Lessons from Delhi on cooperative federalism

The problem between Jung and Kejriwal is not just related to procedure and interpretation

In the past year, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s major priorities has been more robust centre-state relations, and the need for ‘cooperative federalism’. In fact the emphasis on stronger centre-state relations has been flagged as one of the NDA government’s achievements. Apart from the replacement of Planning Commission by the Niti Aayog, the PM himself has listed some other important steps such as granting states the discretion to make expenditures and making them stakeholders in India's foreign policy.

The PM has also been proactively reaching out towards regional satraps like Orissa Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. Though, of course as some believe, this outreach towards regional leaders has been done purely with an eye on support in the Rajya Sabha for crucial bills. One setback in the PM’s efforts has been the series of recent events in New Delhi where the central government is being accused of attempting to destabilise an elected Chief Minister, through the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G), Najeeb Jung.

In the aftermath of his stupendous triumph in February 2015, it seemed as though the Aam Aadmi party (AAP) leader and Delhi Chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal and the PM would work towards establishing a reasonable working relationship — essential for the development of the capital city. Kejriwal sought to reach out to the PM, and invited him for his swearing-in ceremony, though the latter was unable to attend. The New Delhi CM also met Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh and put forth the Delhi government’s demand for full statehood to Delhi. The Home Minister promised to look into the issue.

Recent events have, however, have dented all these efforts. First, it began with the L-G’s selection of Shakuntla Gamlin as acting Chief Secretary, in the absence of K.K. Sharma who was on leave for a period of 10 days, which was opposed by Arvind Kejriwal. Gamlin, who was accused by AAP of having close ties with power discoms, eventually did take over as CS despite being issued an advisory by the AAP government. Things got worse when a notification by the Home Ministry banned the Anti Corruption bureau from registering cases against functionaries of the Central government.

The High Court ruled in the Delhi government’s favor in the second case with the judgement stating, “By any executive fiat, the Union government could not have exercised the executive power in respect of a matter falling within the legislative competence of the legislative assembly of the NCT, since the law made by Parliament, namely the GNCTD Act read with Article 239AA, put fetters on the executive authority of the President.”

On Friday (May 29) the Supreme Court sought a reply from the Delhi government to the Centre’s plea seeking a stay on the HC's judgement. The Kejriwal-Jung tussle is not likely to end at this point, with Kejriwal attacking the L-G for colluding with the Central government and the latter charging him with ‘backstabbing the people’.

This is a very complex issue due to Delhi being in a particularly peculiar situation — it has an Assembly, but does not have full statehood, and is a Union Territory (Schedule 1 of the Constitution). Article 239 states that the Delhi Assembly shall not have the right to make laws on issues such as public order, police and land. Yet, there are provisions within 239 AA (inserted through the 69th Amendment), which are being used by both sides to bolster their respective arguments.

The problem between Jung and Kejriwal is not just related to procedure and interpretation. This was not the first clash between Kejriwal and Jung. During his current tenure, the two had serious differences on a number of occasions and even in his earlier tenure as CM, he had clashed with the L-G over the appointment of the Lokpal. Both have not shared a comfortable relationship.

If one were to look beyond the spat, it is important for both sides to show maturity and grace. New Delhi is not just another city — it is the national capital. While it is true that the onus is on the national government, Kejriwal received a mandate for governance and it is important that he does not confine himself to one issue, and neither does he embroil himself into unnecessary conflict with the Central government.

The biggest loser in any future conflict between Kejriwal and the Central government would be the city of Delhi, which has been yearning for good governance and it is in this context that the AAP was handed such a spectacular victory, in the process halting the seemingly unstoppable Modi juggernaut. While the Delhi Chief Minister is fully entitled to raise the demand for full statehood, which was put down by MHA, there is no doubt that without full powers he may be feeling stifled.

But Kejriwal is no longer an activist, and is a politician who has to not just work within the constitutional framework, but also steer clear of populism if he is to be taken seriously. Even though the Delhi electorate has given him a thumping majority, the Delhi CM himself seems to be more interested in grabbing the headlines. This is evident not just from the current conflict with the L-G, but also even from the farmer’s suicide a month back when Kejriwal was addressing a farmer’s rally and did not stop his speech. The Delhi CM needs to deal with a number of issues such as power cuts, water shortages, the need for upgrading government schools and other educational institutions as promised in the AAP manifesto. For many of these he will need assistance from the Centre.

On its part, the Central government needs to refrain from taking any step, which give the impression that they are interfering or seek to rule by proxy. Apart from his frontal attacks during election campaigns, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has refrained from personally attacking any CM. A smooth working relationship with the Delhi CM is essential because events in the national capital are observed keenly, not just by political pundits within, but also by India watchers - including investors. In conclusion, Delhi needs governance and for this a cooperative relationship between Centre and Delhi is necessary. The onus is on both sides not just one.

(The writer is Senior Research Fellow, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat)

( Source : tridivesh singh maini )
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