The Aam Admi Party is again on a protest mode in Delhi where it rules. A sit-in by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet colleagues at the Lieutenant Governorâs house entered the fifth dayÂ on Friday. AAP leader Atishi Marlena, who has served as an adviser to the deputy chief minister, tellsÂ OutlookÂ that full statehood to Delhi is now an issue larger than anti-corruption. Edited excerpts from an interview:
For the past 115 days, IAS officers in Delhi have been on a strike. They admit to not attending meetings and following orders given by the ministers. We have tried all constitutional mechanisms possible to resolve this stalemate. The cabinet had earlier appealed eight timesâeither in letter or in meetingsâseekingÂ theÂ intervention of the L-G (lieutenant governor), who is the disciplinary authority of IAS officers. The latest and the ninth meeting happened the very evening before the (cabinetâs) sit-in protest (at the L-Gâs residence). The current protest is happening because the elected government seems to be left with no other choice.
From 2015 onwards, thereÂ hasÂ been multiple attempts to try and stall the work of the Delhi government that had won an unprecedented democratic mandate. Despite all that, the government has been successful on many counts: its work in the areas of education, health, electricity and water is being appreciated not just across Delhi, but in manyÂ parts of the country.
The bureaucracy is being used as a frontânot just by the L-G, but by the (BJP-led) Centre to prevent the Delhi government from working for the people. This prolonged IAS officersâ strike is unprecedented in this country. No action so far only shows this strike has not just the L-Gâs support, but that from the prime minister and his office. We are otherwise a country where IAS officers are not willing to speak out when even a colleague of theirs alleges sexual harassment, or when multiple bureaucrats face instances of harassment. This is a strike that has been directed straight from the PMO. These IAS officers know that if they oppose the Delhi governmentÂ at this point of time, they are going to be rewarded and will get plum posts in the central government.
So, what are your demands?
The L-G should order an end to the IAS officersâ strike and ask them to start attending meetings convened by ministers. Action should be taken against the officers who have been illegallyÂ on strike. The L-G should approve doorstep delivery of rationâa policy that weâve now been trying to bring in for several months. Once all of these are approved, the ministers and the CM will end their protest.
How appropriate is your protest as there is a probe on in the Chief Secretary assault case?
InÂ the chief secretaryâsÂ alleged assault, the police are investigating the matter and it is being discussed in the court of law. Now, the IAS officers have to let the law take its course. The IAS officers have become the accusers and judgesÂ onÂ this matter. IfÂ in four months, the Delhi police have not been able to even file a single charge sheet in the chief secretary matter, it does raise questions about even the authenticity of that (incident). Do these IAS officers have no trust in the process of law in this country? There is also a law that governs the actions of IAS officers-- Â the IAS Conduct Rules, the transaction of business rules of the government of NCT of Delhi. They clearly state that no IAS officer under any circumstance can go on strike even for a single day. It also very clearly states that officers have to follow directions given by the ministers in charge. So, there has been a violation of law and rulesÂ for 115Â days. The fact that the L-G is choosing not to take actionÂ despite this flagrant violation of rules is an indicatorÂ that this entire strike is happening with his blessings. Otherwise,Â whyÂ in 115 daysÂ has he not intervened to resolve this situation and to order the IAS officers to end their strike? Because, obviously the people of Delhi are going to suffer.
How feasible is the option of giving full statehood to Delhi as it is also the national capital?
If the BJP thinks itâs not a feasible answer, really we should be asking them why they promised that in their 2014 manifesto. I think there is a very straightforward solution to the problem. Just as in the United States, the capital Washington DC is a very small and limited area, confined only to where the national institutions and residences of the senators and the Congressmen, besides the embassies,Â areÂ located.Â WhereÂ that area ends, you have different states.
So, even in Delhi, the NDMC area, where you have the Supreme Court, the Parliament complex, the embassies and all of that, can be designated. New Delhi can be designated as the national capital, but the 20 million other people of Delhi who stay outside the NDMC area have a right to an elected government. They have a right to have a single nodal authority that takes care of all their decisions.
