Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung took their ugly spat over the appointment of the acting chief secretary several notches up on Saturday, exchanging hostilities and threatening to take it all the way to the President’s office.
Defying a letter she received from Kejriwal in the morning advising her to withdraw, Shakuntala D Gamlin took charge as Delhi’s top bureaucrat till May 24, when chief secretary KK Sharma returns from leave.
This prompted the CM to write to Jung, “I am simply aghast by your questionable instructions issued directly to the principal secretary (services) to post an officer of your choice as acting chief secretary. In doing so, you have bypassed the democratically elected government. I would strongly request and urge you to remain within the confines of the Constitution and the laws relating to government of the NCT of Delhi. You are holding a constitutional post. Whatever the political pressures, you have a duty to uphold the Constitution.”
Kejriwal cited an article in the Constitution and provisions of the Transaction of Business Rules to make his case in his two-page letter. He attached a ‘secret’ note prepared by Delhi power minister Satyendar Jain on Gamlin’s alleged proximity to power companies.
Jung’s office responded sharply through a statement: “Not a single action taken by the L-G’s secretariat is in non-conformity with the... Constitution. In this case, the CM was duly consulted on file and the relevant notesheet is in public domain. The delay on the part of the CM of over 40 hours necessitated a direction from the L-G that orders be issued. It is a given that the office of the chief secretary cannot be left vacant. The chief secretary is required not just for normal work but for any emergency that may come up.”
The CM said he had sought an appointment with President Pranab Mukherjee to apprise him of the matter.
Dragging the BJP into the mess, deputy CM Manish Sisodia accused it of attempting a ‘coup’ through the L-G. “An elected government that come to power through a historic majority and its minister were bypassed by the L-G and orders were given to officers directly. The L-G doesn’t have the right under any law to bypass ministers and direct the officers.”
There was more drama ahead. Government sources said principal secretary (services) Anindo Majumdar, who had issued the order for Gamlin’s appointment on Friday, had been removed. But Jung’s office said that order was void as it did not have the L-G’s approval.
On Friday, Jung had ordered Gamlin’s appointment and told the home ministry that Kejriwal had threatened to tarnish the officer’s record if she did not pull out. According to home ministry sources, Gamlin had brought to Jung’s notice an unsigned letter purportedly written to the L-G by Kejriwal and shown to her by the CM’s secretary that accused her of favouring the discom BSES during her current stint as principal secretary (power).
On Saturday, Gamlin spent four hours in office but did not clear any files related to the chief secretary’s office, said officials. Parimal Rai, the Delhi government’s pick for the interim post, requested the L-G not to consider his name.
Choosing to steer clear of the controversy, Union home secretary LC Goyal said, “The home ministry has nothing to do with it. The lieutenant governor and the chief minister are competent enough to handle the situation.”
The confrontation came in the backdrop of a series of conflicts between the L-G and the CM.
During AAP's first stint, Jung had advised the Delhi assembly speaker against allowing tabling of the Jan Lokpal Bill, saying the bill did not have the required clearance for introduction. However, AAP had gone ahead and tabled it.
Recently, Kejriwal issued directions to ministers and senior officials of Delhi government not to send files pertaining to police, public order and land to Jung's office.
Reacting strongly to the directive, Jung sought to stamp his authority by directing top officials to route all important files through him as per constitutional framework and laid down procedures.
The L-G also made it clear that the role of the CM and the council of ministers was to aid and advise him while he was entitled to act solely on his own discretion.
After the Lok Sabha elections, the AAP had accused Jung of acting at the behest of BJP government at the Centre when he did not heed to Kejriwal's demand of dissolving the assembly.
In November last year, Jung had recommended to the President dissolution of the assembly after the BJP, AAP and the Congress had expressed inability to form government and preferred holding of polls. Assembly polls were held in Delhi in February and the AAP won a historic mandate by winning 67 of the 70 seats.