Mr. Kejriwal’s challenge

Updated - September 22, 2016 09:08 pm IST

Published - January 02, 2016 01:03 am IST

Arvind Kejriwal has always projected himself against the might of the establishment to give his message a rallying edginess. He did so as an activist of the Right to Information campaign and subsequently against corruption — and unexpectedly, a year into his second stint as chief minister of Delhi, the old against-all-odds, anti-establishment manner continues to inform his style of governance. His politics, by all appearances, thrives on this. More significantly, by persisting with the David-vs-Goliath messaging, Mr. Kejriwal has framed questions of Centre-State relations and of equity and delivery of basic services in coordinates that have resonance in all of India. As Chief Minister, Mr. Kejriwal has been in constant combat with the Lieutenant Governor and the Prime Minister, an engagement that has often become too personal. But the extraordinary power-sharing in Delhi accentuates the debate on the Centre’s reluctance to cede more ground to Chief Ministers in India’s rapidly federalising polity. As Mr. Kejriwal told the The Hindu this week in an exclusive interview, characteristically combining the personal and the institutional: “I’m the quarter-sized Chief Minister of a half-State, he (PM Modi) is the ruler of the country. Why is he after me?” Mr. Modi has rewritten the prime ministerial protocol too in relation to Chief Ministers by his appearance of being in constant electoral campaign, and more substantively by his NITI Aayog-led reforms. But it is in Delhi, a Union Territory and not yet a State, that the cut and thrust of the PM-CM face-off is playing out most anecdotally.

The tussle between Mr. Kejriwal and the Centre has many parts. There is the question of who should have the last word on appointment of officers and disciplinary action. He has alleged larger destabilising design in the decision of bureaucrats to go on mass leave this week. He has taken the fight to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley after a key bureaucrat in the Chief Minister’s office was raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation. He has grounded this combativeness with a politics of equity, promising to share civic services with Delhi’s periphery and less privileged segments. The current traffic decongestion plan — as a strategy — has had a dramatic impact in highlighting hazardous air pollution, and puts the VIPs’ exemption against an entire city’s participation. But what is of concern is that the Modi-Kejriwal face-off is affecting the city administration. In effect it denies the Chief Minister a chance to give a permanent shape to his policies or provides him an alibi to evade doing so. Either way, Mr. Modi will have to find a way to normalise the Delhi-Centre relations. For his own sake, as the asymmetry suits Mr. Kejriwal politically. But more importantly, to return the federal spirit to India’s governance.

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