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Kejriwal Deserves Thanks For Shattering Our Illusions About A Democratic Delhi

17/08/2016 4:26 PM IST | Updated 18/08/2016 10:04 AM IST
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Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters

After the High Court verdict on the constitutional status of Delhi, every perceptive Delhiite must have realized how they have been short-changed on the matter of statehood. In essence, the High Court has validated through its literal interpretation of legal provisions the fragile edifice of Delhi's statehood. It is a functioning state as long as it is being ruled by the political dispensation at the Centre (BJP or Congress).

Delhiites must realize that their real democratic rights are limited to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

If some political formation antithetical to the interests of this political class is voted into power in Delhi, then the first course of action is to put the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) out of its purview and take the custody of the "cupboard" for safekeeping. Part of the process is to ensure that the new ruling party sinks as much as possible in a procedural quagmire. It helps when the media plays along, and the new leader is painted as a cantankerous politician who prefers fights over functioning. This is what the Modi Government at the Centre has been doing ever since AAP came into power in Delhi.

Now, the High Court has confirmed that Delhi is not a state with a sovereign legislature, but a Union Territory. Here, popular mandate becomes subservient to the sweet will of an officer -- the Lieutenant Governor -- appointed by the President on advice of Ministry of Home Affairs. With this one judgment, Delhiites can see how little their democratic rights matter... it's not so very different from life under the British colonial masters from whom the concept of a Union Territory has been borrowed.

The genesis of the entity known as the Union Territory dates back to 19th-century British India, termed then as "part C and part D states", which were essentially bureaucratic and autocratic enclaves where few general laws were applied; the assumption was that the tribal population living on these lands needed simple laws. As per the Scheduled Districts Act of 1874, the head of such a district was the Lieutenant Governor -- a position that in British administrative terminology indicated a level below Governor, the head of a province.

The existence of Union Territories has been contested for a long time, starting with the constituent assembly of Independent India where this provision was severely criticized by Deshbandhu Gupta of Delhi. To quote his words: "this provision (draft articles 212 to 214) would only perpetuate existing state of affairs (as before independence) by denying people a hand in administrative set up and preventing establishment of responsible Government." Unfortunately, this criticism was completely ignored in draft finally adopted.

While the citizens of states can expect to have their aspirations fulfilled by the party they have elected, Delhi is subject to the autocratic regime of the LG.

Then, when the Union Territories Act of 1963 was tabled in Parliament, it was severally criticized on the grounds that if an administrator is imposed on people, the council of ministers would be a mere rubber stamp. The wide powers given to the Executive were questioned. It would limit the autonomy of the Legislature and create constant friction between the Legislature and the Executive, as well as the Legislature and the Centre.

In a way the High Court ruling has removed the illusion of democracy. Delhiites must realize that their real democratic rights are limited to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. While the citizens of states can expect to have their aspirations fulfilled by the party they have elected to run their affairs, Delhi is subject to the autocratic regime of the LG. It doesn't matter that they chose AAP and gave them a magnificent majority of 67 seats out of 70. Instead, they will be caught in a bitter dispute between the leaders they elected and the Lieutenant Governor, an operative of the central government. In the end, the so-called fine balance between executive and legislature may go for a toss.

He is a courageous man who has highlighted the limitations of Delhi's statehood and the High Court judgment has not dampened his resolve.

We need to look beyond the oversimplified narrative promoted by the Indian media of an unprovoked brawl started by a prickly politician with a composed, level-headed and fair minded Lieutenant Governor. Mr. Najeeb Jung, the current Lieutenant Governor of Delhi is no astute statesman but a pliable former career IAS officer skilled at pandering to the ruling class of the day. Once a confidant of the late Madhavrao Scindia, he now acts as stooge for the BJP at the Centre. He was a joint secretary (exploration) in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas when the controversial Panna-Mukta oil field originally discovered by ONGC was needlessly handed over to the private sector for a pittance. Then, he quit the civil services and went on to work with a private company from the same consortium. He has also worked as director (energy research) with the Reliance India-funded Observer Research Foundation, having had a stint in London earlier with Reliance Global Management Services.

So let us stop targeting Kejriwal whose clean and meritorious civil service record and morally incorruptible character is beyond doubt. He is a courageous man who has highlighted the limitations of Delhi's statehood and the High Court judgment has not dampened his resolve. For this alone, we should be grateful to him.

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