The crisscrossing political currents prevalent in the national capital make it rather cumbersome for any observer to draw clear conclusions about the relative strengths of respective elite power centres that impinge on the welfare of the millions of residents of Delhi. Though Delhi ‘technically’ became a state of the Union of India in 1993, it is actually administered as a National Capital Territory with a Union Territory status, with nine territorial districts. While it has an elected state Assembly and a state government headed by a chief minister, neither of them possess the right to maintain law and order as other states in the Union of India.
At best, Delhi can be called a ‘disintegral state’ with a major differential derivative that set it apart from all the other states of India. It is a ‘city state’ of sorts that has the unique distinction of being the capital of the Indian Union since 1911. It is a city of multiple authorities, none of which possess the range of directive powers of state policy as elected bodies enjoy in other national capitals like London, Paris, Moscow or New York.
Given this peculiar situation, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, a relatively new chip in the power block of capital polemics, has raised very pertinent issues about the power vectors in Delhi. The manner in which he has posed them may be controversial, but as an uninitiated head of the national capital’s elected political executive, he has the right to know where he actually stood in the capital’s power calculus. Kejriwal might be wrong on his tactics, but questioning his commitment may be slightly far-fetched.
Without self-righteousness as a political option of convenience, as a politician who offered to provide an alternative model of governance, Kejriwal has tried to address his political constituency by adopting the agitation route to exhort the people to raise the questions that trouble him. If an elected government is to discharge its constitutional obligation of securing the safety and security of the people who voted it to power, why should it be rendered powerless to discharge these obligations? Incidently both the national parties—the Congress and BJP—that were displaced by Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party have raised similar issues without adopting a confrontationist attitude towards the Union government, where they have wielded power.
Democracies should always learn and unlearn from a spectra of experiences, positive and negative, in their own historical unfolding. At a time when the people are getting more informed and empowered, the political class that competes to represent them will have to evolve new methodologies to address emerging issues that agitate the common man. The recent Delhi experience weighs in favour of a new paradigm for change of guard from one party to another, pursuant to exercise of democratic electoral processes.
As complexities are inherent where a transfer of power takes place, it is time to consider the option of giving the party or a coalition of them that assume power at least 30 days of familiarisation time for ensuring a minimalist grasp of the essentials of governance before formally assuming the reins of power. New parties and possibly new coalitionist configurations necessitate this democratic interregnum of sorts. The transfer of power would be smoother if the constitutional heads of the state and Union governments sequentially ensure appropriate briefing of the ‘new regime’, draw red lines to ensure that they do not violate established political norms and distort the process of governance according to the rule of law.
There is a distinct lesson that the latest political confrontation in Delhi has indirectly imparted. Under the Indian Constitution, the elected political executive is discharged with the task of policy-making and legislation. The implementation of these policies is better left to the permanent bureaucracies whose members are supposed to work in accordance with the laws and established procedures without fear or favour. The political executive can change these laws and procedures but it should not try to take over the job of implementation of government schemes on the ground.
Unfortunately, what happens in the Union as well as state governments is exactly the opposite. Instead of devoting their energies on formulation of policies and actionable plans, the politicians are more concerned with day-to-day administration because it enables them to curry favours to their supporters and penalise opponents.
This has derailed the process of governance envisaged in our Constitution. The political class is more interested in manipulating the tools of governance by picking and choosing officials handling law and order and development works in the field through transfers and postings. This is clear from the manner in which both the Central and state governments have persistently refused to implement guidelines issued by the Supreme Court for reforms in police and civil administration. As Kejriwal’s party is a product of Anna Hazare’s movement against political corruption, and transparency in governance, it will do well to not adopt the approach of the political class which is more interested in manipulating the system for private profit and not for public interest.