The history of statehood movements and the administrative structure of Delhi suggest that full statehood is an inevitability.
The Supreme Court Constitution Bench decision in favor of the Delhi government has taken Delhi one more step toward the promise of democracy enshrined in the Constitution. The elected Council of Ministers is no longer shackled by the diktats of the Lieutenant Governor. To the contrary, the L-G is now bound by the ‘aid & advise’ of the Council of Ministers. The L-G continues to enjoy the discretionary power of referring matters to the President in the case of a difference of opinion, but the grounds for differing with the elected government have been restricted by the SC to a large extent.
Despite the verdict, under the present Constitutional scheme, Delhi remains a Union territory with a legislature. Notwithstanding the restoration of Delhi government’s rightful powers, Delhi’s status as a UT allows a vindictive Centre to exploit the power imbalance – a power embedded in the Constitution itself. The 69th Amendment to the Constitution which introduced Article 239AA gives the National Capital Territory of Delhi the power to legislate on all matters in the State and Concurrent List, except for public order, police, and land. These subjects, known as ‘reserved subjects’, are under the legislative competence of the Indian Parliament. These powers have been exercised by the Centre almost entirely to undermine the Delhi government.
The Delhi Police, which reports to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, has arrested more than 15 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs in the last three years. Matiala MLA Gulab Singh was arrested during a campaign event in Gujarat by a team of Delhi Police officers flown out to Gujarat on taxpayer expense. Former Law Minister of Delhi and Tri Nagar MLA Jitender Singh Tomar was arrested by a team of 30 policemen, when he was neither a security risk and nor was he expected to resist arrest. Former Law Minister of Delhi and Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti’s dog was arrested to ascertain whether he was trained to be set off on Mr. Bharti’s estranged wife. (To the great surprise of the Delhi Police, the dog was innocent.)
After the Chief Secretary of Delhi alleged assault at the Chief Minister’s residence earlier this year, a squad of 60+ policemen entered the residence as part of a “raid” where officials asked the Kejriwals when was the last time their walls had received a fresh coat of paint. Subsequently, the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister were also questioned by the Delhi Police in the same matter for 3 hours each.
Since the matter before the SC was limited to the clarification of Article 239AA, the larger problem of an unfair and undemocratic Constitutional structure have not featured in the discourse around it. Even after such a favorable judgment, Constitutionally, the elected government of Delhi is still exposed to the unjustifiable excesses of the Delhi Police.
The question is, why doesn’t Delhi, like the 29 other states of the Union, deserve full statehood? Both national parties, the BJP and the Congress have suspended their demand for full statehood. The newly baptized Centralists in both parties now argue that because Delhi is the seat of the national government, there needs to be Central control over the local police. The presence of foreign missions in Delhi is also often cited as an argument against statehood. The Federalists’ argument has always been that the New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC) area or Lutyens Delhi as it is more commonly know, can be maintained as Centrally-administered territory, while the rest of Delhi can be granted statehood. It would then be argued that there are foreign missions and Central government offices outside of the NDMC area as well, and therefore the solution cannot be that simplistic.
The alleged concern of Centralists of safety and security of Central offices and foreign missions is hypocritical. If that were the case, why doesn’t the Central government control the Mumbai Police, which has jurisdiction over Embassies of foreign nations on Napean Sea Road, or over the offices of the Reserve Bank of India at Fort, Mumbai? The Ministry of Home Affairs has offices across the country, including those of the Intelligence Bureau. The military has bases spread across the country. Why doesn’t the Centre control all of those police forces?
The voters of Delhi are also citizens of India. If a voter in Haryana can choose a chief minister to run land, public order, and police for her state, why is the Delhi voter denied this right? This is against the spirit with which India became a Republic in 1950. The AAP has launched the movement for full statehood on the 1st of July, and perhaps the next government will grant Delhi the full rights of self-government, as enjoyed by other residents of other states. The history of statehood movements and the administrative structure of Delhi suggest that full statehood is an inevitability.
The wheels of democracy have already been set in motion when India got independence. All erstwhile Part C states, other than Delhi, have been granted full statehood: Manipur, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh. Even territories like Goa and Sikkim, which became a part of the Union many years after independence have become full states. In the case of Delhi, progress has been slow, but the elected administration of Delhi has only become more empowered over the last few decades.
The SC has reaffirmed the nine-judge Constitution bench verdict in the NDMC v State of Punjab case which had stated that Delhi is a UT sui generis, or in a class of its own. What is often ignored is the assertion of the Court that the various UTs are in different stages of evolution. And Delhi is on the verge of its evolution into a state.
Akshay Marathe is the National Joint Secretary of AAP and has worked on Delhi Government’s education policy.
Image Source: PTI