Kejriwal prepares for pushback in Rajya Sabha by uniting opposition

Delhi CM announces campaign to defeat the Bill replacing the ordinance on National Capital Civil Service Authority in the Upper House 

May 21, 2023 01:10 pm | Updated May 22, 2023 12:52 am IST - New Delhi

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar during a press conference, in New Delhi on May 21, 2023. Bihar Dy CM Tejashwi Yadav and AAP MP Sanjay Singh are also seen.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar during a press conference, in New Delhi on May 21, 2023. Bihar Dy CM Tejashwi Yadav and AAP MP Sanjay Singh are also seen. | Photo Credit: PTI

Preparing for a pushback on the Centre’s ordinance to create a National Capital Civil Service Authority that would give Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) the final say on transfers and postings of civil servants instead of the State government, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal is reaching out to the opposition leaders to stall the Bill from replacing the ordinance in the Rajya Sabha. As the numbers stand in the Upper House, if Congress joins the crusade, a united opposition can make it difficult for the government to get the Bill through. 

An ordinance has to be ratified by Parliament within six months. On Sunday, Mr. Kejriwal met Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Nitish Kumar along with Deputy Chief Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav. On Tuesday, he is flying to Kolkata to meet West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee. The very next day, he is headed to Mumbai for a two-day trip to meet Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) patriarch Sharad Pawar and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

The Centre on Friday promulgated the ordinance creating a National Capital Civil Service Authority by amending the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991. This authority will be headed by the Delhi Chief Minister and will have the State Chief Secretary and Principal Home Secretary as its members. While the authority can make recommendations regarding transfers and tenures of bureaucrats, the Lieutenant Governor will be final arbitrator.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Kejriwal said he will seek the support of Opposition parties to defeat the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. “The day after tomorrow [Tuesday], I have a meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata at 3 p.m. After that, I will meet every party’s president to seek their formal support for defeating the Bill when it comes in the Rajya Sabha,” the Delhi CM said.

Mr. Kumar, he said, would also be advocating on his behalf. Mr. Kejriwal said if the Bill was defeated in the Rajya Sabha, it would send out the message that the Bharaitya Janata Party (BJP) will lose the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. He framed this fight as the “semi-final” to the 2024 Lok Sabha Polls. Mr. Kumar, on his part, had assured him complete support, Mr. Kejriwal said.

The Bihar Chief Minister criticised the Centre’s move, which nullifies the Supreme Court’s verdict on the issue. “How can you take away an elected government’s power. Look at the Constitution — whatever he [Mr. Kejriwal] is saying is right. We are completely with him,” Mr. Kumar said. When asked, Mr. Kumar said he would also speak to the Congress leadership on the issue of the ordinance. “I don’t think anybody will oppose it [supporting Kejriwal]. We will talk to them [the Congress],” he said.

Mr. Kejriwal was among the few Opposition Chief Ministers who wasn’t invited to the Karnataka Chief Minister’s swearing-in ceremony, which was attended by leaders from 16 Opposition parties. The Congress has so far not made its stand clear on the Delhi ordinance, though party general secretary and top Delhi leader Ajay Maken, in a wordy post on Twitter, advised Mr. Kejriwal to tackle obstacles skilfully for Delhi’s welfare like his predecessor and Congress leader Sheila Dikshit.

Mr. Maken recalled how Ms. Dikshit handled a similar tussle, where a key officer was transferred by the then L-G without keeping the government in loop. “Engage with the officers respectfully, hold dialogues and persuade them for Delhi’s advancement. They will certainly align with your vision if it’s sincere,” Mr. Maken said. 

He also criticised Mr. Kejriwal’s behaviour towards the bureaucracy. “Your past actions — summoning officers at ungodly hours, resorting to mistreatment and harsh words — are not constructive. It’s crucial to recognise that such behaviour only contributes to the city’s distress,” the Congress leader wrote.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar meets Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal | Video Credit: ANI

As the numbers stand in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP is the single largest party with 93 members. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has only ten members. The AAP stands a real shot only if the Congress, which has 31 members, backs it. The JD(U) and RJD have already extended support to the AAP, and the TMC is also likely to side with them. Though this alone won’t suffice, Mr. Kejriwal will have to convince 11 other Opposition parties. Together, this block has 102 members.

But the scale can easily tilt in the government’s favour if the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and YSR Congress, each of which have nine seats, vote in favour of the Bill. The two parties, though they are not in a formal alliance with the BJP, have more often than not voted with the government in case of a division during the passing of any contested legislation. Opposition pundits are hoping that since this issue hits at the very heart of the federal structure of the Indian Constitution, both the BJD and YSR Congress might switch sides.

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