Of competition and collaboration
The constant tiff between the Delhi government and the Lieutenant Governor ultimately places the ball in the citizens’ court to save the face of democracy
Winter of 2014: Kejriwal Version 1.0
On a cold January night of 2014, the maverick Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal sat on a dharna outside Rail Bhawan protesting against police non-cooperation and the erstwhile UPA government's recalcitrance in punishing policemen who refused to act on issues of minor rape, and suspected drug peddling and prostitution in two different cases of that time. Detractors termed it 'anarchy' and the PM of the day went on to call it 'urban Naxalism'. The AAP government later resigned on the ground of the Janlokpal Bill not being allowed by the Centre and returned to power with a thumping 67-03 majority.
Summer of 2018: Kejriwal Version 2.0
Today, in the summer of 2018, Kejriwal and colleagues are resorting to a dharna at the house of the Lieutenant Governor – this time, demanding action against the non-cooperation of IAS officers and LG not allowing the doorstep delivery of services to citizens. Every fight against the LG is virtually a fight against the NDA, as the appointed LG is the Centre's representative in sight of the peculiar legal status of Delhi ruled by multiple agencies.
Confronted with stonewalling in policymaking and implementation, Kejriwal has finally taken the fight to the LG's home – Raj Niwas. Twitter is agog that the muffler-man is back, the activist-turned-chief minister has reverted to his roots.
This may well turn out to be a significant moment for the AAP to ramp up the Centre-state battle, transforming it into a full-fledged political and constitutional confrontation. Interestingly, unlike the last time around, this time, a plethora of regional parties, significantly the SP, RJD, JDU, JDS, RLD, NCP, TMC, TDP, TRS, DMK, CPI and CPM have expressed complete support to the AAP's agitation – with the Congress on the same side as the BJP.
Paradoxically, despite leaning towards a broad united front against the BJP, the Congress continues to treat the AAP as a political pariah. This stems from the fact that the AAP has decimated Congress to come to power, is its major challenger in Punjab and is focussing on building its organisation bottoms-up in states which are bipolar between Congress and BJP and forms a short-term adversary first for the Congress there. But, the current stoicism of Congress would make it rather suspect in the eyes of the regional parties and is not in the interests of its 2019 plans.
After failing to win Punjab, AAP had hoped to expand its political footprint by building a model of governance that, with its emphasis on health and education, would stand apart from the BJP model. But, the tenacity and meticulousness with which the BJP has thwarted the Delhi government's functioning has made one thing clear that you need not dismiss a state government to render it virtually ineffective. And, if it is a 'half-state', like Delhi, the task is all the more easy, more so, as the Supreme Court is yet to give its verdict on the constitutional position of the elected Delhi government's rights and responsibilities vis-a-vis the nominated LG.
When Kejriwal decided to transform a people's movement into an electoral party, he did not anticipate the stubborn resistance he encountered from a government that once boasted about scripting a new chapter on 'cooperative federal relations', deepening the Centre's engagement with state governments. Kejriwal may not have had anticipated the hurdles that have paralysed the Delhi government.
Fundamental Constitutional questions
The cardinal questions that the 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? Most importantly, what good are elections when elected representatives are rendered powerless and held hostage by a non-elected government nominee?
Kejriwal entered the system as an outsider – the status that enhanced his appeal among the disgruntled electorate. And, his unconventional methods of protest – considered radical or anarchist by the elite – could earn him the favourable tag of an 'outsider within'.
Former Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who resigned from the BJP recently, also joined AAP leaders and workers outside the chief minister's Civil Lines residence denouncing the Modi government's high-handedness. There are numerous regional parties extending their unambiguous support – in these lay the seeds of a new pro-federal pan-Indian movement.
In the meantime, party MP Sanjay Singh has written a letter to President Kovind seeking an appointment for a party delegation to raise the issues pertaining to problems being faced by the Kejriwal government due to the alleged non-cooperation and strike by IAS officers. In the letter, Singh also claimed that all works pertaining to the home delivery of rations, CCTV cameras, work in unauthorised colonies, Signature Bridge and whitewashing in schools have been completely stalled due to the four-month-long "strike" by IAS officers in Delhi.
Litany of AAP's woes
At a time when an MLA accused of raping a teenager could only be arrested after the issue escalated and became front-page national news, one state is an exception to this lawlessness – Delhi. In total, 13 MLAs of the Delhi assembly have been arrested on various charges and 20 have been disqualified for holding offices of profit since the current government came into power three years ago. All arrested MLAs are now out on bail and two have been acquitted on all counts. The Delhi High Court subsequently restored the membership of all 20 disqualified MLAs on the grounds of no evidence of constitutional violation. The indiscriminate undermining of the state government touched a new low when the Central government recently cancelled the appointment of nine advisors to the Delhi government, including the immensely successful adviser to the Education Department, Atishi Marlena, an Oxford qualified expert working at the royal sum of Rs 1 per month, at a time when the Modi government has advertised for outside professional experts to join its various departments as Joint Secretaries, bypassing the UPSC.
The Central government appears to be taking away the main electoral plank of the Delhi government – an untarnished image, coupled with welfare successes in education, health, water, power et al. It systematically seems to be maligning the AAP. The Delhi MCD election is a good case in point that the Centre succeeded to an extent. AAP was restrained there.
The decisive electorate
But the sinister designs of the Centre seem to be moving towards a massive anti-democratic angle. Do not let the Delhi government work, it will be unable to deliver on its electoral promises and be voted out in the next electoral cycle. A central government crippling all works of a state government and a state government crying helplessly with claims of sabotage is absolutely unprecedented for democratic ideals.
However, a lot would depend on what the citizens of Delhi choose to do. Would they give in to this coercion? Would they be ready to suffer for another five years by voting for the current government? 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, along with political and moral corruption?
Delhi stands a test to prove that democracy is not dead. It should, though, restrain from becoming an example of how democracy never really existed in essence because democracy is actually all about the co-existence of competing ideologies and strategies. Bereft of that, it is nothing but fascism of one variety or another.
(Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury is the School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi & Mumbai. Views expressed are strictly personal)