The NDA government threw its weight behind Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung in the spat with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday, saying he was well within his powers to make senior bureaucratic appointments.
As the no-holds-barred turf war between the Capital's two most powerful men intensified, the Union home ministry issued a gazette notification saying services, public order, police and land fell under the lieutenant governor, who may consult with the chief minister on services using his discretion.
The Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party, which romped to power winning 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly elections in February, has been at loggerheads with Jung after he appointed senior bureaucrat Shakuntala Doley Gamlin as acting chief secretary last week against the wishes of the chief minister.
Kejriwal, a former revenue officer whose AAP was born out of massive anti-corruption protests, accused the Centre of trying to run the Delhi government by proxy, saying it had stabbed the people of the city in the back with the notification.
"The Narendra Modi government is trying to run Delhi with three BJP MLAs through the backdoor," he said, reacting to the notification. "Pre-independence, the Queen of England used to send notifications to the Viceroy here. Now, Jung saheb is the Viceroy and the PMO is London."
He said the Centre's move showed the nervousness of the ruling BJP at the Centre over the anti-corruption efforts by his government.
"Earlier, a lot of money was changing hands for transfers, but that has ended under the AAP government's three-month rule. Now, Congress and BJP people fail to get contracts in Delhi. So they went to the PMO," he said.
"Now, they have brought this notification as the BJP and Congress want to have their own officers in Delhi … and that is why they want control over the transfer-posting industry through the L-G."
His remarks reflected deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia allegation on Thursday that the AAP government has been under attack because "it had stopped the practice of taking money to assign lucrative posts to bureaucrats".
Interestingly, the Centre's notification said Delhi's anti-corruption branch (ACB) cannot take up offences against central government employees, making it clear that the state government's authority was limited to the national capital.
It is an amendment to a previous notification which curtailed powers of the ACB after it registered an FIR on a gas-pricing issue during Kejriwal's 49-day rule in 2013.
The scramble for controlling the city stems from Delhi's complicated position as a Union territory functioning as the Capital. The state government has no power over a number of important departments and agencies that function under the lieutenant governor, who reports to the home ministry.
With the tussle between Kejriwal and Jung over the appointments of officials reaching President Pranab Mukherjee, legal luminaries were sharply divided on the stand taken by the two sides.
The latest twist in the battle between Kejriwal and Jung, who have a history of bitter confrontation, came a day after home minister Rajnath Singh briefed the Prime Minister on the issue, after getting legal opinion on the matter.
(With agency inputs)