The bitter tussle between the Aam Aadmi Party government and the Lt Governor is akin to a chondral injury, leaving governance hobbling
Rahul Dass | August 5, 2016 | New Delhi
A bit of history first. Hannibal, a military commander from Carthage, is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history, particularly for crossing the mighty Alps with men – and elephants – and taking the war directly to the Roman republic. It was an incredible feat. But, he too was later defeated in the battle of Zama in 202 BC.
Cut to circa 2015. The AAP sweeps to power in the Delhi assembly elections, winning an eye-watering 67 of the 70 seats. The AAP tsunami wiped away the BJP, which barely got three seats, while the Congress fared even worse, getting a humiliating zero seats.
There is no doubt that the AAP is hugely popular. It is a heady mix of anti-corruption agenda, change and a promise of better governance. Arvind Kejriwal kept his word and initially Delhi saw a change for the better. All that was good.
It was later when it began to question the Lt Governor’s authority, did the party began to slowly step out of line. Week after week, there was some issue or the other over which the Delhi government had a run-in with Najeeb Jung.
The AAP-led Delhi government began to vociferously demand full statehood. They wanted power for the elected representatives. Simultaneously, they ramped up the confrontation with the LG. The Delhi government took one decision after the other, without consulting the Lt Governor, a position created by the constitution.
It is here that they began to miss the point. Till such time, the party was operating within the constitutional framework, they were in a strong position, but the moment they chose to attack the LG, and in a way launch an indirect attack on the constitution, they seem to have lost the plot. These attacks looked like an attempt to erode the body politic.
The Delhi high court on August 4 ruled that the capital continues to be a union territory under the administrative control of the Lt Governor and “does not acquire the status of a state”. The AAP decisions that were set aside include the probe into Delhi and District Cricket Association affairs, CNG fitness case, nominations of directors to power discoms, making DERC compensate for power cuts, revision of property circle rates and ACB probe against central government employees. The Delhi government did get relief in the right to appoint special public prosecutors.
Najeeb Jung rightly said that “it is not a win for Najeeb Jung and loss for Arvind Kejriwal. The court order is a kind of clarification that incorrect things will have to be corrected”.
However, Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia was quick to raise a larger point: “If Delhi was to be run by the Lt Governor, then why was the Constitution amended to have state assembly? Why provision was made to have an elected government?”
The AAP’s argument is undoubtedly strong. However, they need to take a fresh look at their efforts and perhaps take a different non-confrontationist approach. They may consider a referendum, but they need to be careful as it is a word loaded with too much meaning. Instead of wasting time by constantly questioning the LG and thereby undermining the constitutional framework, the AAP can perhaps consider launching a mass movement. It was after all born from one such movement that Anna Hazare had led. This peaceful mass mobilization does lead to good things and the AAP’s subsequent political victories is a case in point.
If the AAP government is indeed keen to get a full statehood for Delhi and have the right to govern the national capital, it needs to introspect as to why people are no longer so enthused about this issue, as they were when the party had just come to power.
It must realise that for better or for worse, things change. For the AAP too, things have dramatically changed. However, it would be unfortunate if the constitutional framework begins to feel like a millstone for the AAP. It has to respect the constitution and then try to work within it.
Popularity does not mean that one is always right. The grace lies in accepting the other point of view, yet not giving up on its dreams.
For once, the AAP seems to have met its match in the LG and it now remains to be seen how the battle, which has not shifted to the courtroom, pans out. Would this be the battle of Zama for the AAP?
Fire on the Ganges: Life among the Dead in Banaras By Radhika Iyengar 4th Estate / HarperCollins, 348 pages, 599
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