The ongoing tussle between Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the Centre-backed lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung over who calls the shots in Delhi is being played out at two different levels: Legal and political.
The clash between the two parties did not start all of a sudden; it was brewing for quite some time and the question of who would be the acting chief secretary — for just a week since the incumbent is away on leave — was a convenient ruse to fan the embers, and both sides are responsible for escalating this very public fight.
However, such conflicts between the Centre and Delhi government are not new but the earlier ones were probably not as aggressive and public as the one that’s taking place now.
The pro-Jung-Centre legal luminaries feel that provisions in the law book and the procedures are clear on such appointments. The names of bureaucrats to be appointed come from the chief minister, and the lieutenant governor and the Union home minister have to agree since both groups share the responsibility of governing this one-of-a-kind city-state.
However, the ones on the side of Mr Kejriwal, an equally impressive group, say that the “exercise of powers by the Delhi government cannot be overruled by the LG as this violates constitutional scheme.”
The Centre’s May 21 gazette notification, which gives the lieutenant governor a free hand in matters relating to public order, police and services, has only worsened the ongoing power tussle. Mr Kejriwal’s deputy, Manish Sisodia, termed the notification as an attempt to “save the transfer-posting industry being run in Delhi”, which is definitely a serious charge.
Whatever the outcome of this squabble is, Mr Kejriwal is likely to gain politically more than the NDA from this fight. Statehood for Delhi was his pre-poll promise and the more the chief minister ratchets up the issue and blames the Centre for governance mismanagement and not giving him a free hand to work for the development of the city, the more he gains in the eyes of the electorate. In fact, opinion polls already show that nearly 61% of the residents of Delhi are backing him against the Centre.
Moreover, as the fight intensifies, Mr Kejriwal’s own image will improve; already it has had a much-needed refurbishing that was required after his scalding fight with his senior party colleagues a couple of months ago.
For the Centre, however, it’s increasingly looking like a battle with diminishing returns: Going further, if the Centre fails negotiate peace with the Delhi government, it could lose a lot of ground to AAP. Whatever the outcome is, however, this issue of Delhi statehood will not die down very soon; Mr Kejriwal will keep flogging it, because win or lose, he is the only one who will gain from it.