Yesterday, on April 30, Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) East Delhi candidate for the Lok Sabha election 2019, Atishi Marlena echoed her party’s ideology— need for statehood in Delhi. She canvassed the community and spoke to voters about how their standard of living would improve in the context of education, healthcare, and employment.
Over the years, the AAP has stuck to the opinion that Delhi’s statehood will be a welfare boon to the National Capital’s residents. Even the party’s 2019 manifesto focuses on one crucial promise: full statehood for Delhi. The entire manifesto outlines what the AAP did without statehood and what it can achieve with it.
“The Aam Aadmi Party is fighting the Lok Sabha 2019 elections in Delhi with the sole objective of making Delhi a full state”, says the manifesto.
The AAP says that, with statehood, Delhi’s land, which is under the control of the central government, will move to the jurisdiction of the state government, giving elected officials in Delhi the ability to make land policies on residential and industrial use.
AAP has promised several welfare policies, as well— from allotting land for schools and clinics to providing housing and public transit for Delhi residents.
The party also addresses the center’s hold over Delhi’s law enforcement agencies. AAP pledges to improve the conviction rate, establish an anti-corruption bureau, and introduce reforms in the Delhi police.
Lastly, the AAP demands statehood so that the elected party is the primary decision-making body in Delhi. The party has resolved to fill vacancies in the police force and various governmental departments, tackle corruption at the center, and ensure that the bills passed by the Delhi Assembly are enacted by the Delhi state government not stalled in the center.
Delhi’s battle for statehood
Before India became independent, Delhi was a part of the Punjab Province and, in 1911, it was made capital of the province. Later, in the 1956 States Reorganisation Act, the government constituted Delhi as a union territory governed by a Lieutenant Governor (LG) who was appointed by the President, and acted according to the central government’s instructions.
But the LG’s powers began to overlap with Delhi’s Legislative Assembly that was formed in 1991. Delhi was then granted special status as the “National Capital Territory of Delhi”, still governed by the LG, not the chief minister of the assembly.
The source of confusion in Delhi governance is in the tension between the chief minister and LG, who is not obligated to follow any Delhi minister’s advice on land or law enforcement.
The AAP in Delhi has also consistently complained of being stifled by the center when trying to create reform for residents. When Kejriwal tried taking control of law and order, the then-LG Najeeb Jung intervened and was supported by then-Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
However, friction between the LG and CM mounted, especially over matters of law enforcement and corruption. Hence, in December 2018, Delhi CM and AAP President Arvind Kejriwal moved the Supreme Court via a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) for full statehood, but the SC reserved its judgment, even while cautioning the Centre against interfering with local authorities.
Then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said, “The L-G cannot act as an obstructionist. The concurrence of the L-G in all matters is not necessary.” Regardless, the two authorities continue to clash.
Now, the AAP is currently going door-to-door with its campaign for statehood. In the past 20 years, both the BJP and Congress have also promised Delhi statehood while contesting the assembly elections. However, when elected to the Centre, neither party has delivered on its promise.
In 2003, BJP’s LK Advani introduced a bill granting statehood to Delhi. The party also pledged statehood in the 2013 assembly elections and 2014 general elections. In the 2015 assembly elections, both the Congress and the BJP said they would give Delhi full statehood, but have not done so.
Why do certain regions want statehood?
One of the main reasons AAP wants statehood so vigorously is its anti-corruption stance. In 2015, when the AAP won a landslide 67 seats in Delhi’s 70-seat assembly, the Home Ministry reduced the scope of the party’s anti-corruption bureau (ABC).
This move by the BJP government essentially stripped the Delhi assembly of the power to punish corrupt officers or appoint new ones to take their place. Hence, the AAP has accused the Centre of unfairly governing Delhi through the LG.
Kejriwal even promised to campaign for the BJP nationally, if it granted Delhi statehood.
“But, if they (BJP) do not give full statehood to Delhi, people here will say that BJP walon, Delhi chodo (BJP, quit Delhi),” he said, according to Money Control.
In 2000, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand became brand new states. Even Telangana achieved statehood in 2014.
Down to Earth explains that the demand for statehood is driven by economic disparity and social discrimination. Areas that want autonomy as states argue that their needs are not being met by the Centre.
“All these demands [of statehood] are from regions which are poor in spite of being rich in natural resources and disputes exist over sharing and utilisation of natural resources with the mother states”, says DTE.
Language, culture, tribal identities, and ethnicity are also historical fault lines between larger states and those territories within them that are agitating for statehood.
If India’s statehood demands were conceded
A majority of Delhi’s residents want statehood, no matter which party they support. Other regions all over India have also made similar demands.
One of the most well-known and longest struggles for statehood is in Gorkhaland, in West Bengal. In 1907, over a century ago, Darjeeling began its demand for state autonomy. Post-independence, the Communist Party of India (CPI) asked for the establishment of Gorkhasthan, including Darjeeling and Sikkim.
In the late ‘80s, widespread violence broke out, resulting in a “semi-autonomous” governing body called the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. In 2017, riots erupted again in Darjeeling after the West Bengal government announced that Bengali will be a compulsory language class in all schools.
Although Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee later said that Bengali will be offered as an optional second or third language, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) called for a strike until its demand for full statehood is met.
In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati has promised to establish the state of Harit Pradesh that includes Agra, Aligarh, Bareilly, Meerut, Moradabad, and Saharanpur. The struggle for Bodoland, a proposed state in Assam, is also widely known.
Even recently, the government’s decision to create an administrative division in Ladakh— with headquarters only at Leh not Kargil— sparked protests in Jammu and kashmir.
Several other areas have also voiced their desire for statehood: Purvanchal in UP, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Kongu Nadu in Tamil Nadu, and Vidarbha in Maharashtra.
India could likely have 50 states if all statehood demands are conceded.
However, statehood implies massive restructuring of the current government, which will likely be punctuated by violent riots before a mutually agreeable status quo is reached among local groups. The endeavour will also increase the tax burden on residents in new states as the Centre or current state government will stop incurring expenses for those areas. Moreover, dividing shared infrastructure like airports, railway stations, ports, and other commercial hubs will be a point of contention.
Even so, those who demand statehood believe that, in the long-term, their socio-economic conditions might start to look more equitable and improved than it currently is. Residents pushing for statehood also believe they will get fair representation and be able to hold their respective state governments accountable for reform rather than vye over the attention of the Centre. Hence, to them, full statehood is a gamble worth taking.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius