In the run-up to the Delhi elections, AAP’s campaign focused mainly on three issues: Arvind Kejriwal’s apology for his resignation after 49 days in office, water and power.
Two more issues that have been close to the party’s heart — lokpal and statehood for Delhi — were discussed and are in aap’s manifesto but they were not discussed at public meetings as feverishly as one would have expected them to do.
But that both will now figure prominently on the party’s agenda was made clear the day after the results: Two top leaders of the party — Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia — raised the statehood issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as home minister Rajnath Singh. On lokpal, Mr Sisodia said that the new government will take it up in the second session of the assembly and send the bill to the Centre for approval.
There are several administrative reasons for AAP to raise the statehood issue and it’s not the first party to do so. Ironically, a Bill to grant statehood was tabled in Parliament in 2003 by the BJP but it lapsed with the 13th Lok Sabha. During the Delhi elections, however, the issue did not figure in the BJP’s manifesto.
Whichever party is at the helm of affairs in Delhi raises this issue because the Centre controls key departments in the city: Delhi Police, the master plan, land development and regulation, municipal bodies and the Lt Governor reports to the President.
The unique character of Delhi — neither a city nor a Union Territory, but a kind of ‘halfway’ house — makes governance a challenge and leaves open several areas of confrontation with the Centre.
The Centre, irrespective of which government is in power, also has enough reasons for not being excited about the statehood demand. But the plethora of agencies that administer the Capital not only affects governance but also gives politicians an exit route when crises happen.
Instead of stonewalling the demand, the Centre should sit with the Delhi government to see how rules and the chain of command can be simplified and points of conflict reduced. Even if full statehood is not given, there are a few areas like policing and municipal authorities where the state can be given greater control mainly because those affect citizens on a daily basis.