, the victims have every right to ensure his/her legal punishment. Here, in Delhi, people have suffered for over two years for the fraud committed in usurping their power. Should those who dented the democracy by committing the fraud and those who aided them go unpunished? It requires serious thinking.
(The author is a retired IPS officer and former Member, Public Grievance Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)