The ongoing controversy over Chief Secretary of Delhi Anshu Prakash complaining that he was assaulted by some MLAs of the ruling party in the presence of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal raises some serious questions that go beyond the alleged incident. If there is truth to the complaint of the Delhi administration's top bureaucrat, it is highly reprehensible and symbolic of the highest levels of political arrogance no matter the immediate provocation for such behaviour by the lawmakers. And that too, in the presence of the chief minister.
Even Delhi's deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia did not totally deny the incident, even though he called it a minor skirmish.
But, the totally divergent versions of the story by the ruling Aam Aadmi Party and the chief secretary further compound the issue. The chief secretary and the Opposition argue that the ruling party MLAs including the chief minister were infuriated by the top bureaucrat's refusal to concede to the irrational demands of the government to approve advertisements contrary to the directions of the Supreme Court.
But, the AAP government claims that the top official was refusing to cooperate with the government over the sanction of rations to deserving people. The chief secretary said that he would obey the directions of the lieutenant-governor rather than the Delhi Council of Ministers headed by the chief minister, adds the AAP leadership.
Unless an impartial and independent inquiry is ordered into the whole episode, it is difficult to establish the truth.
While acknowledging the fact that AAP legislators should have displayed restraint while dealing with the bureaucracy, the alacrity and intensity with which the BJP threw itself into the controversy over the alleged assault raise an element of suspicion. The BJP never reconciled with the fact that it was decimated in the Delhi state Assembly election despite its spectacular show in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
The BJP-led Central government thus never respected the people's mandate in Delhi. The manner in which the Centre dealt with the Delhi state government under the pretext that the National Capital does not enjoy the constitutional status other states in India enjoy, reflects the anti-federal mindset of the party in power at the Centre.
Although Kejriwal could be at fault for his rather unacceptable behaviour at times, the central government's attitude towards an elected chief minister of Delhi and the machinations it played with the active connivance of the lieutenant-governor is undemocratic.
The unfortunate incident of alleged assault on Prakash however, if true, is a simple case of criminal assault and criminal intimidation punishable under the law. But, the political backdrop to the whole episode cannot be brushed aside. The BJP always tried to arm-twist the Kejriwal government and control Delhi by proxy through the Central government even after the people of the state rejected it in the Assembly election.
The BJP through the instrumentality of the lieutenant-governor and constitutional powers the Centre enjoys over Delhi has actually crippled the administration in the National Capital. This has even created a serious discord between the political executive and permanent executive in Delhi and the latest unfortunate event is the extreme manifestation of growing dissonance between the elected executive and the bureaucracy.
As the founding mothers and fathers of Indian Constitution envisioned and adjudicated by the apex court many a time, the gubernatorial office is not a political agent of the Central government but a constitutional representative. This applies to the lieutenant-governor too despite the constitutional limitations of Delhi's statehood. Even the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court upheld this view. The aid and advice of the government should be accepted and respected by the lieutenant-governor unless there is an abuse of authority, Chief Justice Dipak Misra heading a constitutional bench observed.
The Supreme Court said that the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi is expected to exhibit "constitutional statesmanship" in dealing with the democratically-elected government in administering the affairs of the National Capital. The constitution bench made this observation while hearing a batch of petitions by the Delhi government challenging the Delhi High Court order that held that the lieutenant-governor had the final authority in the governance of the National Capital. The Centre has defended the high court verdict. The constitution bench also included Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.
The Central government held the view that the elected government of Delhi has no powers and the real authority lies with the lieutenant-governor who obviously functions at the behest of the Union government. Additional Solicitor-General Maninder Singh told the Supreme Court that for all practical purposes, the Union Territory of Delhi is Centrally-administered and all power rests with the Centre.
He said that no exclusive powers of any kind are vested in the council of ministers of the elected government and such an arrangement is not in national interest.
Singh, on behalf of the central government, further argued that the real authority in case of the national capital is the Centre acting through an administrator called the lieutenant-governor and not the elected government.
But, the apex court rejected this view while acknowledging the constitutional limitations of Delhi state. The Supreme Court observed that the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi had the power to block decisions of the state government but such disagreements must not be trivial or contrive. Both the chief minister and the lieutenant-governor should heed this advice of the highest court of India to avoid recurrence of any such incidents in the future that would only bring disgrace to the Indian democracy.
Pointing to different political parties ruling at the Centre and in the states, Justice Chandrachud said: "The constitutional statesmanship is being exhibited by the governors of various states across the country, particularly when the party in power at the Centre and in the states are not the same." The court wondered what was the purpose of granting the constitutional status to the union territory if such a statesmanship on the part of lieutenant-governor is not shown.
The observations of the apex court serve as an eye-opener for both the central government and the lieutenant-governor, who leaves no stone unturned to asphyxiate the elected government of Delhi. The delicate balance of powers enshrined in the Constitution of India cannot be held hostage at the altar of partisan political expediency. However, this is not to legitimise unruly behaviour of anyone, especially the lawmakers.
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Updated Date: Feb 21, 2018 09:58 AM