Chief Secretary Row Mishandled On Both Sides: Sheila Dikshit

21/05/2015 6:33 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Betwa Sharma

While the turf war between Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal continues to deteriorate, Sheila Dikshit, who served three terms (15 years) as chief minister of Delhi, has described the dispute as “tragic.”

Jung and Kejriwal have fallen out over the temporary appointment of an acting chief secretary for the National Capital Territory while the incumbent top bureaucrat is on leave.

In a conversation with HuffPost India this week, Dikshit also discussed the issue of Delhi’s statehood, which appears to be Kejriwal's real fight, his government’s performance, and the recent controversy in which she reportedly expressed skepticism over Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.

Edited excerpts:

You've described the ongoing dispute as "tragic," and you've said that some powers are only with the Lt. Governor and not the chief minister. Do you mean that he can unilaterally appoint the chief secretary of Delhi?

You must understand that Delhi is not a full state. It is a union territory. And the higher cadre of the government offices come under the Home Ministry. Since the chief minister is actually elected to administer the state without having land and police under him, this functioning is done by mutual dialogue or understanding. It is not that the Lt. Governor can make any appointment.

This was an appointment for eight to ten days. And to the best of my knowledge, a list of four or five names was sent to the Lt. Governor by the administration of Delhi, which is the elected government. They sent it by seniority because chief secretaries are made by seniority. The senior-most candidate said that I don't want to become so the next one was the lady who was chosen. Then, suddenly they said that we suspect Mrs. Gamlin's dealings with power. She has written a note on power.

Is it fair to blame someone for corruption without having any idea whether it is there or not? And if it was corruption in power then they should have removed her from the power portfolio. No inquiry has taken place--nothing. So the point I'm making is that politically you are free to say what you like, but when you come into administration, political parties have to govern, if you become chief minister, prime minister, the responsibility is not one of confrontation. Your responsibility becomes governance of the city, the state or the country that you are in-charge of and therefore it cannot be confrontation. It has to be understanding.

Congress ruled Delhi for 15 years, there were never any differences like this. Differences were sorted out mutually by meeting each other. It never came into the public domain.

So who is at fault here?

I wouldn't say they are at fault. I would say they have mishandled the situation.

But even constitutional law experts are giving different interpretations of Article 239 AA which deals with the powers of Lt. General.

The provision is very clear. It says the names come from the chief minister, the Lt. Governor also says yes, and eventually the Home Minister also has to say yes. There have been chief secretaries made for 20 years in this city. Everyone knows, the Lt. Governor knows, the chief minister knows, the senior most is always taken on.

In this case please remember, it wasn't selecting a chief secretary, it was merely a stop-gap arrangement. The chief secretary is already there. He is on leave.

But it is the principle that is in dispute now.

I think you all are jumping too much looking for a story. The normal thing is that the chief minister sends names, talks or sends it, and the Lt. Governor normally agrees to it unless there is some plausible reason why he should not do it then he can always talk to the chief minister.

Do you think giving Delhi full statehood would be a good idea?

We had three studies done on this. But Delhi cannot become a full state because the central government sits here. All our studies have said that Delhi should be given more powers.

What powers?

Well some say in the police, some say in land, because these are the two that are totally out.

But what about the power of the Delhi CM to make appointments independently?

There are formalities. What happens in a cabinet always goes to the president of India and the Lt. Governor here.

Did you feel constrained when you were the chief minister of Delhi?

No, never.

Mr. Kejriwal has emphasised the need for the Delhi administration to control the police.

Can the Delhi government take on the security of VVIPs. So please be practical. You are not the full state. You are national capital territory of India.

How do you think the AAP government has fared so far?

It has covered 100 days. It has yet to fulfill all its promises or even start doing so. They wanted VAT, they say it will take a year or so. They wanted WiFi, they said it will take time.

How do you think they are delivering on women's safety.

181, the helpline for women, has collapsed. Let me not get into the nitty-gritty of it. His daughter goes and offers a bribe to get a license. The man does not take a bribe. And Mr. Kejriwal says see 75 to 80 percent of bribes have stopped. You cannot give a bribe. It is unlawful.

In 2013, you were infamously dismissive of AAP. Kejriwal won, resigned and won again despite the backlash against him for quitting. Why do you think Delhi handed him this historic mandate?

I don't know. Ask the people of Delhi. It is too early to say. Yes, they have given him a massive mandate. Look, I have nothing personally against Mr. Kejriwal. Please don't imagine that. We are political parties. Some parties lose, some parties win. We won three times, we lost the fourth time. Finished.

Do you think that Congress Party made a mistake by not making you the face of the Delhi election instead of Ajay Maken?

No. Politics is not straight or the same thing over and over again. The Congress won for a record three times.

Do you think the BJP went wrong with Kiran Bedi as the face of their campaign in Delhi?

Well, the people gave you three seats. Politically, probably she didn't click. I don't know, I haven't studied it. From 18 seats to come down to three must have been a great disappointment to them.

Why do you think the people of Delhi have no choice but AAP? Where has the Congress gone wrong?

It is history now. Let's see what they are going to do. Administering a state, making daily progress, it's too early. Lots of people come to me and say that they haven't got their pensions. They haven't presented their budget as yet. It is May. What about the budget for 2015-16. People who come to me are disillusioned. And he (Kejriwal) himself is saying I won't be able to fulfill all the 70 maybe 30-40 percent of the promises. So let's give them a chance. It has only been 100 days.

Is there one thing that you think the Kejriwal government has got right?

I'm not anyone to give anybody any certificates. Let's see what happens. You come back to me after two years. Let it develop. Mr. Modi has had one year. You get five years. Let it all develop. Don't expect anything to happen right now. So it is not fair to judge either way.

Would you be in active politics again?

No, thank you.

No at all? Aren't you the least bit tempted?

I'm not saying not at all. In politics, anything can happen. In life, anything can happen. I can't predict what will happen two hours from the time you and I are sitting together. Circumstances sometimes guide your decisions.

Last month, PTI reported that you favoured Sonia Gandhi continuing to lead the Congress Party, expressing skepticism over Rahul's leadership. You the said that you were misquoted. What really happened?

I was absolutely misquoted. And I reiterate it again. The question of Rahul Gandhi was a future question. I said I can't predict the future. But Congress does have a comfort feeling with Mrs. Gandhi. I never said anything about Rahul.

But PTI quoted you as saying, "Whereas (in case of) Rahul, of course, there is a question mark, there is skepticism because you have not seen him perform as yet."

PTI can quote me. You can quote what you like. But I'm going to speak what I think. If you're going to be mischievous, you can.

So clarify your position. The question is more relevant than ever since Rahul Gandhi is back and being more vocal on issues.

The Congress Party has a system. And it is there for all to see. Rahul Gandhi who has just come back and taking a very active role which the whole Congress is appreciating. What is there to comment on that. All I said was that there is a comfort feeling with Sonia Gandhi. The whole country has that comfort feeling. She was the one who marched to Rashtrapati Bhawan about the land bill. She was the one who went to see Manmohan Singh, marched to his house. So that's it. These are actions we appreciate. And Rahul is doing a wonderful job in parliament and going all over the country. We appreciate that.

But he doesn't inspire the same kind of confidence as his mother inside the party?

They are two different individuals, please. Would you like to be compared to your mother?

But it is a question of leadership?

She has been there for so long, he has just come in and he is doing very well now. He has taken up issues with great conviction. And it is a conviction of a leader that convinces other people also.

Would you see him as the leader of the Congress Party?

Why, of course.

And how are you spending your time?

I'm busy, trying to recollect my memories. Let's see. I haven't made up my mind.

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