Kejriwal's critics are wrong: His battle with L-G is ugly, but it's good for Delhi

It’s easy to brand Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal a megalomaniac and reduce the latest series of confrontation between him and the Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to clash of egos.

Akshaya Mishra May 18, 2015 14:12:22 IST
Kejriwal's critics are wrong: His battle with L-G is ugly, but it's good for Delhi

It’s easy to brand Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal a megalomaniac and reduce the latest series of confrontation between him and the Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to clash of egos. His brazenness and penchant for being irreverent towards calcified arrangements of the past are a bit disconcerting. But go beyond the superficial, and take the politics out of it, it’s actually about clearing the ambiguities involved in the political-administrative status of the state of Delhi, which is open to self-serving interpretations at present. Kejriwal’s fight may look ugly now, but it could have positive results if dealt with pragmatically.

The questions being raised by him are basic. How can a government elected by people have no voice in selection of bureaucrats it has to work with? How can the state government have no say in matters involving policing and public order? Why should it have no control over land? What’s the point having an assembly with legislative powers but no real executive powers? According to the constitutional scheme of things, the Lieutenant Governor is supposed to act on the advice of the elected government; does he have the right to overrule the advice?

Kejriwals critics are wrong His battle with LG is ugly but its good for Delhi

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The Union government still treats Delhi as a Union Territory despite its partial statehood status. The reasons are obvious. As the national capital, and thus the hub of all activities of the Government of India, Delhi is critically important for it. It cannot afford to be in a position where it has no say in the way it’s managed. It cannot lose control over policing or the bureaucracy. In fact, in no major country it’s allowed for reasons strategic and otherwise. However, its position doesn’t remain the same after the elevation of Delhi from a metropolitan council with advisory powers to a full-fledged assembly with legislative powers.

Partial statehood to Delhi should have come with clear demarcation of powers and responsibilities; and executive and legislative jurisdiction, for both governments. As things stand now, the relationship between both is full of ambiguities. That all political parties have raised the issue of full statehood for Delhi – by implication, more power for the assembly and the state government - at some point or the other is tacit acknowledgement of the problems in existing arrangement. A conflict was inevitable.

The argument that Kejriwal is precipitating matters and creating a situation of constitutional deadlock does not wash. That other parties averted a conflict when in power and chose to buy peace with the central government is no justification for not having an open discussion on the issue. The Delhi chief minister is taking to a point where people who matter are forced acknowledge the gravity of the situation and initiate corrective measures. His aggressiveness may be unpalatable but his intent is perfectly acceptable.

Let’s face it. Delhi, for all its power and grandeur, is a poorly governed place. There are, in fact, three Delhis – the neat and stately Lutyen’s Delhi, the largely disorganised middle class Delhi; and the totally unmanaged jhuggi-jhopri Delhi. Beyond the well-laid out and maintained Lutyen’s part, the government is conspicuous to a big extent by its absence, not by its presence. If the city appears to be an overgrown village with no sense of order or organisation in these parts, the blame must lie squarely on the lack of division of responsibilities between the governments at the centre, which controls the capital-state by default, and the state government, which is left with powers hopelessly truncated.

If Kejriwal throwing a tantrum can help the state find a long-term solution to a problem that needs urgent attention, it’s welcome. Delhi has to be governed well; that is what matters finally.

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