Delhi ’s AK 47

S. Madhusudhana Rao

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal never finds fire power wanting. In the latest salvo he fired on Monday, he called for a ‘referendum’ to decide on the status of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-ruled state. He is reported to have asked the Urban Development department to prepare a feasibility report setting a timeline and the legal department to expedite work on a draft bill for full statehood to be submitted to the central government.

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S. Madhusudhana Rao

“The government is keen on having the Election Commission conduct the referendum as it will carry more weight. In case that option is not available, the government is ready to conduct it on its own,” an official is reported to have said.

Why did the darling of the Delhi masses suddenly raise the Delhi statehood when there is no dearth of issues to be bothered about in the national capital? Civic problems, for example, are as common and galore as any other city in the country despite the fact that Lutyens’ Delhi is unique in many respects.

Exactly, that’s the problem. It is neither a full-fledged state nor an autonomous region with powers. It is something in between and that semi-status has been continuing for decades and no government at the centre wants to change the status quo. That is a stifling situation for anyone who will become the chief minister of Delhi. If the ruling party at the national seat of power and in the state is the same, people can hope for smooth working relationship. Sometimes, even if both are of the same hue, still they spar over jurisdictions and powers in turf wars. For example, the previous Congress government headed by Sheila Dixit who lost the Assembly poll to Kejriwal.

If the state and central governments are headed by two different parties, the friction will be frequent. It will also produce a lot of sound and fury. That’s what is happening in Delhi with two disparate parties AAP and BJP trying to take on each other. In the process, AK loves to prickle the saffron party bosses with his populist campaigns and blame games for all Delhiites’ problems.  To be in perpetual limelight, Kejriwal needs to get his mojo working and bringing up the statehood issue is part of that strategy.

True, one of his election promises is to get full statehood for Delhi. Earlier, even BJP, when it was in opposition, had been demanding it but now the party is silent after it came to power because it does not want to disturb the status quo since it suits its interests. But now Kejriwal has upped the ante by proposing to take the issue to the people instead of leaving it in the hands of parliamentarians.

His call for ‘referendum’ has no precedence in this country. In fact, there is no constitutional provision for referenda unlike in the Western democracies where every controversial and contentious issue is decided by the people through ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. Greek referendum on European bailout package for the debt-ridden country is the latest. Whether the Greece vote has inspired Kejriwal we don’t know. But he looks set to go ahead by first preparing the ground for a confrontation with the centre, knowing full well that an issue-based vote has no statute sanction in India.

Surely, he is not ignorant of the Constitution which makes it clear that “the national capital can’t be under a state or a local government.” However, in 1991, the parliament passed the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act to tackle the administrative issues. The reason for giving Delhi a peculiar status is to safeguard it from the point of national interest.

Whatever noise one makes, nothing could be done to grant Delhi full statehood. Moreover, Constitution has to be amended to change Delhi status. Then, why is Kejriwal calling for a ‘referendum’? Obviously, to try to build up pressure on the Modi government. It’s a tactical move that is bound to fail. Instead, he should sort out the irritants that are causing the friction between Delhi government and the Centre. When he reassumed office with a convincing majority, one of his promises made to the people was he would work with the Modi government in an amicable manner without treading a confrontationist path. But, his words and deeds belie that assurance.

More dangerous, however, is Kejriwal’s gross move to put before the people a specific issue to decide without thinking its consequences and repercussions at the national level.

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