Fight Over Delhi: Will NCT Law Give BJP ‘Soul’ of Indian Politics?

For eons, winning ‘Dilli’ meant ruling ‘Hindustan’, and so it has remained, ever since.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Image of India Gate, Delhi used for representation.
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Delhi’s old ruler Ghiyasuddin Tughlak was very wary of the local Sufi Saint, Nizamuddin Auliya, and feared his popularity. One day, upon returning from an expedition, back to Delhi, Tughlak sent a firmaan asking for Nizamuddin Auliya to leave the city before the ruler got back — unperturbed, the Sufi saint had prophetically said in Persian, ‘Hanuz Dilli Door Ast’ (literally, Delhi is still far away).

Before Tughlak could reach Delhi, he stumbled and died in a commemorative ceremony. History then teaches us that no one individual or ideology truly ‘owned’ Delhi for too long, as it was repeatedly plundered, destroyed, exchanged hands and rebuilt.

Not the Mamluks, Ghoris, Lodis, Rajputs, Mughals or even that mighty Empire that claimed that the ‘sun doesn’t set on it’, could hold on to it indefinitely. Only when independent ‘Bharat’ or India decided to make Delhi its befitting ‘rajdhaani’ (capital) did Delhi get its rightful place and ownership.

India No Longer Seeks Opinion, Dissent

At midnight on 14 August 1947, Nehru stirred the conscience of the nation from the magnificent Parliament building (sadly, soon to be replaced) with his Tryst with Destiny speech where he invoked the necessities of ‘prosperous, democratic and progressive nation’ – 3 simple lodestar words, that still need constant reflection, reminding and reiteration, 73 years since.

Dispassionately introspecting on parameters of prosperity, democracy and progress — two-thirds of India still lives in painful poverty with less than USD 2 a day, the global indices for the health of democracy suggest a worrisome slide, and on the parameter of ‘progressive’, not a day passes without the sanctified intimidations of revisionism to the ‘ways of the glorious past’!

We cavalierly pooh-pooh anyone who upholds the mirror as ‘self-appointed custodians of the world who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval’.

No, India no longer seeks any opinion — not of outsiders, not of ‘others’ within us, and not even of our ‘own’ who express contrarian preferences through ‘votes’. So, what drives this disdain towards a reality that looks as grim, as facts insist — majoritarian politics. Divisive politics that polarise, hypnotise and blind, simultaneously. This blinding overrules, redefines and ruins the inclusive spirit of Tryst with Destiny that was posited at Independence.

Will of Delhi Citizens Vs Will of Delhi LG

Beyond legalese, political one-upmanship and the barely sincere notions of ‘clarity’ in constitutional working — it is the continuously diminishing spirit of democratic empowerment, expression and federalism that clouds the skies for Delhiites. Counter to the natural and evolutionary mandate for enhanced decentralisation and empowerment that underpins all progressive democracies, the framework of politics for Delhi has just got more centralised, controlled and disempowered from the will of Delhiites. The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill 2021 essentially paves the way for an ‘unrepresentative administration’, not explicitly — but practically and possibly — if so required.

The will of Delhiites manifested in its elected representatives, will face ‘secondement’ to the will of the Lieutenant Governor, appointed by the Central Government — a step backward from the establishment of the first Legislative Assembly of Delhi in 1952 (later abolished), reestablished in 1993, and then forever in the healthy throes of seeking even more empowerment beyond its status as a ‘half-state’, by all dispensations, be it Congress, BJP or the current AAP.

With a population of over 20 million, much bigger than many ‘full-states’, a legitimate aspiration.

Delhi Statehood Crisis Akin to Puducherry Conundrum

In 2021, two ‘half-states’ of Delhi and Puducherry, ruled by non-centre parties, witnessed changes that need to be deliberated beyond the prism of partisanship.

The elected government in Puducherry, that spent the better part of its unfinished five-year tenure in a bitter slugfest with the LG, lost. The exiting chief minister mused, “we demanded full statehood to stop the nominated LG from snatching the rights of the people of Puducherry”.

Today, the Delhi chief minister is left lamenting, “sad day for democracy” — he too lost the battle of control.

The accompanying optics, sentiments and the final results in both cases are eerily the same — in an era of majoritarianism, only numbers matter, not the constitutional spirit.

Flashback 2013: the National Executive Meeting of the BJP — “Delhi’s growth is restricted in the absence of full statehood and the Congress has done nothing during the last 14 years on this issue” — 7 years down that road, history suffers selective amnesia and gets rewritten, this too will become a forgotten footnote.

Ponder, if, through this bill, the much-needed opposition (irrespective of the party) gets more ‘voice’ or does it get more muted? Was the civic development, infrastructure and public service of the sitting Delhi government any worse than that of neighbouring states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana — or perceptibly better? Did Delhiites repose faith in what the incumbent government was doing, that is, it won 67 out of 70 seats in 2015 and 62 out of 70, just last year?

Why Winning ‘Dilli’ Meant Ruling ‘Hindustan’

As the epicenter of Indian politics, global cynosure of the ‘Indian model’ and the ‘rajdhaani of our sovereign consciousness — was Delhi a prickly thorn of a possible political alternative, that needed to be nipped? There are no straight answers, just conjectures, optics and situational circumstances, and they certainly do not add up to a reassuring narrative. Timing is also telling — it too, begets more awkward questions than naïve answers and justifications.

For eons, winning ‘Dilli’ meant ruling ‘Hindustan’, and so it has remained, ever since.

But modern Delhi of the fabled seven ancient cities, that even finds mention in the epic, The Mahabharata, is also less mellifluously the railing heartland and battleground of Indian politics.

It was about ‘Dilli’ that Mirza Ghalib said, ‘Ik roz apni rooh se poocha, ke dilli kya hai. To yun jawab me keh gayi, yeh duniya maano jism hai aur dilli uski jaan’ (One day I asked my soul, what is Delhi and it replied – if the world is the body then Delhi is its soul).

Perhaps, even the modern-day fight for Delhi is not moral (remember ‘rajdharma’?), constitutional, administrative or ‘clarificational’, as postured — but just for the conquest of the final soul of Indian politics.

(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. 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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