PREM SHANKAR JHA | 16 JUNE, 2015
AAP VS BJP AND JUNG: THE ACID TEST FOR INDIAN DEMOCRACY
NEW DELHI: The confrontation between Arvind Kejriwal and Governor Najeeb Jung over who rules Delhi has reached the Supreme Court. On the surface it looks like a battle for control over decision-making in the same territory, between two governments that enjoy the peoples’ mandate, one in the National Capital Territory and the other in the entire nation. This leads one to ask: “shouldn’t the second be more binding than the first?
The underlying cause of the battle is, however, far more serious. It is not simply over who makes the decisions but what these decisions must be. It is not over procedure , but policy. Jung’s attempt to deprive the AAP government of the power to choose its senior civil servants is in reality an attempt to take away its power to govern by, in effect, subverting the bureaucracy. Kejriwal has not questioned the limitation of the state government’s powers under the constitution. On the contrary he has been seeking the shelter of the constitution and asking the Governor and the Union Government under which of its articles they are seeking to deprive the state government of the to choose their own key officials.
A close reading of the 69th amendment to the Constitution, shows that Kejriwal is right. While it keeps public order, police and land under the central government; mandates the supremacy of laws passed by parliament over laws passed by the Delhi assembly on the same subject, and gives the Governor the right to refer differences of opinion to the President”, it does not even hint at a limitation to its powers in the other spheres of government, including its powers of appointment.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Delhi High Court struck down a Union Home Ministry notification taking away these powers from the Delhi government, on May 25.
If the central government is allowed to prevail, it will reduce the Delhi administration to little more than an oversized Gram panchayat. What is more important, it will set a precedent that other beleaguered state governments may try to follow. Precedents tend to breed other precedents. So Kejriwal is not being an alarmist when he warns that this could become the back door for a takeover of other state governments by the Centre in the future.
This is not just a constitutional issue, for the AAP is not simply another political party, born out of caste, religious or ethnic mobilisation, that has developed a vested interest in perpetuating a ‘clientelist’ political system in which it takes turns with the others to feast off the resources of the State. It is a party born out of a revolt against this system and its exploitation of the poor and the powerless through corruption, expropriation and extortion. The discontent this has bred has found periodic violent expression through the Naxalite and Maoist movements. But till less than two years ago it was able to express itself peacefully only through public interest litigation and the use of the Right to Information act.
The AAP has given this discontent a chance to express itself through the electoral system. It is therefore the democratic expression of a popular revolt. If it is thwarted – if it is not allowed to bring about change, and is therefore discarded by the poor because of its impotence -- it could open the gates for violence on a much larger scale. A small dose will suffice to scare away domestic and foreign investors and blight India’s future.
AAP has succeeded most spectacularly in Delhi because, with the possible exception of Kolkata, it is the most politically mature part of the country. All but a fraction of its 16 million inhabitants have come from different parts of India in search of a better future, drawn by the disproportionate foreign and domestic investment that has taken place in the NCT and its immediate neighbourhood. Far more than other parts of the country, therefore, Delhi’s electorate has left caste and creed behind and is voting on the basis of class.AAP is the party of the have-nots.
In Europe the poor sought security through trade unions.The Unions politicised themselves and eventually created social democracy. In India, with the union movement almost moribund and nine out of ten workers working in the unorganised, AAP has created the only way by which the country can make the transition to social democracy.
Kejriwal came in with an explicit mandate to begin this transition, but has so far been baulked at every turn. If the centre succeeds in making his government impotent or, worse still, forcing it out of power, the poor will conclude that the democracy they put their faith in was a hoax. From that it will be a short step, for some of them, to discarding it and turning to violence.
They are liable to arrive at this conclusion all the more readily because questions have been raised about both Gamlin’s and Jung’s relationship with the two Reliance companies headed by the sons of the late Dhirubhai Ambani. Kejriwal’s doubts about the advisability of appointing Gamlin arose when she advised the power minister that a “letter of comfort” to be issued to power distribution companies in Delhi to enable them to raise loans totalling Rs 11,000 crores, would not amount to a government guarantee when experts said it would. Two of these belong to the Reliance ADAG group.
And Jung has never satisfactorily explained why he has kept a consultancy relationship with Reliance industries, that goes back a decade or more, out of his Gubernatorial bio data. There may be, indeed probably are, simple explanations for both omissions. But in politics perception is everything. If Kejriwal is hounded out of office, Big Business will be immediately held responsible, and the emerging class divide will harden rapidly. That is the last thing India needs.