Vol. XL No. 43 October 23, 2016

Oppose this Authoritarian Onslaught

WHAT has been happening in the National Capital Territory of Delhi is truly scandalous. Ever since the AAP government was formed after the February 2015 assembly election, there has been brazen and calculated attack by the central government to hamper the elected state government. The naked use of central power through the Lt. Governor and the Delhi police (which is under central jurisdiction) has more or less sidelined the state government and the elected legislature.

As per the 69th amendment to the constitution which provided for the setting up of the Delhi legislature and government, three subjects – public order, police and land – were reserved for the centre in the division of powers. But in the 20 months of the AAP government, what has been witnessed is the encroachment and taking over of all subjects within the purview of the state government.

The Delhi assembly had passed various legislations.  All the 14 Bills thus passed were returned by the union home ministry stating that they had not followed due procedure of getting “prior assent” of the Lt. Governor. 

The Lt. Governor, Najeeb Jung, has acted as an agent of the Modi government.  The manner in which he intervened to remove the chief of the Anti-Corruption Bureau in May 2015 and replaced him with an officer, chosen by him, indicated the clear  design of the Modi government to neutralise the AAP government’s executive authority.  The Lt. Governor further cancelled the AAP government’s order directing the power distribution companies to pay compensation to consumers for unscheduled power cuts. More recently, he has turned down the government's order to increase the minimum wages for workers.

Unfortunately, the retrograde and flawed Delhi High Court judgment of August 2016 has virtually reduced the Delhi government to a non-entity.  It has ruled that the Lt. Governor is not bound to act upon the “aid and advice” of the elected government of the state on the plea that the National Capital Territory is not a state but “continues to be a union territory”.  It has also extended the jurisdiction of the centre to the civil services. 

The Supreme Court is hearing an appeal against the Delhi High Court judgment, but the damage has been done.  With this judgment, the Lt. Governor has control over all officers. It has only emboldened the Lt. Governor to ensure that they are not bound to obey the chief minister and the state government unless their orders have the approval of the Lt. Governor.

The AAP has 67 of the 70 MLAs in the Delhi assembly. In the past 20 months, 14 of these MLAs have been arrested and jailed on a variety of charges which include rioting, extortion, sexual molestation, domestic violence, land grabbing and cheating in cases initiated by the Delhi police.  So far 21 percent of the AAP MLAs have thus faced criminal charges and prosecution. In no other state legislature has such a large proportion of MLAs been arrested and jailed.

Whatever the merits of the individual case, it strains credulity that such a large number of elected representatives are facing criminal charges.  In the most recent case of the arrest of MLA Gulab Singh from Gujarat, the court has pulled up the police for acting in haste in effecting the arrest and hiding important facts from the court.

In the face of this anti-democratic onslaught by the Modi government, it is surprising that the opposition parties are keeping silent.  The worst culprit in this regard is the Congress party which was running the erstwhile government in Delhi. Instead of opposing these anti-democratic interventions of the centre, the Congress has squarely blamed the AAP government for  the plight it finds itself in.

The chief minister and AAP leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has sought to portray the central intervention more in personalised terms as Narendra Modi’s vendetta politics, whereas it is important to highlight this as a dangerous attack on the democratic and federal structure of the polity by a union government and the ruling party which is displaying authoritarian trends. 

There are many of acts of omission and commission of the AAP government which can be criticised and opposed. But the authoritarian attack on democracy and federal structure needs to be opposed by all. 

Letting the Modi government get away with this strangulation of democracy will only whet its appetite for more authoritarian onslaughts. 


(October 19, 2016)