The Big Story: The short march
Delhi on Sunday saw the spectacle of Aam Aadmi Party stopped on their march to the prime minister’s house, while the central areas of the capital went into lockdown. Four other chief ministers heading non-Bharatiya Janata Party governments and supporting Kejriwal were also stopped from meeting him and his ministerial colleagues who have been staging a sit-in protest at Delhi lieutenant governor’s office waiting room for over a week now. The Aam Aadmi Party has been demanding that the lieutenant governor put an end to an alleged four month strike by Indian Administrative Service officers and approve a doorstep ration delivery scheme. Though IAS officers deny going on such a strike, it is said to have begun after the alleged assault by Aam Aadmi Party legislators on the Delhi chief secretary in February.
This week’s protest is the latest instalment in the long running feud between the Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP-led Centre and does credit to neither, the Centre that appears determined to undermine the Delhi government and the chief minister who seems to choose political gimmickry over negotiation at every turn. But this Sunday’s spectacle also points to a deeper problem: the Centre’s creeping attempt to spread its control over state governments, especially those occupied by parties other than the Bharatiya Janata Party, never mind Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vaunted claims of enabling cooperative federalism.
The genesis of the Delhi government’s unease lies in fundamental contradictions in the way it was imagined. It has an elected council of ministers and a legislature, but the powers of these bodies are severely hemmed in by Article 239AA of the Constitution, from which Delhi draws its special status. The Centre, through the conduit of the lieutenant governor, has control over key issues relevant to national security. The Delhi High Court has also upheld the primacy of the lieutenant governor in running the administration of this curious half-state. The result, Aam Aadmi Party legislators complain, is a local government with great responsibilities but few powers to fulfil them, as the administration does the Centre’s bidding. Recently, the Delhi Assembly adopted a resolution demanding full statehood. But Kejriwal does not make a convincing case by lashing out against the Centre and then making wild statements about gathering votes for the BJP in 2019 if Delhi is granted full statehood.
Even aside from the Constitutional division of powers, however, the Centre has not played fair with Delhi. Just recently, it cancelled the appointment of nine advisors to the Delhi government, calling them illegal since they had been made without the approval of the Centre. It was a rationale that did not quite ring true since post-facto approvals in such appointments have become almost routine. Since 2015, when the Aam Aadmi Party scripted a landslide victory in Delhi, the Centre has made a determined bid to establish its writ on the capital. It started with the home ministry notification of 2015, reiterating the powers of the lieutenant governor, asserting that all matters pertaining to the services of bureaucrats were to be decided by him, reminding the AAP government of the limited jurisdiction of its Anti-Corruption Branch. It has been a pitched battle ever since, with the bureaucracy caught in the middle of this turf war.
The Delhi impasse proves that the Modi government’s project of cooperative federalism lies in tatters. Modi’s stated objective was to transform India’s polity by letting ideas filter up from below, by empowering state leaders and through participatory decision making. Four years down the line, the BJP has developed a track record of manipulating state governments and establishing control over opposition-ruled states. The stark differences between policy and practice were on display this weekend, at the NITI Aayog’s “Team India” meet, attended by chief ministers. In his opening address at the meet, Modi claimed chief ministers had played a key role in policy formulation and the development of flagship schemes. But a meeting meant to hold up the values of “competitive, cooperative federalism” was grossly undermined by the spectacle of the prime minister refusing to even meet a chief minister with a grievance, while the dissensions of four other chief ministers were batted by the ruling party as mere politics.
The Big Scroll
Anita Katyal observes that by supporting Arvind Kejriwal’s protest against the Centre, the four non-BJP chief ministers have signalled to the Congress that it does not get to call the shots in an anti-BJP alliance.
- In the Indian Express, Syed Badrul Ahdan writes that the killing of Shahjahan Bachchu in Bangladesh raises the spectre of Islamist fanaticism again in a country bracing elections.
- In the Hindu, Radha Kumar writes on Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari, who was killed last week, and his battle for peace.
- In the Telegraph, Manini Chatterjee points to Union Minister Arun Jaitley’s ominous new term “half-Maoist”, used to label activists the government does not favour.
Lakshmi Prabhala writes on a Swan Car that spread panic in streets of Kolkata in 1910 and has been recreated in a Hyderabad museum:
As for the original Brooke Swan Car, it is believed to have spread panic on the streets in Calcutta and was reportedly banned soon after its first ride, compelling Matthewson to sell it. The Maharaja of Nabha purchased it and it stayed with his family for nearly 70 years until the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands purchased it at an auction in 1990. The museum restored the Brooke Swan Car completely, with attention to every detail, including its upholstery.