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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Delhi: Beyond the Kejriwal - Najeeb Jung debate

In the last week, the headlines in both mainstream and social media have been dominated by news of the turf war between Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor (LG), Najeeb Jung, and the Delhi Government, notably the Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal.

The matter of contention is the appointment by the LG of Shakuntala Gamlin, senior bureaucrat, to the position of acting Chief Secretary of Delhi, standing in for the Chief Secretary, KK Sharma, who is on leave.

Both sides have been vocal and emphatic in stressing their authority. Supporters of both sides have been even more vocal, especially on social media and in TV debates.

Understandably, given the nature of the battle, lawyers have stepped in, both suo moto and on request of both parties, to give their opinion on the subject. Suddenly one hears of the proviso to Article 239AA(4) of the Constitution of India. One hears of the NCT of Delhi Act, 1991. One hears of the “Transaction of Business Rules”.

All of this has been very educational and interesting for a layman like me. I will confess my utter and total ignorance in these matters.

As of the time of writing this piece, the matter is still unresolved. While some respected legal experts like Gopal Subramaniam, Indira Jaising and Rajeev Dhawan seem to be backing the Delhi government’s position, the LG has gone one step further and even annulled bureaucratic postings made by the Delhi Govt, claiming that only he has constitutional power to do transfers and postings.

Clearly the turf war has just got uglier.

No doubt, the decibel levels will only rise further. Not just on social media but also on India’s MSM, where this “story” is being keenly followed and debated in the daily evening primetime debate sessions.  

People will discuss the politics around Gamlin’s appointment. They will discuss the alleged locking out of a bureaucrat from his office. They will discuss all sorts of nitty-gritty issues relating to the bureaucracy. They will quote constitutional provisions, the NCT Act and such, to try to make a case to prove their point.

All of this will happen. We are a country that loves to debate, especially when this gives us a chance to display our knowledge of technicalities. Everyone is suddenly an expert, whether acknowledged or self-professed. In the worst case, if the technicalities are too cumbersome to understand - or too inconvenient to face - we can always switch to generalities, and even ad hominem attacks. “As usual, Kejriwal is doing dramebaazi – making a mountain out of a molehill”, or “Najeeb Jung is a Reliance agent, now being used by BJP only to harass AAP”.

Sadly, this isn’t just the street talk on social media. It is the type of talk you see in discussion panels on mainstream media. Everyone has his knives out, as if his life depended on it.


I think we are missing the woods for the trees.

Honestly, I don’t care who is right or wrong in this matter. We can debate every fine point, get all the legal experts to give their views. And then?

Tomorrow there will be another point of contention between the LG and the government. Another disagreement, another showdown. Both sides seem to believe they are in the right – neither seems to want to cede to the other. So the next flashpoint is just around the corner, waiting to happen. It could be a matter of days, or weeks, but it’s inevitable.

Are we going to get into this mess every single time? The media might not mind it – in fact, it might even relish it.  But we need to ask ourselves – is this good for Delhi?

The answer has got to be an emphatic NO. How can it be good for Delhi in the long run, if so much energy, effort and time is wasted in turf squabbles?

So what’s the solution?

Let me start by stating what I feel is NOT the solution.

The solution is NOT that one party (LG or Delhi government) accepts the other’s authority just to avoid conflict.

I say this, because I have seen comments saying “We never had this problem during Sheila Dikshit’s time. She and the LG always managed to work out their issues through compromise”.

Sorry, but that’s not a solution.  That is sub-optimal performance, by ducking the problem. You avoid conflict, but you also don’t execute the responsibility entrusted to you.

The solution is to address the REAL problem that Delhi faces in this respect. It is not Kejriwal or Aam Aadmi Party or Najeeb Jung.

The REAL problem for Delhi is this “partial statehood” status. 

Now, there might have been very good reasons in the early 1990s for changing Delhi’s status from a pure Union Territory (UT) to a “state”. Since these decisions are not taken overnight, I am sure much thought went into this decision.

I am equally sure plenty of thought went into the decision NOT to make Delhi a full-fledged state, along the lines of other states.

As a result, with appropriate changes in the Constitution and by passing other laws to enable this “state” to be created, we now have Delhi as a “state” – but not a “full state”. It has some federal powers, but is limited in some areas.

This is about as nonsensical as it gets. No amount of creative law-making can get around this basic fact.

That every Delhi government till now has accepted this, and gone with it (even if grudgingly), is a shame. And certainly no reason to justify the perpetuation of this monstrosity of an arrangement.

It is an insult to the electorate that their elected representatives have only limited powers to serve them. It is a travesty of the whole purpose of elections, a farce of democracy.

One of the first principles of management is about authority and accountability. He who is accountable, must have authority to execute. And he, who has authority, is entitled to be held accountable for  use of such authority.

In the Delhi context, the elected members are accountable to their electorate. But they don’t have full authority to execute. The LG has executive powers, but is not accountable to the people – at least not through an election process.

This just cannot be right. I am no legal or political expert, I am just an aam aadmi – but this defies basic logic.

That we have allowed this to happen for 23 years confounds me. I can only conclude that Delhi has been passive all along – most likely indifferent to this blatant joke of a structure. That each Delhi government till now has accepted this, and played along, only baffles me further. To be fair to each previous Delhi government, I understand it has also occasionally expressed its misgivings. But then, this has never been vocal enough. It has never stirred up serious debate on the topic.

That is why I am hoping this gets uglier. 

No, not the Gamlin issue in itself. But the stand the current Delhi government is taking vis-à-vis the LG. The sad reality in India is that unless things get really ugly, they just get brushed under the carpet.

I am hoping this will lead to a bigger debate about roles and responsibilities of the LG vs the Delhi government. Probably wishful thinking, considering Indian media is far more likely to discuss twists and turns of every minor incident, rather than discuss the bigger picture holistically.

That is what we need. A vigorous, holistic discussion about Delhi’s political status.

Should it be given “full state” status?

Should it revert to being a Union Territory?

Should part of it be carved out as a full state, the rest being under the Centre’s control? That way, maybe many of the concerns of giving it full statehood, could be addressed.

It is now 23 years that we’ve had Delhi / NCT in this new avatar. During this period, its population has grown tremendously in all directions.

Surely it is worth taking a step back now and reviewing the situation?

Do we have the political will to do so?  If we did, we would probably not even be having this discussion.

I think we, the people, have to raise our voices. Today, thanks to social media, we have an opportunity to make our voices heard like never before.

So let's do it. Let's force a debate on this. Let's get the concerned parties (and I don't mean political parties) to put their heads together and work out a clean, structural, long-term political structure for Delhi.

We owe it to the people of Delhi.

P.S: For the moment, I am deliberately staying away from expressing a view on what the outcome of such a holistic debate should be, for Delhi. I do have a view (doesn't everybody? :-) ) - and I am happy to discuss it too - but that is NOT the purpose of this piece.

Right now, my main objective is to have this whole discussion elevated to a higher level. Stop discussing the incidents, discuss the cause. Fix the hole in the ceiling, instead of mopping the floor below.

All I ask for now is to find a structural solution to get rid of the scope for confusion that exists currently due to a seemingly dual authority structure. Legal eagles might dispute this, quoting provisions of various laws but this shouldn't even be necessary. Keep structures simple and clear. Keep roles and responsibilities clean and transparent. Marry authority with accountability. That's all I ask for.

If politicians, and the mainstream media, for whatever reasons, will not take the first step, we, the people, must.