BJP spearheaded the demand for statehood but now takes away even the limited powers of Delhi Govt

Jan Sangh and BJP had campaigned for statehood for Delhi for 40 years. This week the BJP Government sought to remove the fig leaf and take away even the limited powers of the Delhi Government

BJP spearheaded the demand for statehood but now takes away even the limited powers of Delhi Govt
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Faraz Ahmad

The Modi Government earlier this week, on Monday to be precise, introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha making the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi largely irrelevant.

The Bill, according to media reports, seeks to “clarify” that the expression “Government” in Delhi shall mean the L-G in the context of any legislation passed by the Assembly. This, it says will be “consistent with the status of Delhi as a Union Territory” and will address the ambiguities in the interpretation of legislative provisions.”

The Bill seeks to give discretionary powers to the L-G even in matters where the Legislative Assembly of Delhi is empowered to make laws. Henceforth, according to this Bill the L-G is “necessarily to be granted an opportunity’ to give his or her opinion before any decision is taken by the Council of Ministers (or the Delhi Cabinet) is implemented,” according to media reports.

Governors in states have very little discretionary powers. Remember the clash between the then Governor of Gujarat Kamla Beniwal and the then chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi over the appointment of Lokayukta in 2013, just a few months before BJP decided to make Modi its Prime Ministerial candidate? For several years when Modi refused to appoint a Lokayukta to review any act of corruption or financial indiscretions committed by his government, despite hurling all kinds of insinuation against the then UPA Government at the Centre, Kamla Beniwal, decided in consultation with the chief justice of Gujarat High Court, to appoint a Lokayukta.

Modi was so incensed that he passed a legislation in the Gujarat assembly withdrawing the discretionary powers of the Governor and the Chief Justice of the state and sent up the Bill for the approval of the Governor. This was the time when BJP was on agitating on the streets of Delhi with Anna Hazare demanding the appointment of a Lokpal with most wide ranging powers.

Returning to Delhi, in December 2012, a young intern physiotherapist returning from a late night movie taking a lift in a private bus was gangraped and horribly brutalised in the bus by its six occupants while her male friend was also badly beaten up. This caused huge outrage and violent protests in the national capital led by many present day leaders and apologists of the present regime including Baba Ramdev and General V K Singh questioning the lack of control of the Delhi government then led by Congress leader Sheila Dikshit over law and order. The BJP then announced that once it came to power it would restore full powers to the Delhi government, including control over the Police.

BJP and even its earlier incarnation the Jana Sangh have, since the 1960s, made political capital out of the fact that the citizens of Delhi have no elected body to govern them and the Centre which controlled everything in Delhi was far too busy with national affairs to pay much heed to the people of Delhi. Their first agitation led to a compromise between the Centre and the political representatives of Delhi. So, in 1966 the Centre granted and constituted a Metropolitan Council for Delhi called the Delhi Metropolitan Council (DMC). This body was governed largely by all the rules governing a legislative body, like the chairman, the chief executive councillor (CEC), an equivalent of the chief minister and a couple of executive councillors imparting the functions of a ministers, was still merely an advisory body.

It was a deliberative body, devised as a compromise between a legislative assembly with full legislative and financial powers and administered by the President through his nominee, the Administrator. With effect from September 7, 1966, the Administrator was designated as Lt. Governor. Under Section 30 of the 1966 Act, the Lt. Governor worked under the general control of the President and complied with such particular direction as may from time to time be given by him. The first DMC was constituted in 1966 with Congress leader Mir Mushtaq Ahmad as the CEC and Jag Pravesh Chandra as the chairman of the Council.

In 1967 general elections, Congress lost the election to the newly constituted DMC while Jana Sangh came to power with Vijay Kumar Malhotra as the CEC and L K Advani nominated to the post of the chairman. But in the 1971-72 elections the Congress swept out the Jana Sangh and Mir Mushtaq Ahmad became the chairman and Radha Raman the CEC of Delhi, who remained in this post till 1977 wherein again the Congress was routed and now the Janata Party was elected to the DMC with Kedar Nath Sahni becoming the CEC. But in 1980 when Mrs Gandhi returned to power, she dissolved almost all the opposition assemblies and DMC putting in place a Congress-led DMC with Jag Pravesh Chandra as the CEC. This lasted till 1987 by which time the leader of Opposition in the DMC Madan Lal Khurana and the BJP continued agitating on a daily basis for a full-fledged Delhi state. there were electoral compulsions linked to escalating statehood in the national capital.

After suffering a resounding defeat in the 1984 general elections, the BJP was keen to re-establish its pre-eminence in its traditional pocket burrough Delhi, and the statehood demand perfectly suited its campaign to regain popular support. Indeed, statehood demand was one of the key contributing factors that propelled BJP to political power in Delhi in 1993. This earned Madan Lal Khurana the title of ‘Dilli Ka Sher (Lion of Delhi), according to Niranjan Sahoo, who has done a research on the subject of Delhi statehood.

