As AAP protests sealing drive in Delhi to hide internal crisis, issue set to be an important one in state's mini Assembly election

The three-day Delhi bandh called by traders on Friday against the sealing drive initiated by the Supreme Court indicates that the issue has taken a political turn. The party which is going to derive political benefit out of the sealing drive in Delhi would either be the Aam Admi Party (AAP) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), depending on the efficacy of the strategies they implement.

Since the Congress has mostly stayed silent on the issue from the very beginning, it is unlikely to either benefit or harm the party.

Announcing the shutdown, the Chamber of Trade and Industry said that the sealing drive is causing an atmosphere of fear and panic among traders and market associations. It also said that all the markets in Delhi would remain shut during the bandh.

There is no denying the fact that the recent issue faced by Delhi traders because of the sealing of illegal construction is primarily legal as it emerged out of an order passed by the Supreme Court. There is hardly anything in the matter for political parties to get involved.

In December 2017, the apex court revived its committee to seal unauthorised constructions in Delhi, according to The Times of India. The court observed that "Invaders have pillaged Delhi for hundreds of years, but for the last couple of decades it is being ravaged by its own citizens and officials governing the city - we refer to unauthorised construction and misuse of residential premises for industrial purposes. The court has focused on these illegal activities in several decisions and has issued directions from time to time to try and bring some sanity to urban living but to little or no effect."

Representational image. News18

Representational image. News18

From then onward, the committee has sealed off hundreds of illegal constructions across the city. KJ Rao, a member of the committee told Firstpost that there are still many more structures to seal. "The number of buildings to be sealed run in the thousands as all the zones in the capital have such premises in them," he said.

Despite the fact that the issue around the sealing was mainly legal, AAP spotted a political opportunity in it. Giving the issues a political spin, AAP directed its rhetoric against the BJP.

The sealing drive was followed incessantly with protests by AAP. The drive that was meant to curb construction of illegal constructions was portrayed as a mischief carried out by the party ruling at the Centre. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a press conference that had the centre wanted, not a single building would have been sealed. "It was a matter of 24 hours for the Centre to increase the Floor Area Ratio and make the conversion charges zero to stop sealing. But this was not done," he said.

In order to make the plot against the BJP more convincing, AAP also equated the sealing drive with the Centre's move to allow 100 percent FDI in single brand retail trading and alleged that both the moves were against small traders.

Nevertheless, the protests — which were a textbook example of the saying ‘Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth' — were seen more as attempts to solve AAP’s internal political crisis rather than the problems faced by Delhi traders.

Delhi is likely to witness a mini Assembly election within six months after the President gave his assent to the Election Commission's recommendation to disqualify 20 AAP MLAs for violating the norms of office of profit. In the face of rising anti-incumbency against AAP, the ruckus over sealing is seen more as a smokescreen than a real concern for the grievances of the traders.

Though AAP has completed three years in power in Delhi, it still has a long way to go in the direction of fulfilling it’s promises. Let alone fulfilling the tall promises the party made before elections, the schemes which it has been claiming as successful are yet to bring about desired impact. The promise of opening 1,000 mohalla clinics is still far from complete as it is stuck in a tussle with the Lieutenant Governor and the Delhi government. In the education sector, reforms are yet to take off as digitisation of classrooms are stuck while the battle with the Lieutenant Governor continues.

In the face of growing discontent among voters, the protests were seen as a move to distract public attention from the parties failures.

Even the courts have observed that illegal construction in Delhi is an outcome of the massive corruption in civic bodies. For a party that rose to power with its tirade against corruption, standing for sealing of illegal premises would have been seen as a normal response. However, the AAP took a U-turn from its earlier grandstanding against corruption and came out against the sealing instead. The reason behind this was not difficult to see.

Since the number of illegal constructions in Delhi would run in the thousands, the number of people who are affected or would be affected by the sealing drive runs in the lakhs. This makes a good voter base for AAP to bank upon before a mini election.

The BJP also seems to have decided to not let AAP drive away its voters. Apart from constant politicking on the issue, the Centre has decided to make the required changes in the concerned laws to minimise the impact of sealing. The Urban Development Ministry announced last week that the centre would make the necessary changes in the Delhi Master Plan to stop the sealing, reported Hindustan Times. "We have proposed the amendments to the DDA. The citizens of Delhi are subjected to considerable amount of uncertainty. These measures are aimed at addressing these issues and reducing their pain,” said Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri.

While it is still too early to predict which party would gain the most out of the issue, it will certainly be an important issue in a possible bypoll in Delhi.

Updated Date: Feb 02, 2018 11:27 AM

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