Delivery and good governance does not necessarily depend on having the same party in power at both levels.
January 2014 witnessed high drama in India’s capital that had the potential to snowball into a major crisis. As New Delhi was gearing up to celebrate Republic Day, the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, and his entire Cabinet literally took to streets, sleeping on the road at Janpath at night, as an act of protest against the Delhi police. Amid considerable speculation over whether the self-proclaimed “anarchist” chief minister would be removed by force, he called off the demonstration, after which Republic Day was duly celebrated without any further trouble.
A year later, with his Aam Aadmi Party securing an unprecedented electoral victory in the Delhi Assembly, winning 67 out of 70 seats, one hoped that Mr Kejriwal’s relentless energy would perhaps now be directed towards providing good governance and delivery of his electoral promises. But the past three years have been a continuous saga of blame game, name-calling and the refusal of the elected government to accept responsibility and accountability. Politics in Delhi, of course, touched an all-time low with the shocking allegations by the Delhi government’s chief secretary that he was manhandled by AAP MLAs in the presence of the chief minister at his official residence.
Leaving aside the contradictions between Mr Kejriwal’s incessant allegations that the Central government was not allowing him to work and his claims that his government’s delivery in the last three years was unmatched by the work done by any other government in 50 years, the unique ability of Mr Kejriwal to find excuses for Delhi’s chaotic state of governance is something to marvel at. One of the oft-repeated arguments is that Delhi’s unique structure of governance and power-sharing, where the Centre exercises control through the office of the lieutenant-governor, is a major cause that limits the powers of the state government. But Mr Kejriwal must recognise the fact that previous governments had worked within the same framework of regulations and delivered. Delivery and good governance does not necessarily depend on having the same party in power at both levels. When Ms Sheila Dikshit became the chief minister in Delhi, the BJP ruled at the Centre. Before her, when the BJP formed the government in Delhi, the Congress was in power at the Centre. The reason for this is not as the AAP says, that “sab mile huye hain”; it is due to the interest and ability of the governments and the leaders heading them to find solutions through dialogue without engaging in continuous conflicts and blame-game.
The question of statehood and the extent of powers to be vested in to Delhi government has been debated at the highest level all through the past century. In 1912, while shifting the capital from Kolkata to Delhi, this was observed by the Government of India in its dispatch to the Secretary of State for India (in London) on August 25, 1911: “It is generally recognised that the capital of a great Central Government should be separate and independent” (thereby making it away from the control of any Provincial Government and directly under the National Government) “and effect has been given to this principle in the United States, Canada, and Australia”.
It was not only the British viewpoint. The Indian Constitution’s drafting committee, under Dr B.R. Ambedkar, had also put Delhi under Part C States — without the subjects of law and order, local self-governing institutions, the Improvement Trust (the previous avatar of the DDA) and other statutory boards regulating certain public utility services in Delhi and New Delhi.
It was further discussed in 1955 by the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC), which indeed went a step ahead, and abolished the post of chief minister and the Legislative Assembly and further reduced the administrative status of Delhi to mayor-in-council with a municipal corporation. Citing international practices, it said: “The practice in other countries, administrative necessity and the desirability of avoiding conflicting jurisdictions, all point to the need for effective control by national governments over federal capitals.”
Following protests by political leaders seeking more powers, the Union government in 1966, through the Delhi Administration Act, gave Delhi a metropolitan council, a chief executive councillor, executive councillors and metropolitan councillors. This body did not have any legislative powers, and was confined to the role of a debating club. Mr L.K. Advani was chairman of the first elected metropolitan council.
The Sarkaria Commission (later Balakrishna Committee) gave its report in 1989, paving the way for the present form of Legislative Assembly, but also endorsed the earlier views and recommended that the police, public order and land not to be passed on to the Delhi government. International practices in national capitals and problems of dual power centres at the seat of the Union government were important reasons for this.
It is not just a matter of constitutionality. The people of Delhi must also be asked if they want to remain as the national capital or want statehood. While statehood may grant more powers to the political executive, what benefits can it grant to ordinary residents of Delhi? While presenting Delhi’s vote-on-account in 2015, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said if Delhi becomes a full state, it would get `5,000 crores per year as part of the state’s share of taxes from the Centre. But he chose not to reveal that on the Delhi police alone the Centre’s Budget outlay exceeds `5,000 crores a year. Also, as it is the national capital and a Union territory, Delhi has five super-specialty hospitals fully funded by the Centre. Unlike the Metro Rails in other cities, the Union government till 2011 spent $1 billion on the Delhi Metro alone, besides standing as a guarantor to pay the full amount of the low-interest Japanese loan. Delhi boasts of three UGC-funded Central universities. With full statehood, the political executive will get more powers, but at the cost of a bigger tax burden on the residents of Delhi.
While the crisis continues over the impasse between the political executive and the bureaucracy in Delhi, instead of trying to come up with innovative excuses, Mr Kejriwal should try to govern within the constitutional framework as his predecessors have done.