The Kejriwal way of dealing with problems

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The Kejriwal way of dealing with problems

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s idea of a referendum on full statehood for Delhi is yet another example of confrontational politics

Is Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal chasing a pipe-dream by trying to seek a referendum on full Statehood for Delhi? Should Delhi have a referendum on this issue or will it open a Pandora’s box? Whether he succeeds or not, Kejriwal has started a debate when he tweeted after the Great Britain’s exit from the European Union last week, “After the UK referendum, Delhi will soon have a referendum on full statehood.”

A full statehood for Delhi has been a long-pending demand. Kejirwal’s predecessors too had been seeking it as they felt that their hands were tied with limited powers. Former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had made it clear that since the police was not in her hands, she could not do much when the Nirbhaya rape case rocked the capital. She was opposed to the multiplicity of agencies ruling the national capital. The BJP too had made a similar demand.

Last month, Kejriwal released a draft bill on full statehood to Delhi. The draft retains control of areas under the New Delhi Municipal Council with the Centre and seeks to include subjects like policing, law and order, land and services, that are currently outside the purview of the Delhi Government. The official period for public feedback ends on June 30.

Historically, soon after Emergency, the Janata Party Government tried to introduce a provision for referendums through the Constitution (44th Amendment) Bill, 1978, but this did not materialise.  The only instance of State-sanctioned direct democracy in India was in Goa. Sanctioned through a law enacted for the purpose, it was called the Goa Opinion Poll, 1967, to decide the future of the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu within the Indian Union. Goa finally became a State in 1987 during the Rajiv Gandhi era following persistent demands including a resolution for full statehood in the Goa Assembly in 1976.

Those supporting the idea include former AAP leaders like Yogendra Yadav. They argue that just because the Constitution does not provide for it, the subject cannot be barred. Those who oppose argue that Delhi has specific characteristics as vital institutions such as Parliament, the Supreme Court and foreign embassies relocated in the capital.  Second, most new capitals around the world are administered as a federal territory distinct from States. Beijing, Canberra, Washington, DC, Ottawa and many other major capitals are examples of this pattern.

Experts say that in the absence of a constitutional provision, there should be an informed debate on the issue and Kejriwal simply cannot impose a referendum on the people of Delhi without due consideration.

Second, it might lead to other Union Territories making such demands. Delhi is only one of the seven Union territories as listed in Schedule I of the Constitution. The Union Home Ministry through the Lt Governor administers them. There is a historic reason for this. In 1911, when India’s capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, the British Government did not bring Delhi under any State, but it was given the status of capital of British India.

The father of the Indian Constitution, BR Ambedkar, noted that the national capital can’t be under a State or a local Government. The States Reorganisation Act, 1956, didn’t merge Delhi with any other State and left it as a national capital.

In 1989 when Parliament passed The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 granting full statehood to Delhi was not agreed to. Delhi Assembly was given the powers to govern and make laws on all but three subjects — public order, police and land.

Third, while many including some European countries follow the referendum route on crucial issues but India, though a largest democracy, is not yet mature enough to do so and the exercise will involve huge costs.

So why is Kejriwal harping on the referendum idea? Is it because he wants to divert attention from controversies surrounding his Government and the party? Or is it because he wants divert attention from the Damocles’ sword hanging over 21 of his MLAs who might lose their membership on the office of profit issue? How does he propose to make sure that Parliament will vote for the amendment to the Constitution will require two-thirds majority to enable Delhi have its referendum? He has just three MPs. The simple answer is that he believes in confrontational politics and this is his way of dealing with issues.

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