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BRP Bhaskar: What the Delhi skirmishes mean
August 09, 2016
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Since the fledgling Aam Admi Party first came to power in the National Capital Territory of Delhi three years ago, its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has been playing a high-stake game, leading to skirmishes.

In 2013, the AAP put an end to the Congress party’s 15-year-long rule in Delhi state and blocked its traditional rival, Bharatiya Janata Party, from returning to power. In the hung state assembly, it held 28 of the 70 seats, against the BJP’s 31 and the Congress party’s eight. To keep the BJP out of power, the Congress offered to back an AAP government, and Kejriwal became the chief minister.

A bureaucrat turned social activist, Kejriwal was part of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement. Breaking with Hazare who was opposed to entry into electoral politics, he formed the AAP and mobilised support for it across the country using social media.

Taking a leaf from the Hazare movement for a national anti-corruption machinery, to be known as Jan Lokpal, Kejriwal drew up a bill to set up a Jan Lokpal for Delhi. The BJP and the Congress joined hands and blocked its introduction in the state assembly. Kejriwal who had been in office for only 48 days resigned.

He called for fresh elections to the assembly along with the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The authorities did not concede the demand. In retrospect, he must be glad they rejected the demand.

Thanks to Narendra Modi’s vigorous, no-holds-barred campaign, the BJP made a clean sweep of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha seats.

When fresh assembly elections were held in 2015, the Modi magic did not work. The AAP bagged 67 of the 70 seats, leaving just three for the BJP. The Congress was washed out.

Since then Kejriwal has been projecting himself as a potential challenger to Modi at the national level. On his part, Modi has not been able to forget the humiliation his party in the assembly elections. Delhi’s ambiguous constitutional status offers tremendous scope for both to act in furtherance of their personal and party interests.

Delhi, which served as the capital of many kingdoms, suffered a decline after the collapse of the Moghul regime. The British ruled the subcontinent initially from Calcutta (now Kolkata). They shifted the capital to Delhi in 1911. Twenty years later New Delhi, designed and constructed by British architect Edwin Lutyens, became the capital.

In popular parlance, Delhi is a state, but under the Constitution it is one of seven Union Territories. Of the seven, two, Delhi and Puduchery, have elected assemblies with power to make laws applicable to their respective areas on certain subjects. With an area of 1,484 square kilometres and a population of about 25 million, Delhi is now India’s most populous city and the world’s second largest urban conglomeration.

Delhi’s unique status is based on the provisions of Articles 239AA and 239AB, which were introduced by the 69th Constitutional amendment, which was enacted in 1991, the National Capital Territory of Delhi Act of 1992 and the Transaction of Business of the Government of NCT of Delhi Rules of 1993.

Every country with a democratic system has found it necessary to devise methods to ensure that an elected body at a lower level is not able to create hurdles in the way of the federal authorities. The legislative measures of the 1990 were steps in that direction. Two factors have contributed to the present situation. One is that these are among the country’s worst drafted laws. The other is that both the BJP and the AAP are driven by political motives.

Kejriwal, who views Delhi as a springboard, is pursuing a two-fold strategy to build up a national image. He has taken some populist measures to endear himself to the people and initiated steps against some big business houses to project himself as a ruler who can act tough against the corporates. In the process, he has disregarded some of his constitutional limits.

Determined to foil Kejriwal’s plans, the Centre has used its legitimate overriding authority, exercisable through the state’s Lieutenant Governor, and sometimes even stepped beyond it. The Delhi high court recently quashed one of several cases registered by the police against AAP MLAs as the allegation was found to be false.

Kejriwal is mounting a big campaign to seize power in Punjab, where the Akali Dal-BJP government completes its term next year. The alliance and the Congress have been alternating in power in the state for decades.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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