Why A Referendum?

Has AAP thought through its promise of a plebiscite on full statehood for Delhi?

Written by T S R Subramanian | Published:July 15, 2015 1:02 am
statehood for Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi statehood, Delhi statehood referendum, AAP government, AAP, aam aadmi party, arvind kejriwal, kejriwal news, arvind kejriwal news, manish sisodia, aap, aap delhi, aap delhi statehood, aap news, delhi statehood, delhi statehood issue, aap delhi statehood, Indian express Delhi happens to be the capital of the country, and the fulcrum of the national administrative apparatus.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the AAP government in Delhi had ordained that the administration may conduct a referendum on full statehood to Delhi. It was not made clear if the referendum is to be confined to the city of Delhi or extended to the national capital territory, or cover the whole of India. It was also not clear as to which authority — the Election Commission of India or any other state or Central agency — will conduct the referendum. Since there is no provision in the Constitution for a referendum or plebiscite process, it was also not clear as to which legal provision will govern this intended process. In any case, the Constitution seems to apply to the AAP only when it suits it — at other times, its philosophy looks to be to improvise as one goes along.

A brief retrospective in regard to referendum/ plebiscite issues may be relevant. The government of India steadfastly refused to conduct a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1940s and 1950s, despite a UN resolution; the demand for a plebiscite has still not fully abated. But during the Dravidian Tamil movement of Periyar and Annadurai, the question of referendum was not on anyone’s agenda; nor was it brought up during the peak of the Khalistan movement during the 1970s. Has Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal paused for a moment to consider the implications of a referendum in the context of many of our northeastern states? Many Naxal groups and other militants have declared “independence” — should we have a referendum in Dantewada or Gorkhaland?

Delhi is one of seven Union territories (UT) as listed in Schedule I of the Constitution. All UTs are administered directly by the government of India (except to the extent delegated by it to a local authority — in Delhi’s case to the state government). The structure of administration of a UT (including Delhi) is much the same as the admini-stration of a full-fledged state during president’s rule; the Union home ministry, on behalf of the president, is responsible for the administration. While minor details may vary, this constitutes the fundamentals of the management of a UT. The Delhi administration, which is subordinate to the Union home ministry, should not presume to deal with matters exclusively in the purview of the Central government.

The above is of particular relevance to Delhi. Delhi happens to be the capital of the country, and the fulcrum of the national administrative apparatus. Dual control of issues like territorial jurisdiction, law and order, as well as police management, is neither feasible nor acceptable in Delhi — no local Delhi-related politics should be given the remotest opportunity to interfere with the full freedom of action for any agency or authority of the government of India.

Delhi belongs to 125 crore Indians. Deciding the future of Delhi by the residents of Delhi would be akin to the residents of Howrah district claiming ownership of the Howrah Bridge. Such casual proposals exhibit a hit-and-run technique, to stir the pot and whip up passion for immediate political gains. The national political parties had earlier, in bouts of competitive populism, opened up the issue of statehood in Delhi, without concern for medium- and long-term national interests. Kejriwal can, in that sense, be excused for playing the same games. It is not easy to govern and deliver results; it is much easier to create diversions periodically, without realising the long-term damage.

Countries like Switzerland do have a referendum procedure for nearly every matter of importance; indeed many cantons are delegated enormous powers. But recall that these countries have a strong democratic temper, a tradition of public service by the administration, and are not saddled with a venal political leadership whose only objective is to gain and then retain power at any cost. The Indian electorate is also not mature enough to understand the implications.

The AAP has come to power with great expectations. Any remaining respect it commands will rapidly evaporate if it resorts to diversionary tactics and ignores its responsibilities. If the Constitution is to be amended to provide for a referendum procedure, the issue placed before the entire nation (not just Delhi) ought to be whether the statehood conferred on Delhi should be withdrawn, and it be treated fully like any other UT.

The writer is a former cabinet secretary to the Union government.

