Angry, argumentative, unrelenting. Mellow, cordial, cooperative. These two disparate sets of adjectives capture two variants of the AAP government that Delhi experienced over the last five years.
Separating these two faces is one date – July 4, 2018, when a Supreme Court ruling tilted the balance of power in the capital in favour of the AAP dispensation, and away from the centrally-appointed Lieutenant Governor.
Interacting with The Indian Express recently, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said his government could have done much more had there been more clarity on allocation of powers during the first three years, a tumultuous period marked by conflicts with the bureaucracy and Najeeb Jung, the then L-G.
Eleven days after taking over in February 2015, Kejriwal issued an order directing the L-G to route all files on police, public order and land — subjects outside the jurisdiction of the elected government — through his office, which was turned down by Jung. In May 2015, Kejriwal again instructed officials “not to bother the L-G” with files on policy matters. Jung’s office countered the order, reminding officials that “all files relating to matters for which the legislative assembly can make law should come to the L-G for final approval”.
Soon after, Jung’s decision to appoint IAS officer Shakuntala Gamlin as acting Chief Secretary, against Kejriwal’s wishes, snowballed into a controversy. Anindo Majumdar, who implemented Jung’s order as Secretary of the General Administration Department, found himself locked out of his office.
The next flashpoint was when Jung appointed M K Meena as the chief of the anti-corruption branch, incensing the AAP. The tussle on jurisdiction over ACB would eventually reach the Supreme Court in February 2019, with the court ruling in favour of the Union government, represented by the L-G.
Towards the end of 2015, the acrimony between Delhi and the Centre escalated after the CBI arrested Kejriwal’s principal secretary Rajendra Kumar in a corruption case. Kejriwal lashed out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling him a “coward and a psychopath”.
The first few months of 2016 witnessed more spats. In June, the ACB registered an FIR against Kejriwal over alleged irregularities in deployment of water tankers. The CM “thanked” the PM for “accepting that your fight is directly against me”.
In a setback for the AAP, the Delhi High Court on August 4, 2016, stamped the primacy of the L-G as the city’s administrator, ruling the government’s position that the L-G was bound by its aid and advice as “without substance”. Armed with the court order, in August 2016, Jung set up a probe committee under retired justice V K Shunglu to examine decisions taken by the AAP government.
In September, Jung asked Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, who was on an official tour in Finland, to return immediately in the wake of a chikungunya outbreak. In December, Kejriwal called Jung “Hitler”, miffed over the appointment of an IAS officer as the member secretary to Delhi Commission for Women.
December 22 marked the end of a chapter, with Jung’s resignation as L-G. On December 31, Anil Baijal took over as the new L-G. His media-shy and reticent nature played a key role in reducing the tension, at least in the public domain, though hostility between ministers and bureaucrats remained high through 2017, and peaked in 2018 following the then Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash’s allegation that he was assaulted by AAP leaders during a meeting at the CM’s residence.
While Prakash moved the court and senior officials launched protests, taking a non-cooperation stance, Kejriwal and his Cabinet colleagues launched a dharna inside Baijal’s office on June 11, 2018. Over the next nine days, the country saw visuals of a sitting CM spending days on a couch.
The power dynamics shifted a month later, with the SC spelling out on July 4 that the L-G was bound by the aid and advice of the elected council of ministers, and that his concurrence was not needed on matters not relating to land, public order and police.