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HomeOpinionModi govt’s GNCTD ordinance proof BJP still clueless on Delhi’s politics, AAP

Modi govt’s GNCTD ordinance proof BJP still clueless on Delhi’s politics, AAP

First signs of a BJP U-turn were visible in 2015 when its then CM candidate avoided questions on why statehood demand was missing form its vision document.

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The root cause behind Modi government’s ordinance to override the 11 May Constitution Bench judgement of the Supreme Court on the control over services in Delhi is neither legal nor administrative.

It is in fact the historical lack of clarity among the country’s two main parties — ruling BJP and main opposition Congress — on how state Delhi’s politics should have been handled. They continue to be clueless. Another unforeseen critical factor, which both parties never imagined, is the emergence of AAP as a major force in the city state.

Also read: What if India had 75 states? Demands for redrawing state lines call for a…

Going back on the promise

The Friday late night ordinance marks a complete political U-turn by the BJP on the issue of Delhi politics within three decades.

Old timers would remember that none less than BJP founders, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, themselves led numerous protests across the streets of the national capital demanding full statehood in the decade of 1980s.

So much so that then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had to yield, though partially, to provide Delhi with a Vidhan Sabha through the 69th Constitutional amendment in 1991.

The demand was met partially by the Rao government to dilute the BJP’s high pitch campaign. But Congress never believed in statehood for Delhi and preferred to keep it a Union Territory with a Vidhan Sabha, only solace being that it was mentioned in the Constitution to make it look important.

But reality did not go unnoticed and immediately after first Delhi Vidhan Sabha polls in December 1993, which BJP won by a thumping majority, Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana remarked that the House appeared like a body without a soul. His successor during the same tenure, Sahib Singh Verma went a step further in 1996 and furiously stated that he would prefer to do farming rather than being a powerless chief minister.

1993-98 is the one and only term that BJP has won in Delhi in last three decades. But because the party was doing well in the seven Lok Sabha seats of the capital, Atal-Advani kept promising statehood. Despite Congress winning the 1998 Delhi Assembly polls, Advani as Home Minister kept his commitment and introduced the Delhi statehood Bill in the Lok Sabha in 2003. The Bill proposed a Constitutional amendment. It was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home, then headed by Pranab Mukherjee.

After the Lok Sabha elections were announced a few months later, that bill was put on the back burner and never saw the light of day.

The Congress actions showed it believed in only having a semblance of a local government in Delhi. That explains why during 10 years of UPA rule, the statehood bill was never revived.

Also read: What’s the ordinance on bureaucrat posting in Delhi & Kejriwal-Centre tussle over ‘services’

Gaming the courts

First signs of a BJP U-turn were visible in 2015, when the party came out with a vision document instead of a manifesto and its then Chief Ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi avoided questions on why statehood demand was missing.

Within months of AAP winning one of the biggest mandates in post-Independence India, the Modi government mysteriously amended the Constitution through a Home Ministry notification to deprive the elected Delhi government of Services (transfers/postings of officers in Delhi government).

The matter travelled to courts — from Delhi High Court to Supreme Court — and finally, it was after eight years that the five-judge Constitution Bench ruled on the matter on 11 May. But the Modi government had a different plan ready even before the judgment could be implemented.

One can understand the political anger of BJP in Delhi — once its fort. Even before the city-state was born, the capital was a Jana Sangh stronghold.

The BJP anger is clearly reflected in the late-night ordinance and makes it clear that it will not allow any breathing space to Arvind Kejriwal government, despite the AAP having won two decisive legal battles against the Modi government. In last five years, two Constitution benches of the Supreme Court have conclusively ruled in favour the AAP government over the Centre. Modi government, however, on both occasions snatched whatever powers the top court had restored to the Delhi government. Even the 2018 judgment was followed by amendments in the GNCTD Act in 2021.

Given the current scenario, it is unlikely that the Delhi government would be able to function smoothly. It is not difficult to fathom what might hold next.

@sharmanagendar is currently the executive editor of leading podcasting platform 

He was Delhi CM’s media advisor between 2015-20 and has earlier worked for BBC World Service and Hindustan Times. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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