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  1. D
    Dharma
    Jul 15, 2015 at 8:25 pm
    Imagine Delhi is granted full statehood. The first thing AK will be itching to do is create obstacles to the central govt if not issue an arrest warrant to the union ministers / PM in one pretext or the other. So either a place can be the national capital or it can be a state - but it cannot be both. Our ancestors had the wisdom and rightly divided the responsibilities. I don't see any need for the referendum or discussion on this topic.
    Reply
    1. P
      Pmp
      Jul 15, 2015 at 6:26 pm
      With the knowledge & experience of administration,legal knowledge of the author,he has been raising valid points on the knee jerk ideas of Mr.kejriwal.under the garb of enjoying mandate,Kejriwal cannot undermine the consutional status of Delhi fact the way it is pampered,like the lowest taxes and the lowest petrol product rates than other metros,Delhi gets the most favoured status and this status itself must be questioned by the Indian citizens.Pmp
      Reply
      1. V
        Vijay Rajvaidya
        Jul 15, 2015 at 5:33 am
        Glad TSR Subramanian wrote about the absurdity of referendum or plebiscite idea of Kejriwal. It's good that Indian consution doesn't have provision for any instrument of direct democracy. Ask any person living in California for long and he/she will tell you how ineffective, expensive and counterproductive these measures (called ballot proposition in California) have been. They tied up state legislatures in knots because of unmanageable conditions they imposed on them. Worse, these propositions can be written so cleverly that one can achieve desired results by confusing the electorate as it happened in case of proposition 8 (Marriage equality) not long ago. How long it will take before this practice gets thoroughly abused by Indian politicians. Kejriwal is exactly trying to do that: abuse the sense of democracy of Indian citizens to stay relevant. He or residents of Delhi have no right to decide on a matter of national import in case such an exercise gets executed. TRS Subramanian is being very kind to him by mildly describing his narcissism. Indian citizens will have to suffer through this anomaly for some time. Let's hope that it pes without causing lot of damage to the national insutions.
        Reply
        1. V
          Vijay Rajvaidya
          Jul 15, 2015 at 5:36 am
          Glad TSR Subramanian wrote about the absurdity of referendum or plebiscite idea of Kejriwal. It's good that Indian consution doesn't have provision for any instrument of direct democracy. Ask any person living in California for long and he/she will tell you how ineffective, expensive and counterproductive these measures (called ballot proposition in California) have been. They tied up state legislatures in knots because of unmanageable conditions they imposed on them. Worse, these propositions can be written so cleverly that one can achieve desired results by confusing the electorate as it happened in case of proposition 8 (Marriage equality) not long ago. How long it will take before this practice gets thoroughly abused by Indian politicians. Kejriwal is exactly trying to do that: abuse the sense of democracy of Indian citizens to stay relevant. He or residents of Delhi have no right to decide on a matter of national import in case such an exercise gets executed. TRS Subramanian is being very kind to him by mildly describing his narcissism. Indian citizens will have to suffer through this anomaly for some time. Let's hope that it pes without causing lot of damage to the national insutions.
          Reply
          1. A
            AP
            Jul 15, 2015 at 4:38 pm
            There is a difference between "asking" within consutional limits and what AAP is doing. Don't waste everyone's time by putting such questions. Study the topic/implications in depth.
            Reply
            1. K
              Kungfu
              Jul 15, 2015 at 3:46 pm
              Don't know why the writer is silent on the other thoughts that he may have come across while writing this article. In 2011, when the movement for carving out the state of Telangana was cleaving Andhra Pradesh, BJP state president G Kishan Reddy wanted then President Pratibha Patil to take the initiative for organising a referendum on the contentious issue. He mooted this idea in response to the suggestion of Congress leader P Chidambaram that political parties of Andhra Pradesh should evolve a consensus on Telangana instead of making contradictory demands on the Union government.
              Reply
              1. K
                Kungfu
                Jul 15, 2015 at 3:44 pm
                Prime Minister Narendra Modi designed and conducted a referendum during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat. The referendum of April 2009 asked the Gujaratis to stamp ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on three related questions – did they want the money stashed in Swiss banks to be repatriated to India? Should the money funneled back be spent on the poor? Should the government initiate measures to unearth black money?
                Reply
                1. A
                  Amit
                  Jul 15, 2015 at 10:18 am
                  If Delhi belongs to entire India then let Delhi Police also have complete discretionary and overruling power over all other state police. It sounds as absurd as the author comparison of Delhi with Howrah bridge. Ridiculous!
                  Reply
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