I am glad that I am not a voter in Delhi because if I were, I would have felt immensely insulted by the new amendment passed by Parliament empowering the capital city’s lieutenant governor (LG) at the expense of the elected government.
A lot has been said already and written about the Government of NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, brought in by the central government, and which, after being passed by both Houses of Parliament overriding Opposition protests and walkouts, now awaits the President’s assent. The approval, by all means, is a mere formality. And once it becomes a law, what it means is that the people’s choice ceases to matter in Delhi.
Irrespective of what our political affiliations could be and notwithstanding who voted who in Delhi, there is no denying that the legislation deals a death blow to democratic principles where popular mandate matters the most. True, Delhi also as the nation’s capital, poses piquant problems for which the administrative machinery put in place is rather complex. It is a quasi-Union territory where the local government, in this instance the Aam Aadmi Party government headed by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, has to share power with the centre through its nominated administrator – the lieutenant governor.
Separation of power has been a hot-button issue since long, even preceding Kejriwal’s rule. But matters were somewhat laid to rest when a Supreme Court constitutional bench in 2018 deliberated and ruled over the issue. It held the primacy of the elected Delhi government—voted in by the people—and said it could administer on matters barring police, public order and land. While the court is still seized of who could call the shots in matters related to services (transfer and posting of officials), the bench limited the scope and scale of powers that the unelected LG could wield.
The new Law now upends all that and shatters the truce that for some time seemed to have drawn a line at the raucous tussle between the AAP and the LG over who rules Delhi. The AAP is crying foul as the bill’s passage makes it virtual ciphers. The LG, according to the changes made, is the government and the elected government of Kejriwal, despite a massive popular mandate that saw them winning 62 of Delhi’s 70 assembly seats, will hereafter be forced to play second fiddle. For every small thing, they will now be compelled to seek the LG’s consent.
In more ways than one, the people’s mandate has lost its meaning. The BJP lost badly the last time Delhi voted a new assembly – and in each of the preceding elections since 1998. Yet, the party will have unbridled authority in the manner the Delhi administration is run, albeit by the person who it chooses as the LG. The principles of participative democracy and cooperative federalism have been turned on its head.
But the larger question is why did the Centre decide to do what it did in Delhi?
Constitutional experts say the move is illegal and will not stand the scrutiny of law. But then, that will only happen when the matter reaches the constitutional court and the learned judges adjudicate the matter. Going by the top court’s recent records, judgment day is unlikely to be anytime soon. It is yet to adjudicate the important matter of abrogation of Article 370 that downgraded Jammu and Kashmir to a Union territory. There is little to suggest that the matter of Delhi will also be disposed of in haste. And in the years that it will take for the judiciary to rule on the issue, Kejriwal—the people’s chief minister—will be forced to run to the LG for the minutest of things.
More importantly, the changed power equations mean the people of Delhi have ceased to matter. They elected representatives, but an unelected, Centre-appointed LG will hereafter decide their city’s destiny. Not surprisingly, the BJP sees nothing wrong in the changes they have brought in by virtue of the majority it enjoys in Parliament. But they are being short-sighted in seeking to cut Kejriwal down to size.
No matter how it is sugar-coated or sold to the public, the bill is an unadulterated act of vengeance, seeking to avenge the humiliating defeat in the elections—2015 and 2020. Kejriwal is no saint either. Among everything else, he short-shrifted principles and supported the contestable downgrade of Jammu and Kashmir. Yet, the surgical strike against his government is alarming, though not entirely surprising.
But for all their tall claims of upholding democratic traditions, political parties of every colour are setting new standards in being autocratic and vindictive. And you got to look no further for fresh evidence than what happened in the Bihar assembly just a few days ago. Anarchy broke out when Opposition MLAs were vociferously protesting against a bill that evidently sought to give sweeping powers to police. The legislators were physically removed, but not before policemen were caught on camera kicking and punching some of them. Tejashwi Yadav—Opposition leader and son of Lalu Yadav who is credited with presiding over a “jungle raj” in Bihar during his tenure as chief minister—was right in voicing outrage. He pointed out that each one of the legislators disrespected had the backing of lakhs of voters.
Delhi’s new bill also undeniably disrespects the city’s voters. They took the trouble of electing someone, but will now be ruled by somebody else. I can only thank my stars that I did not vote in Delhi to subject myself to such humiliation.