By Saarthak Anand
Unlike previous National Councils, this year’s meet witnessed a lesser political drama. The 2015 Council had seen the ouster of senior party leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. This time, however, greater focus was on Kejriwal’s speech.
“I am the CM, but I can’t hire my own chaprasi (peon). What was our biggest issue, that of corruption… So, the first thing they took away from us was the ACB. Then after the HC ruling, services was taken away from us… The one thing they couldn’t snatch away from us was our jasba (passion).” These words were spoken by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at the party’s National Council held on 2 November.
In his address, the Delhi CM sought to emphasise that his government had achieved a great deal despite having “zero power”. Training his guns on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government, Kejriwal said,”After being in power for two and a half years, I can say this with confidence that a lot can be done but their (the Centre’s) intentions are bad.”
Frequent clashes with the Centre
Ever since AAP came to power in February 2015 on the back of a thumping electoral victory. The Delhi government and the Centre have constantly been at daggers drawn. Much of the bitter confrontation has had to do with frequent tussles between AAP and Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor(LG) – earlier Najeeb Jung and now Anil Baijal. Under Article 23AA of the Indian Constitution, Delhi is a Union Territory with special status. It has a Legislative Assembly to make laws, but police, law and order, and land rest within the Centre’s purview.
AAP has repeatedly accused the LG of toeing the BJP’s line by creating obstructions to governance and failing to approve legislation passed by the Assembly. In 2015, Kejriwal had invoked the spectre of a colonial-style imperial rule in Delhi, equating the LG to the Viceroy of India, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Queen of England.
Shifting to the courts
Recent months have seen an unexpected calming of political waters in Delhi. Following defeats in Punjab and Goa, and a drubbing in Delhi’s municipal elections, AAP has realised that its confrontational strategy may have backfired. The party has toned down its anti-Modi rhetoric, conscious of the risks in taking on a PM who continues to enjoy significant popularity. At the recent National Council, while a greater part of the Kejriwal’s speech was directed against the Centre, he refrained from taking on the PM by name.
The battle, however, continues to be played out in the judiciary. The Supreme Court is currently hearing an appeal by the Delhi government against a High Court decision last year which maintained that Delhi is a Union Territory under the LG’s charge. In February, the Delhi government had told the SC that exclusive executive powers lie within the ambit of the Legislative Assembly, and “neither the Centre nor the President or LG can encroach upon these”.
The government’s senior lawyer Gopal Subramaniam recently argued in front of a five-judge bench of the SC that “an elected government cannot be sans any power”. He added that the LG has been sitting on certain files for over a year, and has been convening meetings directly with officers. In a small triumph for AAP, the bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, remarked that the LG cannot sit on files beyond a reasonable period.
Greater powers to the Delhi government
It would be too simplistic to state that the clash is merely a constitutional one based on contradictory interpretations of the document by two different units of the federation. At the heart of the problem lies the cutthroat political rivalry between two parties. In the campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had promised to declare Delhi a full state if the party came to power, noting that it will help ensure proper coordination between various agencies. It, however, seems to have gone back on that promise, especially after losing the Assembly election. It is governance which has suffered as a result of the political bickering of two elected governments.
While the special status of the national capital is logical, and checks and balances are necessary, an elected government’s decisions should not be held hostage by a constitutional authority. Clearly, the present situation is to no one’s advantage. There is, thus, a need for the various stakeholders to come together, and examine the possibility for devolving greater authority to the Delhi government, instead of plodding along with the status quo.
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