To be a bureaucrat in the Delhi government right now is to be a pawn in a messy slugfest between the Aam Aadmi Party and the Centre, represented by Lt Governor Najeeb Jung. You could be arbitrarily transferred just to prove a point. You could be appointed to a role that doesn't exist. You could have to ping-pong around from posting to posting. Your name could be dragged through muck because of a decision you made in the past. And, most worryingly, you might be asked to pick sides.

It just doesn't stop in the capital. Over just the last day, a minister has been arrested for allegedly getting a degree through fraudulent means, a top policeman who was appointed by Jung to head the Anti-Corruption Bureau was told to return to his previous posting because the AAP-run government had already appointed someone to that role, and the government has issued an order transferring the capital's principal home secretary.

If this were happening with any other chief minister than Arvind Kejriwal, who has a not-so-undeserved reputation of being a nautanki  (drama queen), it would be seen as a much more problematic crisis of federalism. In simpler terms this is what is happening: the Centre and a state are openly fighting, moving bureaucrats around like chess pieces and going to the extent of having ministers arrested.

Outlaw Minister

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs may claim that it had nothing to do with Delhi Police's arrest of Jitendra Singh Tomar on Tuesday, the Delhi government's law minister who has been accused of cheating, forgery and getting a job with a fake degree. But that case was already in court, thanks to a petition by the Bar Council of Delhi, and Tomar has even asserted in the Delhi High Court that he was a "bonafide student" of his college, with an affidavit from the institute's principal attesting to this. Another college that he claimed to have got his law degree from has said that his provisional certificate is not genuine, but, as pointed out before, the matter is before the Delhi High Court.

The open warfare over bureaucrats is equally problematic and almost farcical.

Take just the Anti Corruption Branch chief issue. First the Delhi government creates the post, and appoints someone to it. The Lt Governor then appoints a top policeman to oversee the ACB, superseding the Delhi government appointee. The AAP government follows this up by ordering the Lt Governor's choice, MK Meena, not to take charge since there is no sanctioned post available for him. Meena has now said he has already taken charge, based on the LG's orders.

The Delhi government here is effectively grasping about to see what the precise limits of the capital's semi-statehood actually is. Mainly because of concerns that Delhi needs to be run by the Centre to ensure the central government can function properly, the capital remains only a semi-independent unit. All concerns of law, land and policing coming under the ambit of the central government.

Semi Statehood

Under Kejriwal, the Delhi government has attempted to test out this assertion, asking for example who exactly has the power to appoint and dismiss bureaucrats. Based on a technicality – the fact that the capital doesn't have its own cadre of civil servants – the Union Home Ministry has asserted that it has control over bureaucratic appointments. This hasn't pleased Kejriwal, who campaigned on a platform pushing for full statehood.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-run central government, the same one that insists "cooperative federalism" is one of its chief aims, sees no value in allowing Kejriwal have his way. The drubbing it received in this year's Delhi polls – the first election in years in which the saffron party didn't run on a platform calling for full statehood – and the awareness that Kejriwal can be a real thorn in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's side has meant that the Centre has been happy to fight AAP every step of the way through the Lt Governor.

Each of the various facets of this battle is going to turn up in court. Many, in fact, already have and the courts have shown a propensity to side with the AAP-run Delhi government over the Centre on a few of these decisions. But because of the nature of Delhi's semi-statehood, coupled with the massive majority the BJP holds in Parliament, AAP and the Centre are going to keep butting heads. The solution, just as with the Central Bureau of Investigation cases against top political leaders in states like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, cannot be a legal one. It will have to be political.

But for that, Kejriwal and the Centre will have to come to some sort of reasonable arrangement – which will have some benefits for either side. Considering AAP has always worked best when it can claim to be victimised by the establishment, which is what seems to be happening right now, the chances of a reasonable arrangement happening any time soon appear to be slim.