Messy battle: On the ongoing tug of war over Delhi’s status

The tug of war between the L-G and the CM is a barrier to Delhi’s development ambitions

Updated - June 10, 2022 01:17 am IST

Published - June 10, 2022 12:20 am IST

The turf battle between the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) appointed by the Centre and the elected government of Delhi has a long and noisy history. The recently appointed L-G, Vinai Kumar Saxena, has, through his disruptive enthusiasm to meddle in the day-to-day governance in Delhi, set the cat among the pigeons. Unlike his predecessors, Najeeb Jung and Anil Baijal, who too were at loggerheads with the elected government of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Mr. Saxena is a politician close to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) top brass. AAP has accused the L-G of undermining “constitutional sanctity” by having called a meeting of Delhi Jal Board officials on May 30 and issuing directions bypassing the Council of Ministers and the Chief Minister. The constitutional design of governance in Delhi itself is a consuming dispute that is being litigated in the Supreme Court. The Constitution gives the Centre control over three subjects — land, public order, and police. However, over the years, the Narendra Modi government has expanded the L-G’s powers, including through an amendment to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act that the AAP government challenged in court last year. Through these amendments, the Centre reorganised the powers and responsibilities of the Delhi Legislative Assembly and the L-G, in favour of the latter. In the new law, “government” referred to in any law made by the Legislative Assembly will imply Lieutenant Governor (L-G), curtailing the powers of the elected government.

AAP has emerged as a thorn in the side of the BJP that is the dominant pole of the country’s politics, barely challenged in many regions. The tussle between the Delhi government and the L-G has to be understood from this perspective. The Centre has been persistent in its attempts to rein in AAP that has been trying to propagate its governance model in the Capital as a propellant of its national ambitions. While the BJP appears to be willing to go to any length to clip the wings of AAP, the latter’s loud protests are less on questions of principle than its own political calculations. AAP had cheered the Centre’s unilateral move that robbed Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and special status in 2019. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s grievances against the L-G are not unfounded, but he himself contributes to the stand-off as his politics compels him to be in constant combat with the BJP. Despite pronouncements by the L-G and the Chief Minister to work in tandem, their relationship has nosedived to new lows. Their long-drawn tug of war is a needless barrier to the capital city’s development ambitions. Until the Court brings clarity on all issues of division of powers between the L-G and the Chief Minister, both would be well advised to work with mutual respect and accommodation.

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