It is a remarkable commentary on the state of the nation that the Delhi High Court’s debatable decision giving the Lt Governor the primary say in the affairs of the Indian capital was portrayed as a blow to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Since the AAP leader can never be the Chief Minister of Delhi for ever (in as much as Narendra Modi cannot rule India for eternity), how can the court verdict be a setback to Kejriwal?
True, Kejriwal is a passionate advocate of full statehood for Delhi. But he is hardly saying anything new. It is a demand both the BJP and the Congress have raised for decades. So the court decision, if anything, was a blow to the people of Delhi and their desire to be governed by a system where elected representatives are the final decision makers and where the multiplicity of authority that bedevils the city ends.
Instead, the Delhi High Court, which the AAP government should have never approached in the first place to settle a constitutional row, turned democracy upside down. In its wisdom, not easily understood on the street, a two-judge bench ruled that the Lt Governor — a post now held by Najeeb Jung — will be the final arbiter of mass destiny in Delhi. It is another matter that the ruling has given Jung the audacity to say what no one in a serious democracy would even contemplate: Since I am the boss, we can do away with the Delhi Assembly!
Delhi’s administrative predicament is well known but it needs some reiteration. For long just a Union Territory, Delhi became the National Capital Territory with a state assembly in 1993. Since then, Delhi has been governed by four institutions: an elected Delhi government, the Lt Governor (a central government appointee), the elected Municipal Corporation (controlled by the Home Ministry and now split into three wings) and the Delhi Development Authority (reporting to the Urban Development Ministry). We also have the New Delhi Municipal Council and the Delhi Cantonment Board.
To worsen the situation, the physical boundary of the Delhi government and the civic bodies are co-terminus. Further, the Lt Governor gets to be in charge of law and order, police as well as land. The High Court has now given the entire city on a platter to Jung! Nothing can be more undemocratic besides being impractical.
Where I live, our neighbours and I have at various times sought out our previous MLAs from both the Congress and BJP over civic issues. I have not met the current MLA, from AAP, but the Residents Welfare Association interacts with him routinely.
Are people — from all over the city — now expected to troop to Jung with our civic woes? And since one man obviously can’t manage it all by himself and, so, if he names his representatives, it is clear the real aim is not to provide good governance but to bring down the present elected government through a constitutional coup.
I have always maintained that Delhi Police must report to the elected Delhi government irrespective of whether it is governed by the Congress, BJP or AAP. Some of the silliest arguments against this used to be given by the former Delhi Police chief, B.S. Bassi. Those who claim that Delhi Police will be effective only if it is with the central government must answer what happened to Delhi Police when killers slaughtered some 3,000 innocent Sikhs in the city in 1984. Did Delhi Police then report to Madan Lal Khurana or Sheila Dikshit or Kejriwal?
One can appreciate certain specific security-related issues of Delhi. This can be easily tackled by administratively splitting the heart of Delhi — home to VVIPs, Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhavan — from the rest of the city. But what have security and related issues got to do with the day-to-day hiccups of governance which millions battle with? What, for example, prevents Delhi Traffic Police from being under Delhi government? Indeed, this idea was flagged by CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury, who then headed the Parliamentary Committee on Transport, after the 2013 rape in Delhi.
Let us not forget that far more sensitive establishments (dealing with ISRO, military and more) are located in states across the country and no one has suggested thus far that these areas must be under the Centre’s control.
The Delhi government has said it will knock at the doors of the Supreme Court. Irrespective of what it does, a democracy is all about people’s will. And how do we find out people’s will? Simple: Go to them!
Way back in January 1967, Goa held a referendum to decide whether it must merge with Maharashtra or remain an independent Union Territory. The result was binding on the central government. The “Goa Opinion Poll” as it was officially named voted against a merger. Much later, in May 1987, Goa became a full-fledged state.
Forget Brexit, why not copy our own Goa? Why not go to the people to find out how Delhi should be governed? Isn’t this what democracy is all about? After all, every election is a referendum on those in power. If a single individual (Jung) can thrust his views on a people, surely the people must respond.
If anyone opposes this idea, we need to ask why hold elections at all in the country. If Jung can rule Delhi, why not let President Pranab Mukherjee — a far more experienced, enlightened and erudite personality — rule India? If MLAs are not needed, why elect MPs? Ordinary people across the country interact far more with their MLAs and corporators than MPs.
Or is this all a charade? Is this all a political game to get rid of Kejriwal and his AAP from the corridors of power in Delhi? Sometimes, one wonders…
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal.)