Confrontation in Delhi
ONCE again the Delhi govern ment headed by the chief minister Arvind Kejriwal finds itself locked in a battle with the NDA-led central government over the issue of enactment of certain bills by the local legislative assembly putting a question mark on the functioning of democracy. In fact, there is every reason that Delhi government suspects malaise in the working of the central government which continues to retain power to over-rule the decisions of the state government which has not been granted full statehood by the centre. It is unfortunate that under the federal constitutional democratic system, one powerful regime at the centre continues to refuse to accept the democratic working of Delhi government. With the Union Home Ministry returning 14 Bills passed by the Delhi Legislative Assembly in the course of one year, another round of confrontation is in the offing. The Bills have been returned for want of compliance, with the stipulation that the Centre must grant its ‘prior assent’ before they can be introduced in the Delhi Assembly. In its response, the Delhi government has cited Section 26 of the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, that says no Act can be held invalid for the sole reason that it did not have the previous sanction or recommendation required by the Act.
Both sides can marshal arguments to support their claim, but the provisions they cite are subject to limitations. The ‘prior assent’ clause that the Centre is referring to is limited to Financial Bills, and those that relate to taxation and appropriation from the Consolidated Fund of the Capital. Whether a particular Bill requires prior assent or not depends on its subject matter. But the Delhi government is mistaken insomuch as Section 26 is applicable only to Acts that had received the assent of the Lieutenant Governor, or, in some cases, the President. But one conclusion is inevitable: the relationship between the Centre and the Delhi government is coloured by the underlying political confrontation. It is also unfortunate that political confrontation between the state and the centre should come in the way when welfare of the people of Delhi is at stake.
The frequency with which confrontation arises between the Centre and the Kejriwal regime raises the question: is the problem with the law or with the personalities involved? Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief minister Kejriwal believes that the Centre’s reluctance to grant full statehood to Delhi is at the heart of the problem. Additionally, he has often argued that the ruling BJP at the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are yet to come to terms with the Aam Aadmi Party’s resounding victory in last year’s Delhi election, and that the Lieutenant Governor is impeding his routine functioning at the Centre’s behest. The BJP wants Kejriwal to focus on governance and not to be in permanent confrontation mode. Both sides need to step back and try to repair the relationship. Kejriwal would do well to give up his penchant for framing issues that arise out of the legal limitations on Delhi’s status as if they were a malicious conspiracy against his government. Until the full statehood question is settled by Parliament, he will have to work within the existing framework. Unfortunately, the central government has not been in a position to grasp the truth behind the aspirations of the people of Delhi, who have voted AAP to victory last year while BJP has only three members in Delhi state assembly.
The Congress party has been totally wiped out and defeated in last year’s elections should act as eyeopeners and benchmark for the democratic functioning of the government in Delhi. Moreover, certain developments including arrest of a minister of AAP government in Delhi by the police which is directly under the control of the union home ministry are pointers towards the unease with which the centre is working against the state government. The Union government, on its part, should be more accommodative of an elected government’s legitimate functions and avoid taking a narrow legal interpretation of issues whenever a broader interpretation is possible and warranted. Honouring democratic verdict of the people of Delhi and working in a spirit of accommodation is the way forward not only for the democracy but also the federal structure in the country which is at peril during the past two years or so. — Kashmir Times