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Delhi's Slide From Democracy To Despotism

05/09/2016 1:43 PM IST | Updated 06/09/2016 11:56 AM IST
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The last several months have witnessed worrying signs about the direction in which India's democracy is headed. The latest order passed by the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi adds to these worries.

While all the actions of the LG are legal, they are not democratic.

In February 2015, the people of Delhi expressed their will and the Aam Aadmi Party was voted to power with an agenda of governance. The last year and a half has witnessed tussles between a democratically elected government and an unelected official, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, to establish their supremacy over the administration. The matter eventually reached the Delhi High Court, resulting in a ruling that challenges the basic principles of our democracy. The High Court has ruled that the LG can override, suspend and modify any order passed by the government, thus shifting the balance of power from the elected to the unelected. While all the actions of the LG are legal, they are not democratic. On the eve of the adoption of the Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar sounded a warning bell about the possibility of subverting it without changing its actual form. Paulus, some 22 centuries ago, said that one can commit a fraud with the law without disobeying its actual words. The Lieutenant Governor has mastered this art.

One can commit a fraud with the law without disobeying its actual words. The Lieutenant Governor has mastered this art.

In the last few weeks, the Lieutenant Governor has been cancelling/overturning/staying orders passed by the Government of Delhi. On 30 August 2016, he issued order staying more than 400 decisions taken by Delhi government since it came to power, and thus reducing a democratically elected government to nothing. Allow me to quote from British parliamentary democracy since ours is modeled on theirs. The last time a British monarch rejected the decision of the government, it was in 1782! This resulted in Parliament passing a resolution condemning the influence of an unelected monarch over an elected government, terming it "high-crime". Those rejoicing at the treatment meted out to the Delhi government because of their disdain for Kejriwal should only remember it is not Kejriwal but the will of the people that is being suppressed. It is a betrayal of their hopes and essentially places us all under a dictatorship, albeit one that is recognized by the law and upheld by the court! LG has in effect declared himself the Sultan of Delhi with no public control, scrutiny and accountability! If he can override, suspend and modify any order of the Delhi government, why go through the farce of elections at all?

Great men like Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar would have been deeply pained if they saw what is happening in Delhi today and the sheer contempt that is being shown for democratic principles. After all, a democracy is a form of governance where the will of the people, as expressed in elections, is supreme, and the government is accountable to the people. The LG is writing the obituary of democracy in the state.

The second part of the order issued by the Lieutenant Governor also seeks to fix "civil and criminal" liability into the decisions taken by the government. It means that the officers and ministers involved in the decisions of the government may be fined, suspended, and even jailed. If an officer is jailed even for a few days for simply following instructions given by the elected government, it means the end of their career! The LG's message to officers is loud and clear: If you work with the democratically elected government of the Aam Aadmi Party, consider your career dead and you may even find yourself in jail. It is nothing but the victimization! Just imagine the chilling effect it will have on good and honest officers! The entire governance system has been paralyzed, so that the government cannot make good on its promises and the people cannot have their hopes met from the government, whose actions determine the daily survival of some.

The LG will do well to remember Gandhi's teaching. He reminded us that all despots do seem invincible for a moment, but they all fall! Always!

The people, not only of Delhi but that of nation, are witnessing and experiencing this suppression of their will. However, with elections in Goa and Punjab next, they will express their will once again, unequivocally!

Meanwhile, the LG and those instructing and advising him will do well to take a moment and remember Gandhi's teaching. He reminded us that all despots and tyrants do seem invincible for a moment, but they all fall! Always!

Views expressed are personal

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