Friday, 23 February 2018

Will Modi dismiss AAP's Delhi Government?

That the Aam Aadmi Party’s Government in Delhi has been a source of great irritation for the Modi Government over the last three years is well known. That the Modi Government has used every power in its remit to obstruct the AAP Government’s functioning and cause a rift within the party is also a matter of record. That the Modi Government would like to dismiss the AAP Government and thus erase all existence of the Prime Minister’s most humiliating electoral defeat is well within the realm of reason. That there is no love lost between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister since their 2014 Varanasi face-off goes without saying. It is important to see AAP Government’s recent controversy with the Chief Secretary in this context.

There has been a long war going on unceasingly almost since the very moment of the stunning victory by AAP in February of 2015 and the Modi Government’s conduct has gone beyond the bounds of the law or the constitution or even common decency. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for AAP it has been an experience in state-directed repression akin to an Emergency. MLAs have been arrested on the flimsiest of complaints, pressured to implicate AAP leaders, ministers, and if possible Arvind Kejriwal himself. Some MLAs have been arrested on two or more occasions to great media fanfare. That the judiciary has failed to put a stop to this blatant disregard of law and procedure by the Delhi Police at the behest of its masters in the Central Government is not difficult to understand considering the state of Supreme Court currently and the conduct of the Chief Justice.

Despite this reign of tyranny, the AAP Government has managed to make a name for itself, in India and abroad, for its innovative and effective health and educational policies. The vastly improved schools and the introduction of Mohalla Clinics are a legacy that will far outlive the current Delhi Government, of that we can be sure.

We have an administrative situation in the Delhi Government where the senior bureaucracy only looks for instructions to the unelected and all-powerful Lieutenant Governor who himself behaves as if he is only responsible to the Central Government and quite possibly only to the PM. The AAP Government and MLAs who are directly responsible to voters on a daily basis have no control over what any bureaucrat, big or small, decides to do and as we know a situation where bureaucrats are left to their own devices without concern for the needs and complaints of the common man or woman is a recipe for an administrative catastrophe.

Till such time as the Supreme Court delivers its judgement on the constitutional question of the powers that the Delhi Government does or does not have, the AAP Government has been left in this administrative strait-jacket where they are held responsible for just about everything that happens in Delhi, by the media and voters, and rightly so, but the Chief Minister does not even have the power to transfer his chaprassi without begging the Lieutenant Governor, who takes his own sweet time, and the bureaucracy seeing this powerlessness of the AAP Government naturally treat orders from ministers as worthless and refuse to have anything to do with MLAs.

The issue of linking ration cards in Delhi to Aadhaar had been an issue of grave concern since January 1 when it was introduced and it was found that due to glitches in the system more 2.5 lakh families were no longer getting their ration. The inaccessibility of senior bureaucrats in the Delhi Government became an even more urgent matter now that the issue concerned was that of providing ration for the poorest of the poor. An irresponsible bureaucracy unwilling or incapable of even catering to the basic needs of its most needy citizens should worry us all. A Chief Secretary who oversees such callousness is naturally not going to be presented with garlands.

Anybody in Delhi can go and see their Chief Minister on any weekday without an appointment between 10 and 11 a.m. The same goes for any other AAP minister. The senior bureaucrats of Delhi Government in contrast think twice before seeing their own ministers. And I do not blame these officers, because they have been put in this state of fear by the knowledge that their careers will suffer if they do not do the bidding of their masters on Raisina Hill. It is instructive that the Chief Secretary went straight to the PMO the day after the alleged altercation at the Delhi Chief Minister’s residence took place, bypassing the Home Minister altogether. The Prime Minister is clearly taking personal interest in the fate of his bĂȘte noire.

The ever-depleting independence of the Supreme Court, Election Commission, CBI, and other institutions during his tenure are enough proof that the Prime Minister will not think twice before dismissing the Delhi Government and no doubt the President will rubber stamp it. The prospect of universal opprobrium that would arise from the decision has never dissuaded the Prime Minister in the past and is unlikely to do so now. But it would be a mistake because it would free up Arvind Kejriwal and AAP to campaign nationally wearing the badge of victimhood in the run-up to the General Election.

After three years in office Kejriwal has a maturity now borne out of a record of performance to show and alliances with other opposition parties are also starting to firm up in the most surprising corners. His foray this week into Tamil Nadu to attend the innaugaration of Kamal Haasan’s new political party Makkal Needhi Maiam was an early glimpse of what is to come. Kejriwal looked like a man who had come up for air after a year closeted in Delhi and there was a gleam in his eye that showed he was ready for the big battle ahead.

If the Prime Minister does dismiss the Delhi Government he may find that he has in fact let loose his own worst political nightmare.