Analysis: Rise and fall of the Delhi CM's powers in Capital's turf war
In stripping the Arvind Kejriwal government of its right to be consulted on matters of police, public order and services in the Capital, the BJP-led coalition at the Centre has reversed the party patriarch LK Advani’s decision 16 years ago to associate the elected government in the decision-making process at Raj Niwas.
This was in September 1998.
Advani had taken over as home minister in May. And Sahib Singh Verma, the second chief minister after the city got back its legislative assembly, was set to face assembly elections a few months down the line.
Verma, and his predecessor Madan Lal Khurana, had spent a larger part of their tenure demanding statehood for Delhi. It was easy as long as someone else was in power everytime something went wrong. Or a high-profile crime took place. From May 1998, there was no one to blame.
Advani, too, was in favour of statehood to Delhi. But that would have taken time. So he told officials to issue an executive order to pave the way for consultations with the CM. The bureaucracy had its reservations and proposed to give the Lt-Governor the discretion to consult the CM. But the law ministry – then led by Ram Jethmalani – felt this wasn’t good enough and made it practically mandatory for Raj Niwas to consult the CM. Every time he decided not to send the file to the CM, he had to explain the reasons on file.
This is the order that the Modi government superseded on Thursday, the one that attorney general Mukul Rohatgi insists was “not completely in consonance with constitutional provisions”.
It wasn’t meant to be.
But since the Centre had the powers over police, public order and services, there couldn’t be a bar on delegating these powers and spelling out how the L-G would use them.
But Sahib Singh never had an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labour. Or project his “victory”. He was edged out of the CM’s seat by the party in less than a month, and replaced by then information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj less than two months before elections.
Swaraj sent her cabinet colleagues on late night inspections to police stations every night. Those caught napping, literally or otherwise, were suspended by a helpful Raj Niwas. But even she couldn’t lift up the low cadre morale or push down the spiralling onion prices. She lost, and Sheila Dikshit came in.
Dikshit started out trying to make the best of her powers. But soon found her government to be at the mercy of Raj Niwas, as an aide had once put it. She was furious when the home ministry ruled that every reference to the Government of NCT of Delhi in laws, meant the Lt-Governor and not her council of ministers. She, too, had the assembly condemn the resolution. But it had little effect.
Post-2004, the BJP – now in the opposition at the Centre – also would attack her when a sensational crime took place. She would often ask then home minister Shivraj Patil to order that the Lt Governor consult her on law & order. An official recalled how no one told her such an order did exist.
There is a good chance that Kejriwal’s CMO was the first to have spotted the order and pushed Raj Niwas and the bureaucracy to implement it. And ironically, set the ball rolling for its revocation.