The demand of full statehood for Delhi has again gained ‘momentum’ with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s latest protest at Raj Bhawan. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has deployed a new strategy this time – a sit-in protest inside Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal’s house. For Arvind Kejriwal, protests are nothing new, even after his election as the CM twice. But while Kejriwal’s protests were on the road, this time it is ‘in-house.’
The next obvious question is what led an elected government to show such assertive behaviour inside the official residence of a Constitutional authority, for the 8th day today. Along with the CM, three other ministers are also protesting.
IAS officers versus AAP – How it all began
It all began on June 11, when Kejriwal along with Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, PWD minister Satyender Jain and Labour Minister Gopal Rai went to the LG’s house and demanded that Anil Baijal issue orders to end the ‘strike’ of the IAS officers posted in the national capital and sought strict action against them. The other ‘demand’ was the Union government’s nod to a Delhi government proposal related to free ration delivery to poor at their home.
The standoff between the Delhi government and IAS officers began in February when Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash was allegedly beaten up by AAP ministers at the CM’s residence in his presence. The IAS officers condemned the alleged act and sought an apology over the incident. The AAP leadership, on the other hand, has rejected the charge and alleged that the officers were acting at the behest of the BJP to destabilise the working of the government. While the officers have rejected the charge that they are on strike, the ministers claim that officers are not attending key meetings of the ministers, and are thus hampering work. The AAP government has now sought the intervention of L-G and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in ending the four months’ deadlock.
However, on June 17, bureaucrats held a press conference to state that they are not on any strike and that they are being victimised and that there was misinformation being spread about them. The Delhi IAS Association said that they are totally neutral towards all political parties but they need a ‘culture of trust’ to work. IAS Association Secretary Manisha Saxena told reporters that officers are feeling unsafe after the assault on Chief Secretary.
However, Kejriwal reached out to bureaucrats after their press conference and said “I will ensure their safety and security with all powers and resources available at my command, the officers are a part of my family. ”
Is this a political gimmick?
Meanwhile, what began as a bureaucracy-government impasse soon turned into a bigger demand – full statehood for Delhi. Although the opposition is attacking Kejriwal for playing politics over a Constitutional issue, AAP says it is a matter of Right for the people of Delhi. The Aam Aadmi Party government has strongly backed the idea of complete statehood for national capital and recently passed a resolution for the same.
The opposition also became active with four opposition chief ministers of West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, Andhra Pradesh’s Chandrababu Naidu and Karnataka’s HD Kumaraswamy holding a joint press conference in Delhi and termed the current situation as a ‘constitutional’ crises. On Sunday, thousands of party workers marched towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s house in a show of support to the protest. Several parties offered their support to the march, including CPI.
The statehood demand for the city-state is not new. Every party in power has supported the demand but with provisions stated in the Constitution and the practicalities involved in the decision, nothing substantial has moved in this direction.
Kejriwal has repeatedly referred to the L-G as ‘Maharaj (emperor)’ and ‘viceroy’, claiming that the current arrangement was akin to the one under British rule. On June 11, Kejriwal invoked Delhi’s history under the Mughals and the British. “Between 2013 and 2016 came maharaja Najeeb Jung. Now we have maharaja Anil Baijal. Today, the most important question confronting Delhi is whether the L-G has the last word or the people. The time has come for people of Delhi to fight for their independence,” he said.
What Constitution says for Delhi
Moreover, the statehood demand, as underlined by many legal experts, is to be seen in conformity with the Constitutional provisions for the city. Delhi has been made a Union Territory due to its national capital status. It houses federal institutions, the diplomatic community and national institutions. Therefore, an arrangement is made, according to which the primary control over a city that serves as a nodal centre for the entire nation vests with the central government. This is the primary reason due to which a complete control to a state government is seen as unwarranted and impractical.
In 1991, the Parliament of India, through the 69th amendment, introduced Article 239AA (Special Provisions with respect to Delhi) and conferred the right upon the people of the NCT of Delhi to elect their own legislature and government to make laws under certain entries of the State list of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution and execute these laws respectively. However, it did not confer full statehood and powers with respect to public order, land and police remained with the Union government. Prior to this, as per the recommendations of State Reorganisation Commission, from November 1, 1956, Delhi became a Union Territory under the direct control of the President of India.
Delhi does not have a cadre of officers of its own and is part of a common cadre shared with other UTs. Delhi Police reports to the Union Home Ministry and the Delhi Development Authority, the nodal land agency, reports to LG.
The Capital of USA, Washington DC, Australian capital Canberra are some examples which have more control of the national governments because of the city’s national character.
Meanwhile, in Delhi, the demand has taken a political turn. With 2019 Lok Sabha elections approaching, different political parties are adopting different strategies that will act as their poll planks going into the 2019 elections. The opposition is alleging that the AAP government is playing with the feelings of people of Delhi on a question which is not political. Meanwhile, the impasse has now reached court.
The High Court of Delhi today acting on a PIL, asked the AAP government about who authorised its CM and ministers to sit in at the LG house and observed it is not a place to protest. “You are sitting inside the L-G’s office. If it’s a strike, it has to be outside the office,” said a bench comprising Justice A K Chawla and Justice Navin Chawla, PTI reported.