Who should rule Delhi?

This Tuesday, India’ Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment on who should rule Delhi – the capital of democratic India. Whether the selected (bureaucrats by the Centre) or the elected (by the people Delhi).

This issue had started dominating well after the stunning victory scored by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of Arvind Khejriwal – of India Against Corruption fame – against the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After Modi came to power in May 2014, winning all the Lok Sabha seats in Delhi also, it had looked like the Modi wave was sweeping across the country. But Khejriwal provided a shock treatment to Modi, routing  his party in the Assembly elections. It was such a massive defeat that the party could win only three seats in the 70-member Assembly.

Unlike Modi and his party, the electorate of Delhi were very clear in their mind. They wanted Modi to steer the country while they entrusted the task of governing Delhi to AAP which promised a corruption free administration. But the central government has never allowed the State government to function smoothly, trying to take revenge for the BJP’s humiliating defeat in which even their chief ministerial candidate was defeated. It used the Lt Governor, a nominee of the Centre, to scuttle every move. The AAP approached the High Court, which made the situation even worse. With an illogical reasoning, its acting chief justice, who had ambitions of getting into the Supreme Court, ruled in 2016 that the LG is the supreme as far as Delhi is concerned. It said Delhi is not a State and hence the elected government has no absolute powers.   Following this verdict, the LG became more stronger, taking away all the powers enshrined in the Constitution. He began blocking all its initiatives and programmes.

Delhi government then moved the Supreme Court, which set up a five-judge constitution bench to deal with the issue and finally came up with this historic judgment.  The court expectedly overturned the illogical HC verdict and clearly said the LG has no absolute powers and he will have to act according to the ‘aid and advice’ of the elected government. It said the people are sovereign and also the elected State Assembly.

Actually, the Supreme Court did not say anything new. It only reiterated the Constitution and its provisions which the Modi government has been trying to misuse through misinterpretations. It made the LG all powerful, not accepting important decisions of the Khejriwal government, which was keen to perform according to the expectations from the people of Delhi. The BJP thought by blocking the schemes of the state government, it can show only it will be able to do good for the people.

In fact, it turned out to be a negative fight between the Central democracy (elected Modi government) and regional democracy (elected by the people of the state). While the Constitution clearly says except the reserved subjects of law and order and land, the State Assembly has powers to legislate and the state government has powers to rule, Modi government obviously asked the LG, selected by his government, to block all decisions after the ill-reasoned HC verdict. It is very clear that which LG will dare to take on a government without the support of the Centre.So, the LG Vs State Government fight was in fact Centre Vs State Government.

The sufferers in this fight was clearly the people of Delhi who voted massively against the BJP in the Assembly elections. The same people had voted for Modi in the general elections.

Do people have a right to elect their representatives and governments? Why their mandate for the State government was run down by Modi through the LG?Isn’t it an anti-democratic and anti-constitutional act by the Modi government – derailing the popular State government? Some act like the imposition of Emergency by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Many have argued that Narendra Modi has streaks of authoritarian tendencies like Mrs Gandhi. Mrs Gandhi had dismissed many State governments and changed her party’s chief ministers at will. Modi has also tried to do this through political manoeuvres in some States, but the judiciary turned down such actions. Modi also selected chief ministers in a surprising way – the names of Yogi Adityanath (Uttar Pradesh), Manohar Khattar (Haryana), Devendra Phadnavis (Maharashtra), Jai Ram Thakur (Himachal Pradesh) are some of the examples. Even the selection of the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, shows he also follows the strategy the Gandhi family used to control the Congress Party.

While Indira Gandhi used Emergency to silence opposition and media, Modi is using other strategies to achieve the same. The pressure tactics have yielded positive results on media, with very few publications like the Indian Express and The Wire showing the courage to stand up and speak up.It is true, these strategies have not been so successful on opposition, who are uniting in a bid to dethrone the BJP government.

In the tussle between the AAP and the BJP, the Congress Party could have tried to make the maximum political capital. But unfortunately, its leadership failed to make use of this opportunity as it failed to raise the aspirations of the people and tried to position in a vague position. Its ineffective leadership blamed both the AAP and BJP for the crisis, pointing out how its government, headed by Sheila Dixit, had performed well with a perfect balance. But the fact was that when she was in power for 15 years, for more than 10 years her own party was in power at the Centre while at the beginning of her career, the prime minister was a gentle politician – Atal Bihari Vajpayee. So, the situation was different then and now. Despite this, she had also run-ins with LGs, like BJP’s Madanlal Khurana, Sahib Singh Verma and Sushma Swaraj. Even Delhi’s first CM, Choudhary Brahma Prakash Yadav, also a member in the Nehru Cabinet, also had differences with the Union Home Ministry and had to resign.

The question is very simple. If the Modi government does not want an elected Assembly in Delhi, it should amend the Constitution and get another good system. But that will be a political suicide for the BJP which had been in the forefront, demanding statehood for Delhi. Is the Modi government ready to do that? If it is not, it should allow the State government, elected by the people, to work. People should not be taken for ride, allowing an Assembly and ruling through proxy LG. It is clear cheating in day light.

Delhi, the 5th most populous city in the world, is not a small territory. It has a population of more than 18 million people right now, while the National Capital Region has a population of 24 million. There are many States in India that have much lower population – like Goa, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Sikkim, etc.And to rule such a territory, there is a need for a government of its people. The Central government, which has to take care of the nation as a whole, should not try to interfere in the affairs of the State government. Let the governments perform their own roles, and try not to poke in the other’s responsibility.

The people of India have given Narendra Modi a pan-India role. And the people of Delhi have given a role to Arvind Khejriwal. Let them do their own responsibilities. Being the PM does not mean undercutting other constitutional authorities. The people may not like this beyond a point. And the party will have to suffer badly for this lapse. Indira Gandhi had tasted the people’s medicine many times. Modi too does not seem to have learnt a lesson from this.

Let there be competitive politics. And not constitutional anarchy. All governments should work under the principle of constitutional federalism to make democracy stronger. And make India a real democracy, beyond mere elections. The power should drip down to the level of common people and then only we will become a real democracy.

 

(The writer is a senior journalist and additional director (communications) of Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

1 Comment for “Who should rule Delhi?”

  1. mr Modi has no chance for next election, he was failed in economic, GSP. and foreign policy regarding srilankan he visited see the comes people were suffering with out food cloth, he promised but nothing has done, prime minister killed tamil civilian one hundred thousand

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