Something truly bizarre is happening in Delhi. The city has an elected government that commands the biggest majority currently enjoyed by any of India’s governments. But the AAP government which has always found itself sandwiched between the BJP-led central government and BJP-led municipal corporations is now facing an unprecedented administrative impasse. Ever since the alleged assault on the Chief Secretary by some AAP MLA, IAS officials have stopped reporting to the Delhi government and effectively it is the Lt Governor of Delhi who is running the show in Delhi. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his deputy Manish Sisodia, and two other ministerial colleagues Satyender Jain and Gopal Rai are sitting on a dharna in the waiting room of the LG’s office requesting him to end the ‘strike’ of the IAS officers and allow the Delhi government to work.
The standoff between the Modi government at the Centre and the Delhi government began almost from the very moment when the Aam Aadmi Party stunned the whole country by sweeping the Assembly elections in January 2015, giving the BJP its first major electoral shock just a few months after Modi’s emphatic victory in the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections. One of the key planks of the AAP has been the demand for full statehood for Delhi, a demand which the BJP and the Congress have also been raising periodically. But the Modi government responded to the stunning victory of the AAP by issuing a central notification that drastically curtailed the powers and jurisdiction of the Delhi government stipulated under Article 239 AA introduced through the 69th Constitutional Amendment and the consequent Government of NCT of Delhi Act 1991.
While Article 239AA and the GNCT Act 1991 treated Delhi almost at par with other states but for the three subjects of public order, police and land, the notification of May 2015 transferred the jurisdiction over all services in Delhi to the LG. The Delhi HC subsequently upheld the notification and attributed much greater powers to the LG making it mandatory for the Delhi government to seek prior approval of the LG for almost all its decisions. Since then we have seen the LG overturn any number of decisions taken and appointments made by the Delhi Government. The Election Commission of India also contributed its bit to the politico-administrative crisis in Delhi by summarily disqualifying as many as 20 AAP MLAs, a controversial decision which was cleared by the President but subsequently invalidated by the Delhi High Court.
The non-cooperation or strike of the top brass of Delhi bureaucracy has thus been the final straw on the camel’s back that has made governance virtually unsustainable in Delhi. This is a total travesty of the Constitution and complete negation of the mandate given by the people of Delhi. This violation of the constitutional framework in Delhi is clearly part of a larger design of subversion of the federal framework and concentration of power in the hands of the Centre run by a despotic PM. The offices of Governor and Lt Governor are being used as partisan agents of the Centre to carry out a relentless campaign of blatant intervention in the functioning of opposition-led governments. The role of the LG in Delhi is dictated by the same strategy which we saw at work only the other day in Karnataka where the Governor had become a willing facilitator of the BJP’s attempt to manufacture majority by all kinds of fraudulent means.
Powerful sections of the mainstream media are busy blaming Kejriwal’s ‘theatrics’ and his activist streak for the Delhi impasse, conveniently ignoring the substantive issues – the mockery of the mandate of the Delhi Assembly elections, the demand for full statehood for Delhi in contrast to the reality of bureaucratic domination of the LG over the elected government of Delhi, and brazen violation of the spirit of federal functioning under the emerging Modi model of despotic concentration of power in a super leader and his coterie. It is reassuring to see that despite this media discourse, large sections of the Delhi public and significant streams of the political opposition in the country have come out openly against the Centre’s despotic design. Chief Ministers of four major opposition-ruled states, and leaders of several Left and regional parties have expressed their solidarity with the AAP in the ongoing battle for democracy and lent support to the demand for full statehood for Delhi.
Conspicuously silent on the whole issue has been the Congress. A belated Rahul Gandhi tweet described the whole impasse as nothing more than ‘political drama’, refusing to take on the BJP on any of the substantive issues of democracy and federalism that lie at the heart of the politico-administrative crisis in Delhi. This blinkered Congress vision cannot possibly be explained away merely in terms of the Congress-AAP rivalry in Delhi and Punjab. It only goes to show that the party which has been majorly responsible for large-scale violations of democracy and federalism in the past, the blot of the Emergency being the darkest among several such chapters in the Congress history, remains pretty much weak-hearted and inconsistent in its new-found role as a defender of democracy. The Left and the broader range of democratic forces involved in various struggles of the people will have to step up their role to defeat the dictatorial designs of the Modi government.
Post-script: As we go to the press, the dharna by the CM and three Ministers has been lifted after IAS officers attended meetings called by the Delhi Government Ministers.