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Has Kejriwal-Baijal deadlock put Delhi at the brink of President’s rule, writes Vinod Sharma

From the BJP’s standpoint, the elected government’s dismissal will bring into question its commitment to federalism – at a time the big ticket 2019 battle is less than a year away.

delhi Updated: Jun 15, 2018 10:09 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
President's Rule,Delhi,Delhi government
The Delhi CM is a half CM who isn’t the master of all that he surveys. The real power rests with Raj Niwas.(PTI)

Delhi is a quasi-state riding on two systems: central rule through an unelected lieutenant-governor and an elected dispensation under a chief minister. The arrangement is inevitable, not ideal.

Why? The city is simultaneously the seat of power of the central government bound by international treaties that make it responsible for the security and safety of visiting foreign dignitaries, embassies and hundreds of resident diplomats. For that, the police have to be under the Union home ministry through the lieutenant-governor’s office.

In full statehood provinces, law and order is in the exclusive charge of the elected regime. The terms of engagement are different in Delhi because it houses two elected legislatures and governments.

The state assembly indeed represents the will of the people but its remit isn’t weightier than that of Parliament. The distinction is as big as it is between the Supreme Court and the Delhi high court. Their premises are at a walking distance from each other – but a huge constitutional hierarchy separates them.

Even geographically and by implication administratively, Delhi is part of the centrally coordinated National Capital Region (NCR) involving chunks of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana. The NCR Planning Board created under the NCR Act is under the Union ministry of urban development.

It is that kind of matrix that dictates the seemingly dichotomous jurisdictions or separation of powers between the L-G and the elected regime. The Delhi CM is a half CM who isn’t the master of all that he surveys. The real power rests with Raj Niwas.

The arrangement can work if the “big brother” is benign and his elected sibling, so to speak, deferential and reasonable. Or else, the outcome is the breakdown of the constitutional machinery – as is evident from the protracted face-off between Anil Baijal and Arvind Kejriwal.

The irony is that as former civil servants, they cannot be oblivious of the value of accommodation, of the give and take that creates meeting grounds in vexed situations. What they have ended up co-authoring is an unprecedented impasse that looks unresolvable. If wiser counsel doesn’t dawn, Delhi would end up getting full central rule – not the full statehood the AAP leadership is seeking.

Lieutenant-governors and CMs with adversarial persuasions have had good working relationships in yesteryears. To cite one example: Vijai Kapoor, a BJP-appointed LG (1998-2004) got Sheila Dikshit’s Congress government the money it needed (from the urban development ministry) for constructing flyovers across the city.

The Baijal-Kejriwal deadlock was the subject of an animated exchange at a luncheon meeting of retired chief secretaries of states the other day in Delhi. The consensus view there was that things spun out of control with Kejriwal failing to make peace with his chief secretary, Anshu Prakash, by regretting the incident that upset him.

The L-G contributed to the stalemate by not reaching out to the CM for a modus vivendi. That fuelled speculation that the bureaucracy’s non-cooperation with AAP ministers had his blessings.

The half-statehood, half-central rule streams aren’t, therefore, running parallel. They’re flowing at cross purposes and the casualty could be the AAP regime.

It’s difficult to say whether Kejriwal wants to be ousted. That eventuality will make de jure the de facto central rule in Delhi. The AAP leaders could then hope for some sympathy as the schemes for which they’re fighting are people-centric. From the BJP’s standpoint, the elected government’s dismissal will bring into question its commitment to federalism – at a time the big ticket 2019 battle is less than a year away.

First Published: Jun 15, 2018 08:57 IST