Right now, you have seven different agencies governed by different governments who might be in charge of repairing one single street light. You elect a government, but that government has no control over the IAS officers who are supposed to be running it. Is this not unfair to the 20 million people living in Delhi? See, 20 million is not a small number. It is more than the population ofÂ soÂ many countries in this world.
But, there are also allegations that the AAP is only a protest party and it does not know governance...
The initiatives of the Aam Aadmi Party in the past three-and-a-half years are being talked about not just in Delhi, but all over the world. You have (former UN secretary-general) Kofi Annan who is praising the mohalla clinics. You have researchers from Harvard University coming and doing research on the education initiatives in this city. You have for the first time ever in the history of this city, government schools outperforming private schools in board results. You have electricity price that has now not gone up for more than three years. You have more than 300 coloniesÂ whichÂ have got pipe-water supply for the first time.
All these, despite the multiple obstacles being put before the Delhi government by the Centre. If these obstacles had not been put into place, if Delhi was a full state,Â we could probably have performed ten times as much as what we have done right now. As far as protests go, for 115 days we have tried all constitutional measures to resolve it. We have tried to negotiate with the officers. We have been to the L-G.Â Â We have called the officers to the assembly to discuss the matter. A resolution has been passed in the assembly. Despite all these, the IAS officers have been illegally on strike forÂ 115 days. So, thereâs no choice left.
How long will this protest go on?
Till the IAS officers get back to work. See, there are problems. Yesterday, the BJP was protesting against the water crisis in Delhi. I was actually saying that they are protesting in support of us. We admit there are problems in Delhi. But if the CM cannot call the CEO of the Delhi Jal Board for a meeting, how on earth these problems are going to be resolved? Under a democratic form of government, the people elect legislators and ministers to fulfil their policies. The role of the ministers is to give directions. The role of the bureaucracy is to implement those directions. If those who have to do the implementation are on strike, no policies can actually be implemented.Â Â
Is the AAP replacing its main agenda of fighting corruption with demand for full statehood?
Full statehood in Delhi is a larger issueÂ asÂ compared to anti-corruption. For, only when the Delhi government gets its anti-corruption bureau back will it get the power of suspension andÂ Vigilance inquiries on corrupt officers of different departments of the government. That is how you can curb the corruption.
The Delhi government had an anti-corruption bureau since 1991. The Centre took that over in May 2015 by sending paramilitary forces. Has this ever happened in the history of independent India? So, how is the government going to control corruption when all its allied arms and departments are handed over to the Lieutenant Governor? According to a recent report based on an RTI reply, virtually 2 per cent ofÂ matters filed under anti-corruption bureau are now leading to charge sheets. The anti-corruption bureau has been made deadwood by the L-Gâs office.
But, donât you want the Congress partyâs support in this? Where do you stand on the discussions on the larger Opposition unity or an anti-BJP front? Does Kejriwalâs remark that the AAP would vote for the BJP if Delhi is given full statehood mean anything in this context?
There is a lot of Congress hypocrisyÂ onÂ this issue. Unlike the Congress, the AAP stands for democratic rights of states, stands against the infringement of democratic rights by the Centre. When the governorâs office was misused in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, the AAP came forward and did a press conference even before anyone asked us for help. What happened in Goa, Manipur, and even in Karnataka, we spoke out because the issue was a matter of principle.
The central government cannot use the office of governor or the L-G to infringe upon the rights ofÂ theÂ governments. They are doing so. The same is even happening in Puducherry. The Congress chief minister of Puduchery is every dayÂ condemning the office of L-G in Puducherry. The Delhi Congress obviously has a hypocritical stand. Their party faces the same problem in different states.
The Congress also needs to understand that this is not a question of the AAP or Congress; this is a question ofÂ theÂ federal structure of the Indian Constitution. The Congress should take a stand on its own. The fact that they havenât takenÂ anyÂ shows their opportunism. Why should the people of Delhi be second-gradeÂ voters? When the people of other states vote, they get a government that can actually work for them. What the people of Delhi get is a mixed governmentâsomething in the hands of MCD, Delhi government and the Centre.Â Why do the people of Delhi, who pay the greatest amount of income tax every year to the central government, not get a single penny from the central government?Â Full statehood is the only option now for the people of Delhi.