New Delhi: Vinod Kumar, 46, rides his bicycle for 10 kilometres every morning, from his small one-room rented home in Madanpur Khadar to Chittaranjan Park, where he works as a car driver. Then, he drives his employer to and from Sahibabad in Uttar Pradesh, where the latter works in a private firm.
Kumar earns Rs 15,000 per month. He says it is never enough to run his family, which includes his wife and two school-going children.
Kumar has lived in Delhi for nearly three decades, and has a vote in south Delhi. Asked by ThePrint if the demand of full statehood for Delhi is an issue for him in the upcoming assembly elections, he said: “Is statehood going to make my daily commute easy? Or help me increase my income? Netas (leaders) keep raising these issues for politics. It was never an issue for me. I am more concerned about making ends meet.”
Kumar said he will vote for the AAP, but that is because the party “cares for the poor”.
“I don’t care for their politics, (but) who else has ever thought of giving us free water and electricity?” he asked. And he’s not the only one to think this way.
Political parties have played the statehood card in Delhi according to their convenience. But Delhiites are clear — it doesn’t matter to them, and never has.
What statehood would entail
If Delhi is granted full statehood, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), law and order, policing and even the three municipal corporations would come under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government.
However, many residents ThePrint spoke to said they don’t have a problem with the existing arrangement, where the power to control land, police, law and order, and areas under the New Delhi Municipal Council vests with the central government.
“Statehood does not mean anything to me. For a tax-paying citizen like me, it does not matter if Delhi is not a state, as long as my family is safe, my children get a good education and quality of civic services is decent,” said Ramji Prasad Kaurav, an investment consultant, who lives in his own DDA LIG flat in New Kondli, Mayur Vihar Phase III.
Kaurav thinks it is better if the central government has control over Delhi. “It is the capital of the country. So many foreign heads of state visit the city. A state does not have the wherewithal to deal with such complexities,” he said.
K. Srikumar, a retired public sector employee who lives with his wife in Dwarka, said statehood is a dead issue today, and the middle class does not care.
“They are fed up with the broken civic system in the city, where garbage does not get collected because there is no money to pay the salary of the sanitation staff. AAP will get votes only because a section of the population has benefited because of free bus rides for women, free power and water,” Srikumar said.
AAP puts it on backburner
Both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had raised the demand for statehood vociferously in the past, have more or less remained silent on the issue in this election campaign.
Though Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has said that full statehood for Delhi will be part of the party manifesto, AAP leaders have made just perfunctory mentions in their statements so far.
The statehood demand was one of AAP’s core promises when it came to power with an unprecedented majority of 67 out of 70 seats in 2015. Then, in June 2018, Kejriwal and half his cabinet colleagues held a nine-day dharna inside the Lieutenant Governor’s office, demanding full statehood.
Kejriwal has time and again spoken about how the absence of full statehood has hampered governance, as the Delhi government has no control over law and order, or land.
The demand was once again AAP’s single-point agendum in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but it lost each of Delhi’s seven seats. So, this time, it is just paying lip service to the issue, focusing instead on its work in the last five years.
A senior AAP leader said on the condition of anonymity, “The fact is that we want to govern better. Full statehood is an issue and will be part of our manifesto. But in this election, we are mainly highlighting all the work we did in the last five years. Our campaign slogan ‘achhe beete paanch saal’ (five years went well) is in line with this.”
The leader said the AAP wants to “bring India out of identity politics”, so it is raising relevant issues.
BJP also inconsistent in raising the issue
The BJP included the demand for full statehood in its manifesto for the first time in 1993, Delhi’s first assembly election since the 1950s. However, the party did not do much when it was in power at the Centre, and has not included statehood in its 2020 Delhi manifesto either.
The BJP had actively raised the issue during the 2014 Lok Sabha poll campaign, only to put it in cold storage for the 2015 assembly polls.
For its part, the Congress, which has ruled Delhi for over 16 years but has hardly any presence in this election, is opposed to statehood. Senior Congress leaders, including Ajay Maken and Sandeep Dikshit, have maintained that statehood will be a disaster for the national capital.
Statehood is ‘impossible’
Omesh Saigal, former Delhi chief secretary, said even politicians are aware that statehood is a non-issue. “It has just become an escape route for the respective state governments. They know it’s impossible to have two government structures with concurrent jurisdiction in the same city.”
Saigal added that the BJP has been in power for long enough to know that Delhi can’t be given statehood. “You have the Parliament, MPs’ official residences, embassies and high commissions of different countries in Delhi. Who will protect them? Will any state government have the capacity to do this? Statehood is a very convenient villain that state governments have been using for blaming their failure.”
The Supreme Court had, in October 2018, dismissed a petition seeking full statehood for Delhi after a Constitution bench held that it cannot be given the status of a state. The court had said that Delhi government can make legislation on any issue other than land, police and public order.
S.K. Sharma, former secretary of the Lok Sabha and Delhi Vidhan Sabha, said AAP has realised that statehood as a poll plank will not get an audience anymore.
“AAP has realised that the people of Delhi are happy with the existing arrangement. So, this time around, it is lying low.”