Neros fiddle, Delhi burns

Who is the ‘boss’ of Delhi? The unending debate is back in focus as the sit-in by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his colleagues at Delhi Lieutenant Governor (LG) Anil Baijal’s office entered the seventh day on Sunday. The tussle between chief ministers and LGs in Delhi is not a new phenomenon. What is, however, is its intensity and persistence during Kejriwal’s tenure, with a BJP government at the Centre.

From alleging that LG Anil Baijal “fires one bullet” at him every day to accusing him of functioning like the Nazi despot Adolf Hitler and “paralysing” the AAP government, Kejriwal has spared no bullets of his own. This time, it looks like the tipping point. 

The perception is also that neither Baijal nor his predecessor Najeeb Jung were accommodative of the Kejriwal dispensation, partly due to his adversarial relationship with the Narendra Modi government.  

During the current row, the AAP government has sought President Ram Nath Kovind’s intervention in resolving the “Emergency-like” situation in the national capital, and Kejriwal has shot off two letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Kejriwal is demanding that the LG direct Delhi IAS officers to end their “strike”. The IAS officers have been boycotting meetings with AAP ministers since the controversy over the alleged assault on Delhi Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash by two MLAs of AAP in February this year. AAP suspects the LG’s, or rather the Centre’s, hand in it.

So, how did things come to this pass in Delhi that a chief minister elected with a brute majority of 67 seats in a 70-member assembly has to sit in dharna in the LG’s office to get the state’s IAS officers back to work?

The AAP government, which has been demanding full statehood for Delhi, adopted an assembly resolution in this regard last week, after Kejriwal delivered a speech in the assembly saying, “The country got freedom in 1947, but not Delhi from LG’s rule.”

Kejriwal’s AAP demands that control of the Services Department and the Anti-Corruption Branch should be given back to the Delhi government; powers for transfer, posting and vigilance inquiry into officers should be restored to it; and that all files should not require the LG’s approval.

Even Kejriwal’s predecessor Sheila Dikshit, a three-term Congress chief minister of Delhi, had her own share of run-ins with the then LG, Tejinder Khanna. In 2010-11, the two sparred on the issue of fixing property circle rates in Delhi but the matter was resolved when she approached the Home ministry. But it was easy for her, because Congress was in power at the Centre.

During the NDA regime, Dikshit had locked horns with the then LG Vijai Kapoor, who had in 2002 rejected her government’s notification regarding expansion of Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC). Similarly, there was also disagreement between them when Kapoor recommended strong action against a Congress MLA in a power theft case.

The problem arises because Delhi is not a full-fledged state and, as per Schedule I of the Constitution, continues to be a Union Territory, albeit with additional powers, after certain amendments gave it a somewhat special status among UTs. It has an elected state assembly, which has been invested with the right to legislate on all subjects, barring a few, like law and order and land, which are under the central government. If there is a conflict between a law enacted by the Delhi assembly and one enacted by parliament, the latter will prevail, until a decision is taken by the President.

However, Article 239AA, inserted by the 69th Amendment to the Constitution, which came into force in 1992, does leave some room for ambiguity in the distribution of powers between the LG and the chief minister. Article 239AA was in the spotlight even in 2013 when Kejriwal, then leading his short-lived, Congress-supported government, which lasted only 49 days, sought the Centre’s approval to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Delhi assembly and was opposed by then LG Najeeb Jung.

In May 2015, both Kejriwal and Jung met then President Pranab Mukherjee separately as a row broke out between them over appointment of bureaucrats. At the height of that row, Kejriwal sought PM Modi’s intervention after Jung appointed bureaucrat Shakuntala Gamlin as acting chief secretary, and Kejriwal questioned the LG’s authority in doing so and accused him of trying to take over the administration. 

In response, the Modi government issued a gazette notification that the LG will have jurisdiction over matters concerning services, public order, police and land and that these fall outside the purview of the legislative assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Consequently, the Delhi government would have no executive powers on those matters.  

In August 2016, the Delhi High Court ruled that the LG is the administrative head of the national capital region (NCR), after AAP moved the court challenging the power of LG to appoint bureaucrats. In November last, the Supreme Court, too, held that the Delhi government has limited power under the Constitution and that the LG is the final authority in case of differences between the two on any matter.

The political undertones of Kejriwal’s sit-in are not to be missed as the controversy comes at a time when the Delhi government has completed more than three years in office and the state will go to polls in the first quarter of 2020.

Kejriwal has, during the on-going row, charged that there is “de facto President’s Rule in Delhi”. BJP has ridiculed Kejriwal over the “drama”. AAP has received support from non-Congress opposition parties like Trinamool Congress, Sharad Pawar’s NCP, Samajwadi Party, CPI(M), JD(S) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal. Four non-BJP, non-Congress chief ministers — Mamata Banerjee, HD Kumaraswamy, Chandrababu Naidu and Pinarayi Vijayan — even came to Delhi to meet and express solidarity with Kejriwal on Saturday. But Congress, which was ousted by AAP from Delhi after ruling it for 15 years uninterruptedly, has chosen to attack AAP over the dharna, calling it “an excuse not to work”.

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Neros fiddle, Delhi burns

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