Friday, Oct 07, 2022

Central Bill To Make Delhi LG All Powerful A Mockery Of Constitution

The Centre has moved a Bill in the lower House which, if it becomes a law, will render Arvind Kejriwal a titular chief minister of Delhi with no real power.

Delhi Lt. Governor Anil Baijal (R) and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (L) PTI

To keep the Opposition in a perpetual state of uncertainty and unsettled is the defining value of the present regime. No other government had felt as much tremors as the Arvind Kejriwal government has in Delhi. Since its inception in 2015, Kejriwal has been at loggerheads with the Narendra Modi government. He has been called anarchic, someone who doesn’t believe in the Constitution and does not respect bureaucracy and is perpetually complaining. The BJP has called him a liar and incompetent but to the discomfiture of the Modi and Amit Shah, Kejriwal is extremely popular and has defeated the duo most humiliatingly, not once but twice.

But since the magnificent victory in 2020, Kejriwal seemed to have declared ceasefire vis-à-vis the central government. It was also assumed that Kejriwal had finally realised that Modi is too powerful and he too weak, to have a running battle. In his third term he seems to have been running a rather smooth government but that proved to be a myth till the Modi government decided to strike big. Now the central government has moved a Bill in the lower House which, if it becomes a law, will render Arvind Kejriwal a titular chief minister of Delhi with no real power.. This bill will ensure all the powers will be vested in the Lieutenant Governor and he will be the government. No wonder Kejriwal and his party have declared war on the BJP and its government.

In 2015 when Kejriwal won Delhi with the most unprecedented mandate, it was the first defeat that Modi had tasted. Other than parliamentary elections in 2014, Modi had won four states for BJP --- Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir. His juggernaut was stopped by a bunch of political upstarts in the national capital. And despite all the insinuations, charisma, and resources, he could win only 3 seats out of 70. Kejriwal was riding with lady luck. The Congress was facing an existential crisis and AAP was perceived as the national alternative. Modi realised that if the darling of the new middle class was not nipped in the bud, he might pose a bigger threat to his popularity.

He struck within two months. The anti-corruption bureau which had been with the Delhi government since 1993 was forcibly taken over by the central government when the Assembly was created. The service department which controls the Delhi bureaucracy was also snatched, the Chief Minister’s Office was raided, his principal secretary was arrested. The attack was so vicious that more than a dozen MLAs were arrested on frivolous charges. Income Tax notices were regularly sent to AAP and an order was passed that AAP should vacate its party office at the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg. And finally, the nail in the coffin was hammered when the Delhi High Court in its verdict decided that the Lieutenant Governor is not bound by the aid and advice of the Delhi cabinet. Kejriwal was now a lame duck chief minister with virtually no power.

But to his surprise, the Supreme Court came to his rescue. It restored its original constitutional position and declared that except law and order, police and land, LG had no power over other matters. Kejriwal was back to his original self. But now he was subdued. He won Delhi once again despite Modi and Shah and all their efforts. This time again the defeat was humiliating. Only 8 MLAs could win for the BJP. Kejriwal has again been exhibiting his ambition to go national. He has won a few seats in local bodies elections in Gujarat and Goa. I don’t know if the present law has anything to do with this newfound success of AAP. But this Bill is not only bad in law but also anti-democratic in its spirit.

The administrative structure of Delhi is undoubtedly very complicated but if it has been accorded an Assembly and representative government and elections happen every five years then the chief minister cannot be rendered a figurehead and Lieutenant Governor cannot assume that he is the boss. One can understand that Delhi is not a full-fledged state, but it is not a Union Territory like Chandigarh either. It will be an insult to the collective wisdom of the people of Delhi who elect its government (chief minister and MLAs). The chief minister is the face of the government, and it is he/she who must face the people for his conduct, not the LG.

Even in the constituent Assembly when the role of the governor was discussed, it was decided that he could not be elected as he should not be the alternate center of power in the state. He/she should only be a titular head for the smooth functioning of the state administration. The lieutenant governor is no different though he has been ordained more power. Therefore, if LG is given precedence over the chief minister, then it will be an exercise to put the Constitution on its head in Delhi. This might serve the political interest of the BJP but will be a mockery of the Constitution.

(Ashutosh is author and Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Outlook Magazine.)