I have not heard much about the Najeeb Jung-Arvind Kejriwal conflict in recent days, perhaps because I am located too far away from Delhi and local papers find it of no relevance. Or, perhaps, there have been more exciting events — the prime minister’s visit to Bangladesh, the sudden burst of military activity on our northeastern border, featuring the NSCN(K), the stresses facing the economy, particularly the rural sector, and volatility in the stock market.
The people of Delhi took a very conscious, very deliberate decision to vote the AAP massively into power. From what I have read and heard, people attribute this more to a growing disillusionment with the BJP than to an expression of total confidence in Arvind Kejriwal and his men. Many factors are cited, including the dissatisfaction in the lower echelons of civil servants, the decline in real wages and real minimum support prices for farmers and agricultural labourers in the outer reaches of Delhi adjoining Haryana, the proposed changes in the land acquisition act, the electoral promises made by Kejriwal, the emergence of Kiran Bedi as a top BJP leader and chief ministerial candidate, and even the excessive deference shown to the American president.
Having been elected so convincingly to power, Kejriwal immediately showed his lack of political maturity by taking on two of the most articulate leaders in his party and expelling them almost as his first act of governance. The unravelling of the party of the broom had commenced earlier, with some of its leading lights choosing to resign and even contest elections as BJP candidates. The unravelling continues unabated, with a minister being arrested for forgery and another being accused by his wife of harassment, including physical manhandling. Obviously, a high degree of sobriety needs to be injected into the party at this time, lest it loses its moorings.
The people of Delhi are not unreasonable, or unduly demanding, or fickle in making their political choices. The same people gave 15 years on the trot to Sheila Dikshit and her party. But they wanted effective action to curb corruption, particularly at the lower levels, lower prices, easier living, and they took to Kejriwal as the man next door who faced and understood these problems.
The spat between the lieutenant governor and the chief minister of Delhi is unfortunate and unfair to the people. I cannot comment with authority on the legal rights and wrongs of this confrontation. I know that Article 239AA of the Constitution gives the National Capital Territory government powers that are similar to those of other state governments, with some exceptions. I also know that there is a provision in that article that gives the LG the right to refer any matter to the president and also that if the matter “in his opinion, is so urgent that it is necessary for him to take immediate action, to take such action or to give such direction in the matter as he deems necessary”. I doubt it was the intention of the drafters of this provision that it would be used in such matters as transfers and postings of officers.
Such conflicts could result in demoralisation and uncertainty in the civil services under the Delhi administration, and failure to deliver public services in time. I know neither of the individuals involved in this tussle. I have heard that Jung is learned, articulate and wise. Some of Kejriwal’s friends who worked with me in the revenue department when I was secretary think the world of him, his integrity and sincerity. At any rate, he is where he is because of the mandate of the people. He should be given his chance to rule freely in accordance with the law, pick his own officers and to run his government smoothly and efficiently. The PM is a votary of co-operative federalism and is committed to building “Team India”. It would be a pity if these noble concepts are not given a fair trial even in the national capital.
This brings me to another issue on which I had expressed my views even while I was cabinet secretary: the need to revisit the status of Delhi. I think that, as it is, the governance of Delhi is confused and cluttered with too many institutions reporting to too many authorities. There is a lieutenant governor, a chief minister with his cabinet, a development authority that reports to the ministry of urban development, three municipal bodies and the police reporting to the Union home ministry. In 2010, when I was briefly entrusted with the task of ensuring that the Commonwealth Games (CWG) actually took place, I realised full well the problems that had to be encountered in a city riddled with so many different governmental agencies. An empowered group of Central cabinet ministers had to be set up to run an event that could have been organised more easily by a state government with unity of command. Towards the end of the preparation for the CWG, the NDMC and the MCD had to be roped in, using my (actually non-existent) authority as cabinet secretary to clean up the premises of the Games village, which was required to be maintained by the DDA. On another occasion, with barely a few days left before the start of the Games, we had to confront another situation in which responsible authorities were dragging their feet in giving various clearances. I had to call all of them together to my office one afternoon to make them physically give the required clearances to each other so that work could proceed.
I think Delhi deserves to be a full-fledged state. There may be peripheral problems, like the protection of diplomatic missions located in the capital, but administrative solutions can be found for these. Since change is in the air, as institutions are being dismantled and new ones are springing up, this is undoubtedly the time to find a solution to the administrative nightmare that is Delhi. This requires political wisdom and sagacity of the highest quality, a degree of statesmanship that, I hope, our rulers will not hesitate to display.
The writer, a former cabinet secretary, is vice-chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board.