Opacity and, consequently, the appearance of partisanship have marked the selection and removal of governors during the NDA government’s tenure, and in this it has not kept its promise of change from ways of the past. Within three months of assuming office, the government appointed five new governors amid accusations — including a Supreme Court petition by the former Uttarakhand governor Aziz Qureshi — that incumbents were either “eased out” or asked to resign. In 2015, too, five new governors were appointed and two transferred. Amid this tumult, Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor (LG), Najeeb Jung, was a high-profile UPA appointee kept undisturbed by the Centre. Till his somewhat mysterious resignation on Thursday, he had been accused constantly of being an “agent of the Centre” by Delhi’s AAP government, and had become both the symbol and prime actor of the latter’s vitriolic conflict with the Centre. His decision to “return to his first love”, academia, now presents both the Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal governments an opportunity to take a first step towards repairing their fraught relationship.
Delhi government’s impatience with the home ministry-controlled Delhi Police and the Centre’s intransigence on bureaucratic appointments have marked much of the last two years. At one point, two home secretaries were appointed for the city — one by the CM and LG each. At the height of the dengue epidemic in August, the LG transferred the Health and PWD secretaries despite requests by the government to keep them on during the crisis. On August 4, the Delhi High Court declared that the city was a Union Territory to be administered by the LG. While legally sound, this decision undermined and circumscribed a democratically elected government. It also emboldened Jung, who promptly formed a three-member committee under former CAG V.K. Shunglu to examine “irregularities and infirmities” in about 400 files pertaining to decisions taken by the government.
While the root cause of the conflict between the Centre and Delhi government may lie in the issue of statehood, a reasoned debate that weighs the pros and cons of such a massive step has been made impossible by the vituperative politics. The issue of statehood pre-dates the tenures of both Kejirwal and Jung, but the frequent breakdown of the relationship between the Union and Delhi governments never reached such proportions. The appointment of a new LG is an opening for both. The CM can build a working relationship, sans histrionics, with a constitutional functionary whose cooperation will be essential for the governance of Delhi. The Centre must show that it respects the decisive mandate given to the Delhi government. For the Centre, it is also a chance to set an example and allay the apprehensions of state governments regarding a high constitutional office being used for partisan political agendas.