In the meantime, Mrs Gandhi was assassinated in October 1984 and Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister and heeding to the overwhelming demand by the Opposition led by Khurana and the BJP, he dissolved the DMC and appointed Sarkaria-Balakrishnan (first Justice Sarkaria and then on his resignation, Justice Balakrishnan committee to study the demand for a full fledged assembly. “The committee noted that most of the difficulties faced by the citizens of Delhi were due to the structural inadequacies and flaws of the existing system. It further held that while the federal government should have substantial control over the governance of the national capital, the people in the city also needed a representative body to look into sectors of administration that impact their daily lives. Even as it maintained Union Territory status for Delhi, the report made a strong recommendation for the restoration of legislative assembly with appropriate powers to deal with matters concerning the citizenry,” said Sahoo, adding “The BJP and the Janata Dal made a strong plea before the committee, demanding an urgent end to the prolonged chaos and confusion due to multiplicity of authorities in Delhi. Both parties argued for full statehood to provide the citizens of the national capital the right to self-governance.”

But meanwhile in 1989 Rajiv went out of power and there were several changes of regime in between; first V P Singh’s National Front government, then Chandra Shekhar’s four-month government; the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in the midst of 1991 elections and the return of the Congress party at the Centre led by P V Narasimha Rao which got the Parliament to pass the Constitution (69th Amendment) Act, 1991, which inserted articles 239AA and 239AB in the Constitution, providing for Delhi legislative assembly.

The Act also supplemented the term Union territory for Delhi with ‘The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi’ (GNCT) Act, 1991 to supplement the constitutional provisions relating to the legislative assembly and the council of ministers. Briefly, the 69th Amendment Act virtually restored the kind of governance system that was offered to Delhi in 1952: a Union Territory with a legislative assembly, council of ministers and an elected chief minister with a limited mandate. BJP and Madan Lal Khurana who were making this demand for long, stood vindicated and reaped a political capital from this by winning the first elections to the Delhi assembly in 1993 and becoming Delhi’s chief minister.

Soon Khurana had to resign because his name appeared in the Jain diary hawala case and Sahib Singh Verma became the chief minister. Meanwhile the BJP-led NDA government assumed office with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister in 1998. However Sahib Singh had made such a mess of Delhi administration and the cases of crime shot up so much that the BJP decided to make Sushma Swaraj Delhi chief minister who made a big thing of visiting police stations at night to apparently monitor the law and order situation, when the Police and law and order were never a state subject in Delhi.

Despite this brief effort of the BJP to retrieve lost political ground, it lost badly to the Congress in 1998 Delhi assembly elections mainly on the law and order question and the limited powers of Delhi government and Sheila Dikshit, an able administrator became Delhi chief minister for the next 15 years, though she too had no jurisdictional control over Delhi Police or Delhi land.

Now out of power the BJP once again brought the demand for full statehood for Delhi to the fore. In fact, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre prepared a draft Delhi Reorganisation Bill in 1998 (with Sahib Singh Verma leading the draft preparation) that proposed full statehood for Delhi minus the NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corporation) area. The bill stated that while the centre would have control over public order and police for the entire city, it will have a say on the subjects of land and local government only for the NDMC area and the Delhi government would have jurisdiction on land and local government of the rest of Delhi.

The demand for statehood reached its high point in 2003 when the then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani tabled the State of Delhi Bill, 2003, which promised ‘statehood with maximum autonomy’ for Delhi.[30] The Constitutional Amendment (102) Bill intended to repeal two constraining articles: 239AA and 239AB. After its introduction, the bill was moved to Standing Committee for further deliberations. With the BJP losing Delhi assembly elections in December 2003 and the general elections later, the statehood bill died prematurely.

However, BJP maintained its position on statehood all through the term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments during 2004–14. It put full statehood as its top agenda in its 2013 election manifesto. But the moment the NDA government of Narendra Modi assumed office, the party dropped the statehood demand from its Vision Document in the 2015 assembly elections, an unprecedented move in four decades of the party’s vocal advocacy. Curiously the Vision Document was prepared by another Delhi leader and Modi’s most trusted confidant then late Arun Jaitley.

Since then, the BJP-led government at the centre has completely shunned the idea of statehood (and has taken the complete opposite stance at the Supreme Court hearing on statehood, something that goes against the party’s original stance.

And now it has also introduced a Bill which would curtail even the limited powers that the Delhi government and state assembly bestowed upon it by the 69th amendment to the Constitutiion.

( The writer is a senior commentator. Views are personal)

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