Why the MCD unification is politically significant for the BJP

ByRisha Chitlangia
Mar 25, 2022 07:15 PM IST

While the BJP says that unification is essential to make the corporation “financially viable” before elections, the AAP and the Congress said that this is just a delay tactic as the BJP fears defeat.

New Delhi: The municipal elections, which were to be held in April, are likely to be deferred, as Union home minister Amit Shah is set to introduce the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2022. The Bill aims to make the Capital’s three corporations an “integrated and well-equipped entity”.

Unlike the AAP and the Congress, this could prove crucial to the political fortunes of the BJP, which has been in power in the corporations for 15 years. (Raj K Raj/HT) PREMIUM
Unlike the AAP and the Congress, this could prove crucial to the political fortunes of the BJP, which has been in power in the corporations for 15 years. (Raj K Raj/HT)

The Centre’s last-minute decision to bring legislation to unify the corporations has sparked a controversy with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been ruling the three civic bodies for the past 15 years, of running away from elections fearing defeat.

Unlike the AAP and the Congress, this could prove crucial to the political fortunes of the BJP, which has been in power in the corporations for 15 years.

Delhi chief minister (CM) Arvind Kejriwal recently dared the BJP to hold the elections now and win. “I challenge the BJP — if you have courage, hold the MCD elections immediately. If you win, we will leave politics there and then. BJP first coerced the state election commission to defer elections and is now on track to delay them for months through an amendment,” the CM said.

It is unlikely that elections will be held in April, as the unification exercise will take some time once the bill is passed in Parliament, said senior BJP leaders.

While the BJP says that unification is essential to make the corporation “financially viable” before elections, the AAP and the Congress said that this is just a delay tactic as the BJP fears defeat.

Slamming the BJP for trying to delay elections for political gains, the AAP’s chief spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said that the BJP is on the backfoot, especially after the AAP’s thumping victory in Punjab. He said this is just a repeat of 2014 when the BJP kept the Delhi assembly in suspended animation for months following Kejriwal’s resignation after 49 days in power.

“They (BJP) waited for a favourable opportunity to hold the elections and kept the assembly in suspended animation for nearly 10 months… But the result was that we won 67 out of 70 seats in the 2015 elections. Once people have made up their minds, they will not change it. You can’t manipulate people’s mandate by stalling elections. This time too people will vote for us in civic polls,” said Bharadwaj.

Even the Congress, which is hoping to make a comeback in the city’s governance system after its crushing defeat in assembly elections in 2015, wants the elections to be held now.

Former Union minister and Congress general secretary Ajay Maken criticised the Centre and said that elections should be held as per schedule. On March 22, when the Union Cabinet approved the bill to merge the corporations, Maken tweeted:

But the BJP says that holding elections without unification is not practical. Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta said, “The Delhi government has made the corporations financially unviable. The bill will strengthen the corporations so that the people of Delhi can benefit. Today, we are unable to pay salaries and don’t have funds to carry out essential development work. All these issues have to be sorted first.”

What does it mean for political parties?

There is a lot at stake for the BJP in Delhi. The party has just eight MLAs in the Delhi assembly. It has to win in the civic elections to remain relevant in the city’s governance system, especially after its defeat in the 2020 assembly elections.

But anti-incumbency coupled with the AAP’s growing popularity, especially outside Delhi, political analysts say, is a major challenge for the BJP. Senior BJP leaders admit that the elections now will not go in the party's favour. The party has been trying to corner the AAP government on the excise policy. But many in the party admit that this will not help them win the civic polls.

If the elections are deferred, this will give the BJP time to prepare an action plan to fix the financial problems and go to the people with a solution. “We are finding it difficult to convince our employees as to why we are not able to pay salaries. The corporations have to be made financially viable before elections are held,” said a senior BJP leader.

Political analysts say that the present political scenario favours the AAP. After its victory in Punjab, the party is also confident of winning the municipal polls whenever it is held, though the party wants it now.

For the Congress, which has been out of power in the corporations since 2007 and in the Delhi assembly since 2013, this is a battle for survival. Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) vice-president Abhishek Dutt said, “This has been done to just defer the elections as the BJP knows it is losing. We are all geared up for the polls and people know that Congress is the only alternative which can provide effective governance.”

