The latest crisis to hit the Arvind Kejriwal-led government following the arrest of two Aam Aadmi Party MLAs last week on charges of assaulting Delhi’s seniormost bureaucrat has led to speculation that the Centre is planning to impose President’s Rule in the national capital. This talk has possibly been triggered by demands by the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party that the Kejriwal government should be dismissed, as well as a statement by associations of Indian Administrative Services officers that the incident amounted to a “breakdown of governance”.

However, central leaders of the saffron party have been silent on the matter so far. The Congress has said that the crisis needs to be resolved via dialogue.

The crisis started on February 20, when Delhi Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash met with Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal and then registered a complaint with the police in which he accused Aam Aadmi Party MLAs Amanatullah Khan and Prakash Jarwal of assaulting him the previous evening at Kejriwal’s official residence. The MLAs were arrested and sent to judicial custody.

Senior Aam Aadmi Party leaders say that the incident never took place.

On February 23, the police conducted an unprecedeted raid on the chief minister’s Flagstaff Road residence, ostensibly to secure closed circuit television footage of the alleged assault.

President’s Rule bogey

Article 356 of the Indian Constitution empowers the President of India to dismiss a state government “on receipt of report from the Governor of the State or otherwise”. It is an emergency measure meant to be applied “in case of failure of constitutional machinery in State”. However, over the years, it has been used liberally by parties in power at the Centre to expand their spheres of influence in the states.

On February 20, associations representing Indian Administrative Services officers issued press statements severely criticising the Delhi government. A statement by the Central IAS Association informed Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh that the alleged assault amounted to a “functional crisis” and “breakdown of governance”.

On February 21, Manoj Tiwari, a Lok Sabha MP and chief of the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, told reporters that the party wanted Kejriwal to resign immediately. The demand soon escalated. Delhi BJP’s spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor said on Saturday, “Our demand is no longer limited to Kejriwal’s resignation. We demand that his government needs to be dismissed.”

Asked if the BJP’s state unit was attempting to push for President’s Rule in Delhi, Kapoor dodged the query saying, “It is a matter of a constitutional breakdown and President’s Rule is one of the ways to deal with it.”

Notwithstanding the demand by its state unit, the central unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party – which has referred to the state of affairs in Delhi as a “constitutional crisis” – is yet to officially endorse the idea of President’s Rule. “Arvind Kejriwal is an anarchist and his government has led Delhi to a constitutional crisis,” said Shyam Jaju, BJP’s national vice-president in charge of Delhi. “But we have not officially demanded for President’s Rule in Delhi yet.”

Another BJP leader who did not wish to be identified said that the party should adopt a wait and watch strategy. “Why should the BJP intervene when the AAP has itself dived into a crisis and is struggling to come out of it” he said. “Our next step would be to intensify the campaign against Aam Aadmi Party. There is no demand for President’s Rule now.”

Manoj Tiwari, did not respond to phone calls and messages asking him to comment on the differing positions that the party’s state and central units have taken on the matter.

‘No grounds for President’s rule’

On February 21, Rajnath Singh sought a report on the matter from the Lieutenant Governor. In his report, submitted the next day, Baijal is learnt to have flagged the breakdown of communication between bureaucrats and the political leadership in the AAP government. There is now talk that Baijal’s response might form the basis of an attempt by the Centre to impose President’s Rule.

Reacting to this speculation, Sharmistha Mukherjee, the chief spokesperson of Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, said, “The matter has to be resolved through dialogue.” The Congress has so far not demanded Kejriwal’s resignation, let alone pushed for President’s Rule, she added.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde had another point of view on whether the crisis actualy constituted a failure of constitutional machinery. “At worst, it is a case of criminal assault, not a law and order breakdown in a state,” he said. “If the Centre recommends President’s Rule, it would lead to the demand for a judicial review. The bigger question is whether such an isolated incident can qualify for a case of failure of the constitutional machinery.”

The crisis in Delhi continues with bureaucrats refusing to participate in meetings with AAP ministers. They have pledged to only communicate with the political executive through written correspondence. While the Delhi government has so far shown no sign of engaging in dialogue with the IAS associations, Baijal is expected to meet them soon and discuss the standoff once again.