Delhi statehood: Go beyond mere political theatre

  • Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 13, 2015 22:05 IST

Delhi goes to polls on February 7 and we can expect plenty of drama in the weeks ahead. Elections in the Capital inevitably generate a fair measure of national attention; more so this time because Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal are both facing off to secure the city’s support. The BJP is clearly alert to the symbolic import of this election and is robustly projecting Mr Modi, featuring him prominently in newspaper ads, radio campaigns, Delhi metro coaches and in public rallies. The party is billing the election as Delhi’s chance to join Mr Modi in his endeavour to modernise India, as opposed to AAP, which it accuses of practising anarchic, irresponsible politics. Mr Kejriwal, on the other hand, is mounting a strong challenge owing to continuing support from among economically weaker sections. AAP is seeking to capitalise on the absence of a chief ministerial candidate from the BJP and it aims to reap the disaffection with the land ordinance in rural segments. It is thus seeing a reversal of fortunes, reflected in vastly improved projections in opinion polls, which had written off the party a few weeks ago. In a glimmer of resistance, the Congress has decided to let Ajay Maken, a former Union minister and feisty campaigner, lead the party’s charge.

The three parties would do well to focus their campaign on the promise of full statehood, without which no Delhi government can offer the kind of public services that the capital needs. Delhi governments operate with severely constrained powers as compared to other states. The state’s governance structure is an embarrassment, as key institutions have multiple and competing jurisdictions. As Hindustan Times reported, there are more than 100 urban bodies serving the city. There are four civic agencies handling primary schools, five for roads and six for drains and sewerage. The Union home ministry controls the Delhi Police and the administration of five municipalities, while land is under the Delhi Development Authority that reports to the urban development ministry.

This situation is no longer tenable. The Congress and the BJP have promised full statehood but have not made a serious effort to pass legislation in Parliament when in power. Unravelling a messy governance structure is an arduous task, but it cannot be put off forever. The people of Delhi need to see a campaign marked by an informed debate dealing with the necessity and feasibility of full statehood.

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