BJP’s volte-face on full statehood for Delhi

The Narendra Modi government’s decision on Friday to back the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi in his battle with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is a culmination of the BJP’s continuing volte-face over full statehood for Delhi.

This stance of the BJP, however, is in sharp contrast of its position while in power in the capital in the late 1990s when it actually set the ball rolling by proposing an important legislation to strengthen the State government.

According to a parliamentary standing committee report from 2003, the party, in 1998, prepared a draft — Delhi Reorganisation Bill — proposing full statehood to all parts of Delhi except for the area under the New Delhi Municipal Council.

The Bill proposed that the Centre would control public order and police for the entire city, but would have a say on the subjects of land and local government only for the New Delhi area.

The draft was prepared in June 1998 under the chief ministership of Sahib Singh Verma. A month earlier, in May, the NDA had secured a majority at the Centre and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had become the Prime Minister. The Bill was presented in Parliament in August 2003 as the Delhi State Bill by the then Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, and referred to a standing committee. Though the BJP had lost the Delhi Assembly elections to the Congress in November 1998, political analysts said the party was confident of making a comeback in 2003 during the height of the India Shining campaign. Full statehood for Delhi was also a key election promise of the BJP for the Delhi Assembly polls that year.

While preparing the 2003 Bill as well as the 1998 draft bill, the BJP went by the opinion presented by the Home Ministry in a background note which stated that the existing constitution arrangement for Delhi, as outlined under Section 239 (AA and BB), enabled the Central government to exercise “overriding control.” In other words, it said the Legislative Assembly of Delhi did not enjoy any legislative sovereignty even in respect of matters on which it was competent to make laws. It further stated that the present arrangement had failed to meet the democratic aspirations of the people of Delhi.

The Ministry of Home Affairs also used the examples of countries like the U.S. and Australia where a separate area is identified and recognised as the National Capital and is under the overall political and administrative control of the federal government, though certain measures of autonomy is given to the local government.

RS reservations

The BJP lost the Delhi Assembly elections to the Congress on December 4, 2003. The very next day, the report of the standing committee on the Delhi State Bill was presented to the Rajya Sabha. Interestingly, the committee was headed by Pranab Mukherjee, then a senior Congress leader.

In a prescient twist, the committee approved all the clauses under the Bill but expressed reservations over a clause which stated that the “President shall have executive power to give direction to the State of Delhi for good governance and proper development of the State” and that his directions will be binding on the State government.

“A view emerged in the committee that these powers were omnibus, sweeping and overriding in nature. It was felt that such powers of the President, which shall be binding on the government of State of Delhi, would impinge on the concept of Statehood proposed to be conferred on Delhi,” the report of the committee said.

More pertinently, it observed that “such overriding and sweeping powers may be used by the Union government as a ploy to destabilise the elected government of Delhi.” The Bill lapsed at the end of the Lok Sabha term.

The party, which backed L-G now, had in 1998 proposed law to strengthen State government

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