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Is AAP Using ‘Statehood’ To Dodge Accountability To Delhi Voters?

Delhi will become ‘El Dorado’ – but only after Arvind Kejriwal’s demand for Delhi’s statehood is met.

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(Disclaimer: This article was first published on 26 April and has been republished in the light of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s recent statements about Delhi’s statehood.)

Arvind Kejriwal would make Delhi an El Dorado if the capital were to get full statehood. That was the main thrust of the Aam Aadmi Party’s election manifesto which was launched on Thursday, 25 April. The 35-page document made an array of promises — and the subtext of almost every promise was that it would come to pass only after Delhi attained full statehood, which the AAP would fight for if voters elected its candidates from all of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha seats.

The chief minister and his party have long sought full statehood for Delhi. And there are justifiable reasons for that. But AAP’s manifesto must also be viewed in the context of an almost moral force that Kejriwal sought to imbue it with.

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At the press conference following its release, the chief minister — brisk and incisive as always — said that the biggest imperative of the 2019 general elections was removing the “Modi-Shah jodi” at the Centre. He went on to say that the AAP would support any other grand alliance and do whatever was necessary to keep the current dispensation out of power, as it had unleashed divisive forces that could tear India apart.

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The ‘Goodies’ Promised in the AAP Manifesto

Coming back to the manifesto, AAP’s list of goodies for Delhi is a long one — provided the capital gets full statehood. These include, among others:

  • reservation of 85 percent of seats in colleges for Delhi’s students;
  • 85 percent reservation of government jobs for locals;
  • 33 percent reservation for women in the police;
  • setting up a public service commission for Delhi;
  • filling the vacancies in the Delhi police, which in turn would lead to better policing of the city and hence also improve security for women;
  • housing for all in easy installments;
  • reviving the anti-corruption branch which was scrapped by the Centre;
  • a cleaner, greener Delhi;
  • 100 percent e-buses to control pollution

One does take issue with AAP’s promise to reserve 85 percent of college seats and government jobs for Delhiites, as that would significantly destroy the thriving cosmopolitan culture of the national capital, not to speak of making a mockery of the concept of merit. Even so, Kejriwal must be lauded for putting the issue of full statehood for Delhi at the front and centre of his campaign, by linking it to the provision for better education, jobs, housing, safety and security for the people of the city.

It is a smart move — an effort to carry the people along in his fight to get Delhi the status of a full state. Even the campaign calls that have been coming to your phone lately, ring with the same message: “Iss baar Dilli ko poorna rajya banane ke liye vote dena (This time vote for making Delhi a full state),” says Kejriwal’s taped voice.

Compelling Reasons for Delhi to be Declared a Full-Fledged State

There are compelling reasons for Delhi to be declared a full state. At present, it is neither fish nor fowl — it is a special Union Territory, a quasi state as it were, which has an elected assembly, but is devoid of any authority over several critical arms of the administration. The police report to the home ministry of the central government and so does the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). This means that Delhi’s government has zero powers to tone up their functioning. And yet, any failures on their part would automatically be laid at its door.

In other words, Delhi has two power centres — the elected representatives headed by the chief minister, and the Lieutenant Governor (LG), who represents the central government.

This bipolarity creates a potentially unstable situation, one where the buck can be passed, inefficiency always has an excuse, and any genuine effort to streamline and improve the city and its administration can evaporate in the tussle between the two, especially if the parties in power at the Centre and in Delhi are political opponents.

Take the fact that the Delhi government does not have the last word on the appointment and transfer of bureaucrats, which can be cancelled or changed by the LG if he so desires.

It is a bizarre state of affairs that undermines officers’ accountability to the administration they serve. In fact, this was the reason for the bitter feud between Kejriwal and former LG Najeeb Jung in 2016.

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Kejriwal’s Message is Clear

Successive administrations in Delhi have recognised the need for Delhi to be a full-fledged state. And political parties too have made the promise repeatedly. The BJP manifestos in 1999 and 2014 promised full statehood for Delhi. So did the manifestos of both the Congress and the BJP in 2015. But when AAP passed a bill in the assembly in 2016 to make Delhi a full state, the BJP government at the Centre made no move to approve it.

The Centre’s obsession with retaining control over several levers of Delhi’s administration speaks of the petty territoriality and lack of vision on the part of the main political parties. This time AAP is going all out to highlight the ludicrous administrative dichotomy with which Delhi has been saddled for years.

Kejriwal’s message is clear: If AAP is in a position to play a role in forming a government other than the NDA at the Centre, it will do so on the condition that Delhi be given the status of a full state.

(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author based in Delhi. She can be reached at @ShumaRaha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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