Delhi: Why statehood issue may give BJP an edge

  • Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 12, 2015 15:07 IST

The listeners of FM channels had already sensed it from the radio campaigns of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party. On Saturday, at a rally in the Capital's Ramlila Maidan, the Prime Minister just made it official. Delhi's electoral battle this time will be the one between Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.

Modi differentiated his party from the two-year old entity as the one that had "mastery" in running a good government, while the AAP's core competence was "dharna". It was an interesting recall because not many in Delhi had forgotten the AAP government's sit-in protest at Rail Bhawan last January demanding suspension of some officers and control over Delhi Police, which reported to the Union government, then run by the UPA.

This is bad news for the Congress. Increasingly marginalised since the last Assembly polls, the party's seeming irrelevance in the upcoming battle for Delhi was underlined by the Prime Minister who barely referred to the Congress in his speech. Though the party denies it, a section of the Congress leadership is apparently banking on the AAP to take the fight to the BJP.

But many of the promises being made by the AAP are simply undeliverable as long as full statehood eludes Delhi. In the present setup, no government in Delhi can ring in any fundamental administrative reform unless the Centre obliges.

At his Japanese Park rally in the Capital 16 months ago, the then BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi took on the then Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, calling her job the easiest among all CMs. "If there were potholes on Delhi's roads, she just blamed the corporation, if it is a law and order situation, she says it is the Centre's headache. She's the only CM who has a scapegoat for everything".

For the record, the BJP put full statehood to Delhi as a promise in its state polls agenda in 2013. It repeated the same in its Delhi-specific manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. In fact, it was the NDA government that had tabled the State of Delhi Bill, 2003, proposing full statehood by amending the Constitution. The AB Vajpayee government failed to get it through the House. Since returning to power again seven months ago, the BJP has been silent on the issue.

That does not absolve the Congress which in its manifesto for the 2013 elections had claimed that Sheila Dikshit could have delivered far more during her 15-year rule had she not been "shackled by the present governance structure characterised by multiplicity of authorities". But what it did not explain was why despite her political clout, Dikshit could not settle the issue of full statehood for Delhi with the Manmohan Singh-government even as they worked together for nine years.

The result is that governance remains a victim of multiple authorities in Delhi. There are at least 100 urban bodies - local agencies, boards and authorities - serving the city. There are six different agencies handling drains, sewerage and water pipes. Road upkeep is again the responsibility of five civic bodies and the PWD. Primary schools are with the four civic agencies and the secondary with the Delhi government.

The city's three main varsities - Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University report to the Union HRD ministry. Hospitals and healthcare involve the Centre, Delhi government and also the five municipalities. The Union Home ministry deals with the administrative matters of the civic bodies and the Delhi Police. Land is under the Delhi Development Authority that reports to the Union Urban Development ministry. The Lieutenant Governor is the reporting manager for these agencies. But the L-G office and the elected state government are not always on the same page.

Given this scenario, the multiple jurisdiction issue may make a tempting case for electing the party in Delhi that rules at the Centre. Kejriwal has been gunning for both the Congress and the BJP on the full statehood issue. But if this becomes a key factor in swinging the upcoming polls in favour of the BJP, the Congress will only have itself to blame.

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