Power games: on AAP's relationship with the bureaucracy in Delhi

The Delhi government under Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has had a history of conflict and confrontation with the police and the bureaucracy. But even Mr. Kejriwal’s worst detractors would have found it hard to imagine that his Aam Aadmi Party MLAs would be accused of assaulting the Chief Secretary in his presence. The shocking incident, which is said to have occurred when Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash was summoned to Mr. Kejriwal’s residence at midnight, has led to the arrest of one AAP MLA and a display of solidarity within the bureaucracy, which has refused to attend any meeting called by the CM until he apologises and takes action against the MLAs. Versions of what transpired radically differ, including the reason why Mr. Prakash was called late in the night. While the AAP has described Mr. Prakash’s charge as ludicrous, the implication that it was a product of his fevered imagination and part of a larger political conspiracy has convinced few in the bureaucracy. The timing of the meeting and the presence of a large number of MLAs at the residence give rise to the suspicion that it may have been called to intimidate the Chief Secretary. It is well known that Mr. Kejriwal’s discomfiture with the bureaucracy is a result of having to deal with officers who report directly to the Lt. Governor, who is not bound to act on the aid and advice of his council of ministers. To feel that this is a restrictive administrative environment and seek greater powers for Delhi under the Constitution is one thing. But until Delhi is a full State, Mr. Kejriwal and his party would do well to understand that they have to work within the existing institutional arrangement.


Mr. Kejriwal may have good reason to believe that the BJP, the AAP’s main rival, is attempting to stymie its attempts to govern Delhi effectively. The AAP has for long complained that the Centre is paralysing its executive functions through the Lt. Governor and that the bureaucracy is refusing to obey government orders. But the proper response to this is to keep pushing for the constitutional changes that will give Delhi full statehood rather than targeting police officers and civil servants. In the three years it has been in power in Delhi, the AAP government has positives to show in terms of governance, including ushering in greater accountability and transparency in its welfare programmes. In the long run, the party’s political future will depend more on how it governs Delhi and less on how aggressively it protests about its lack of administrative power. Both the Centre and the Delhi government must work together to see that the administration is not brought to a halt in the Union Territory. While the Centre should refrain from politically exploiting the issue, the AAP government must take a step back and assure the bureaucracy it will let officials work without fear of intimidation.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 3:46:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/power-games/article22818646.ece

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