Political analyst Tanvir Aeijaz, who teaches political science at Ramjas College, said the timing of the development is likely to go in favour of the AAP. “When the Congress decided to trifurcate the MCD, they had a logical explanation. But the BJP has given no explanation behind its decision. Moreover, now with AAP all set to form the government in Punjab, it will only become difficult for the BJP to counter it. The impact of AAP’s win in Punjab will have an impact in Delhi as the party has been able to sell ‘Kejriwal’s model of development’ outside Delhi,” said Aeijaz.

Politics behind trifurcation

While the BJP today is talking about the unification of the corporations to address the financial issues, the party in early 2000 was in favour of smaller corporations for better governance.

The Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi referred to a report by a committee led by veteran BJP leader VK Malhotra while trying to restructure the Municipal Corporation of Delhi in 2011. The Malhotra committee recommended splitting the corporations into five.

Arvinder Singh Lovely, a minister in the Sheila Dikshit Cabinet, said, “Till 2008, the BJP has been in favour of smaller civic bodies. Malhotraji’s committee also recommended the same. But the party changed its stance in 2011.”

Lovely was part of the five-member political committee, which had BJP MLAs Malhotra and Jagdish Mukhi as members, formed by the then Congress government to look into the restructuring of the MCD before the 2012 civic elections.

When contacted, Malhotra refused to comment.

While the then CM Sheila Dikshit was firm on splitting the corporations, many in her own party were against it as they feared it would not pay any political dividends.

Lovely, who held the urban development portfolio, said, “Trifurcation was done to ensure better functioning of the corporations and area-specific development, which was not possible in unified MCD.”

It also increased the Delhi government’s role in the functioning of the corporations, as director local bodies and urban development secretary were directly monitoring the functioning of the corporations through commissioners, said a senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity.

Electoral consequences of trifurcation

The Congress, which lost the civic polls in 2007 despite the delimitation of wards, was hoping for a comeback in 2012 by splitting the MCD.

Senior Congress leaders admit that the party was confident of winning at least two corporations, including East Corporation.

Congress’ defeat in East corporation in 2012 municipal polls was a jolt for the party, as it did a lot of development work in the area. Trans-Yamuna was a Congress bastion with two MPs and over 10 MLAs, including two ministers (Lovely and late AK Walia) in the Delhi government. The Trans-Yamuna Area Development Board, constituted by the Congress government, carried out a lot of development work in East Delhi.

But the Congress didn’t win in any of the three corporations. Lovely, however, said, “We didn’t trifurcate the corporation for political gains. It was to improve governance for people.”

BJP MLA Vijender Gupta, who was the Delhi BJP chief then, said that trifurcation was done by the Congress for political gains. “But the BJP won in all the three, including East Delhi, despite anti-incumbency. The Congress government wanted to weaken the civic bodies. Trifurcation only made the corporations financially unviable.”

The financial crisis and the way forward

The BJP says that it has been difficult to run the corporations due to an acute shortage of funds. The corporations, Delhi BJP chief said, have not been able to pay salaries to employees on time. Gupta said, “In the past seven years, the AAP-led Delhi government has only weakened the corporations by not releasing funds. The corporations have been somehow managing to provide basic services.”

The AAP hit back at the allegation and said that the BJP has done nothing to increase the civic bodies’ income in the past 15 years. Senior AAP leader Durgesh Pathak, who oversees municipal affairs in the party, said, “When AAP came to power in Delhi, the government budget was around 25,000 crore. When we can increase the budget to nearly 60,000-70,000 crore in five-six years, why couldn’t the BJP do the same in the corporation? Moreover, if there was a fund crisis, then why didn’t the Centre help the corporations. The Centre gives funds to municipal corporations in other states.”

Jai Prakash, former mayor of the North Corporation, said, “The government has not been paying us our share in taxes. We should be getting 17% of it. But it was reduced to 10-12% and what the corporations get is much less as the state government deducts interest on loans etc. How will corporations function if we don’t have money to pay salaries?”

"Exciting news! Hindustan Times is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
Story Saved
Live Score
Saved Articles
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, September 29, 2023
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals