The AAP’s movement for full statehood for Delhi should be debated on merits, not politics.
You’d think that it is criminal that the Delhi Pollution Control Committee faces a staff shortage given that Delhi is one of the world’s most polluted cities.
I asked a member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) how this could count as good governance for all the hyper-PR they do about the Arvind Kejriwal regime. The response was that the Lt Governor of Delhi has stalled the hiring. If we ask the Lt Governor’s office, he will surely have a different version.
The winter of 2017 saw a much delayed implementation of an anti-pollution plan in Delhi by the central Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA). The plan was in the first place prepared, with great lethargy, on the orders of the Supreme Court. What delayed its implementation in Delhi-NCR was that it required coordination between 16 different government agencies.
Neither here nor there
Air pollution is just one of many examples of how the city of Delhi suffers because it is neither a union territory nor a proper state. It hangs somewhere in between, in Constitutional ambiguity.
The Sixty-ninth Amendment Act, 1991 gave Delhi a “special status among the Union Territories”, changing its name from “Union Territory of Delhi” to “National Capital Territory of Delhi.” The idea was always that the next logical step, full statehood, would follow in due course.
If the elected representatives of Delhi cannot solve the pollution problem, they deserve to be voted out in the next election. Except, who are the answerable authorities? The Lt Governor is not an elected representative. He is answerable to the Modi government. In the next general election, Delhi’s voters, like in any part of India, will vote on national issues.
That is why we have the Delhi state assembly for local issues. But if the elected chief minister can’t even appoint staff at the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, what’s the point of assembly elections in Delhi?
If you dig deep into any issue, it’s the same story. Be it de-silting of drains, the poor functioning of Delhi government hospitals, the delayed Delhi Metro construction, the lack of public buses and so on. On each of these issues, different branches of government will be passing the buck. You will find yourself running from Delhi secretariat to the L-G’s office to union ministries and departments.
Not a new story
There’s more to the Delhi statehood issue than the Kejriwal-Modi battle. For nine years, chief minister Sheila Dikshit of the Congress party had the good fortune of having her own party’s government at the centre.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games were a mess. Every aspect of the games was delayed. There were allegations of massive corruption, some of which are still under scrutiny. If you went around asking government authorities in 2010 what the problem was, they would pass the buck to someone else. In another state, the buck would stop with the chief minister. But Delhi’s governance structure is such a maze that the buck never stops. It keeps going around the maze.
But Sheila Dikshit still had a co-operative government. Among the things she had under her was the Delhi services department, which recruits and allots staff – everyone from IAS officers to temporary recruits. She also had the anti-corruption bureau under her.
Change of guard
Now, for reasons entirely political, the all-powerful L-G has appropriated all powers over the anti-corruption bureau and the services department. As a result, it is he and not Kejriwal’s ministers who sign the ACR reports of bureaucrats. Thus, bureaucrats are not obliged to listen to the chief minister or his ministers. For three months, they reportedly went on a boycott of the elected government to protest an incident where the chief secretary was allegedly thrashed. They could do so only because the Kejriwal government isn’t going to write their annual reports anyway.
When the Kejriwal government first realised in 2015 that it was not going to have a co-operative L-G, it was in a bind. It couldn’t complain about not having full powers to do what it liked since it had come to power with a lot of tall promises and huge expectations. If after this they said Modi wasn’t letting them do anything, it would have seemed like an excuse. Furthermore, the people of Delhi could well have said, let’s bring the BJP in the next election.
So the AAP government came up with the slogan “Woh pareshan kartein rahein, hum karma kartein rahein (They kept troubling us, we kept working anyway)”. But as the Delhi high court ruled that the L-G was boss, the AAP decided to forget Delhi for a year. The entire party and cabinet moved to Punjab. They thought they’ll win Punjab and settle the Delhi score from Chandigarh. But they lost Punjab.
After the Punjab defeat, the AAP gave up their national ambitions, stopped attacking Modi andturned their attention back to Delhi. It spent a full year trying to show results in education and health and propagated those with a lot of PR. They had already won over Delhi’s poor with reduction of electricity and water bills. A tough bypoll victory in Bawana showed that the AAP still enjoyed support among the poor.
Policy, not politics
Now, the AAP thinks it has enough political capital in Delhi to wage a movement for full statehood of Delhi. Arvind Kejriwal returned to his agitational ways and camped at the Lt Governor’s office for a week to demand the IAS officers start working with the ministers again. Eventually, they started doing so.
At the Talkotara Stadium on 1 July, the Aam Aadmi Party is going to launch a movement for full statehood. This is the first time that the AAP will start persuading the people of Delhi that the lack of full statehood is a problem. They’re calling it the “L-G, Dilli Choro” or “L-G, Quit Delhi” campaign.
We will see a lot of debate in Delhi over full statehood in the next few weeks. As we do that, it is important to not let that debate be defined by party politics. This is not about the AAP or the BJP or the Congress. This is a policy issue and the people of Delhi must participate in it at that level.
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