The Aam Aadmi Party’s big victory in 2015 in Delhi had held out a promise — that democracy in India can still allow new players to step in, enlarge the space. The exchange of accusations between Delhi’s elected government and its chief secretary mirrors a reneging on those possibilities. Clashing accounts of what transpired at the midnight meeting in the Delhi Chief Minister’s residence on Monday paint either Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash or AAP MLAs as the villain.
No matter which version is true, however, the stature of both the AAP and the bureaucracy in Delhi stands severely diminished.
The capital’s unique position under Article 239AA — it has an elected government but without many of the powers other state governments enjoy — makes its government far more dependent on the Centre’s cooperation. This special position demands, therefore, that Delhi’s government shows both the willingness and the skill to negotiate, especially with a seemingly unfriendly Centre.
On Monday night, however, the AAP appears to have flagged off a sorry sequence of events with a Tughlaki firmaan — it summoned Prakash at midnight to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence. The AAP claims its MLAs wanted to discuss “non-disbursal of rations” — yet Food and Civil Supplies Minister Imran Hussain was not present.
In Prakash’s version, the meeting was held to discuss the government’s publicity programme on its achievements in three years. Subsequently, while the chief secretary alleges he was insulted and assaulted, the AAP contends he used casteist slurs against its MLAs. The next day, even as staff members of the Delhi Secretariat allegedly heckled and assaulted Hussain, the bureaucracy said it will work only on written orders, and the IAS Association took out a candle-light protest march at Rajghat.
If the AAP can be accused of an undimmed confrontationism that does not behove a party that has completed three years of its term, the bureaucracy’s response renews allegations of political partisanship — the Centre has long been charged with using bureaucrats and the office of the LG to shrink the elected government’s room for manoevre. Certainly, the marching IAS Association does its own cause immense disservice.
In the last three years, the AAP government has had numerous stand-offs with the bureaucracy and the Centre, over the appointment of officials, over state government decisions being overruled and on the alleged misuse of investigative agencies. Recently, the party faced a political crisis after 20 of its MLAs were disqualified for holding “offices of profit”. Since the departure of former Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung, however, a relative calm had set in.
Now, the accusations of assault and abuse announce the end of the welcome lull. Instead of concentrating on governance in general and health and education in particular, two areas in which it has had some success, the bureaucracy and government of Delhi is engaged in a destructive conflict. Both must pause and consider the consequences of the vitriol that has been unleashed, a betrayal of their responsibility to the people of Delhi.