The Delhi crisis is co-operative federalism’s worst moment
Governments and political parties should know what powers they have, and don’t have under the ConstitutionUpdated: Jul 07, 2018 19:24 IST
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court delivered a judgment in the Union of India vs NCT of Delhi case. Since then, both the elected Aam Aadmi Party government of Delhi, and the Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA government at the Centre have been trying to spin the verdict as a win for their position.
It is a fact that Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor (there have been two in this period, since 2015) has sought to run the union territory as an administrator, even if this meant being at odds with the AAP government, which was elected in 2015. It is also a fact that the Arvind Kejriwal led AAP government has focused more on its fight with the L-G (and the Central government), than on governance, proffering the fight as an excuse for not doing things that it could have done. And it is also a fact that Delhi has lurched from one crisis to another over the past three-years-and-a-bit.
It is natural for governments run by opposing parties to not like each other. Given Delhi’s unique status, it is also natural that the union territory’s elected government not get along with either the L-G or the ministry of home affairs (to which the L-G reports), or both. Even the Congress government that ruled Delhi between 1998 and 2008 didn’t exactly have a friction-free relationship with the Congress-led United Progressive Government at the Centre. But even by these measures, the level of cynical political brinksmanship on display in Delhi has been mind-boggling. Each side has tried to portray the other as the villain, and at every available opportunity. And each side has dutifully passed the buck on why things aren’t being fixed in the national capital (“The other side is responsible/won’t let us”).
The judgment of the Supreme Court has merely reiterated the constitutional position on Delhi – that it is unique; not ready for statehood – and that the elected government enjoys primacy over the L-G except when it comes to land, law and order, and police. It doesn’t set aside an earlier High Court judgment being appealed (which said that the L-G was the administrative head of the union territory). Nor does it address the various specific issues being contended. That is to be decided by a two-judge bench.
One of these issues concerns “services”, the postings and transfers of bureaucrats, and there the matter is rendered more complex by a fact pointed out by Union Minister Arun Jaitley in a blog – that the Delhi government couldn’t possibly have power over union territory cadre officers. The Aam Aadmi Party government has been fast off the blocks after the judgment, sending a file on such transfers to the union territory’s top bureaucrat, but it is unlikely that anything will happen on this front till the two-judge bench rules on the issue.
On Friday, both sides dug in their heels further. The L-G said the issue of services is yet to be decided. And the Aam Aadmi Party alleged that the home ministry had instructed the L-G to not follow the Supreme Court’s judgement. (The home ministry said it had done nothing of the kind).
The Aam Aadmi Party can cry “contempt of court” for all it wants but what this means is more litigation before the matter is resolved. A law ministry official told Hindustan Times last week that the central government could consider seeking a review of at least some parts of the Constitution bench’s judgment and should that come to pass, it could actually mean even more litigation.
Chanakya finds it surprising that the court, while reiterating the federal nature of the constitution and the powers of the elected government of Delhi, clarifying the role of the L-G, and also addressing the issue of full statehood for Delhi (which wasn’t actually one of the issues being contented at all, although it has been a long-standing demand of the Aam Aadmi Party), didn’t do one of the two things that could have resolved the issue – set aside the High Court order or address the contentious “services” issue.
Still, to be fair to the court, a Constitutional bench has to look at the big picture and this order is anything if not big picture. It is also a reiteration of facts and principles that a court shouldn’t have to do. Governments and political parties should know what powers they have and don’t have under the Constitution. And the governments of states and union territories should make an effort to get along with the central government, and vice versa, because of what’s at stake — the well being of people.
Both sides are to blame in this case. The Aam Aadmi Party’s politics is based on a protest-based approach that requires it to be opposed to all formal political formations, and which, as a result doesn’t naturally take to being in power. The BJP, as evident from its electoral strategy since late 2013, wants it all, and seems to believe the ends justify the means.
If co-operative federalism’s best moment in Independent India, the unified Goods and Services Tax, has come under the NDA, then so has its worst, the Delhi crisis.
First Published: Jul 07, 2018 18:50 IST