WHY is the Union government feeling insecure all of a sudden? The issuing of an ordinance, literally overnight, to negate the Supreme Court Bench’s unanimous decision affirming the elected government’s control over the services (bureaucrats) in the National Capital Territory (NCT) smacks of nervousness.
Going by any test of democratic functioning, the bureaucracy in Delhi has to be controlled by the CM and his Cabinet.
Ever since Independence, the bureaucracy has been accountable to the elected representatives of the people. This is what the Constitution has ordained. The BJP is happy with this arrangement in states where it rules, but not in states where it does not. In the latter, Governors appointed by the Centre tend to make elected governments uncomfortable.
As Delhi is also the capital of the country where the Central government is located, certain powers of the elected government are plucked from it and vested in the Centre, such as control over the police, the management of law and order and all matters relating to land. The BJP, which had earlier supported full statehood for the Union territory of Delhi, changed its stance on being voted out by Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP not once but twice in the Assembly elections.
People of Delhi overwhelmingly support the AAP. Recently, they voted out the BJP in the elections to the Delhi Municipal Corporation, thus sealing Kejriwal’s hold over the capital territory. By any test of democratic functioning, the bureaucracy in Delhi has to be controlled by Kejriwal and his Cabinet of Ministers. The Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench unanimously upheld this principle, giving numerous and cogent legal grounds for its decision.
Within a week of the court’s decision, the Centre promulgated an ordinance. It ill behoves the Union government to enact the ordinance, especially in such a tearing hurry and in so secretive a manner. The fact that the Supreme Court was recessing for the summer break must have contributed to the hurry.
Not satisfied with control over security and land management in the Capital, the Central government wants to meddle in other areas of governance through its appointee, the Lt Governor. This is patently unfair because it amounts to reducing the Kejriwal government to a puppet without teeth, with the Lt Governor calling the shots, upturning decisions that the people’s representatives made and sabotaging the elected government through his control over the bureaucrats.
Such an arrangement is unworkable. If the Modi dispensation wants to control the NCT and impose on the populace its own wishes, it should do away with an elected government altogether, but then it would have to tinker with the Constitution, for which it would need two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament. Till it achieves that goal, the Centre should not attempt to bypass the Delhi legislature and the Cabinet of an elected government.
As I said earlier, I see a trace of frustration in the enactment of this ordinance. It is so not merely over the absence of ‘double-engine’ governments in some states but also because attempts to frustrate Opposition governments in non-BJP-ruled states through the instrument of Governors and L-Gs are being neutralised — in Delhi’s case by a judicious Supreme Court.
Another more relevant and obviously disturbing thought that would unbalance the peace of mind of a confident leader like Modi is that the certainty of securing a third term in office is now being widely doubted. Opposition unity is gathering strength. The Congress victory in Karnataka has contributed largely to this change of heart. The ordinance has also done its bit. The question is, will this ‘unity’ last? Kejriwal, in particular, has made some progress in states like Gujarat and he still harbours the dream of becoming the Prime Minister, though his time has not arrived.
What Kejriwal needs at present is to improve his and AAP’s relations with the bureaucracy. If AAP treats bureaucrats with suspicion, it will flounder, along with its leader. He has to learn to respect his officials so that they, in turn, respect him and his team. It looks as if this aspect of good governance has not been thought out clearly by Kejriwal. He has to make the first move towards conciliation. It will stand him in good stead if his dream of becoming the PM matures one day.
In their turn, officials should never fail to respect and honour the representatives of the people. They should not carry out illegal or irregular instructions, but while declining to do so, ‘no’ should be communicated with humility. I admit that the politicians I dealt with in my career were different. If you turned down their irregular requests, they would respect you even more.
Whenever I faced this situation, there was no move even to shift me from the position I was occupying at that time! Things are different today.
In earlier days also, Opposition governments were in power in states when the Congress or the BJP was ruling at the Centre. No major disagreement was recorded, as far as I remember. Why such disturbances should occur now with disturbing regularity needs research.
In 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi government overturned the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Shah Bano case. A law was enacted by Parliament under the pressure of the mullahs. It changed the course of Indian politics and led to the eventual decline of the Congress. Modi obviously thinks that political miscalculations will affect only the party that is his principal opponent today.
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