Audio podcast: How Delhi’s voters were rendered irrelevant

Ashraf Engineer

April 3, 2021

Hello and welcome to All Indians Matter. I am Ashraf Engineer.

As the Rajya Sabha passed the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, India slid further down the democracy scale. The Bill, passed earlier in the Lok Sabha, shifts the balance of power from the duly elected government in Delhi to the Lieutenant-Governor, who is a Central Government appointee. This, effectively, makes the votes of the citizens of Delhi meaningless and turns the government they elected into a puppet that’s at the mercy of the Central Government. The Bharatiya Janata Party has been desperate to win the Delhi Assembly but has been thwarted repeatedly by the Aam Aadmi Party. So, it decided to circumvent the electoral process altogether. With moves like these, it’s no wonder that India has gone from being an ‘electoral democracy’ to being classified as an ‘electoral autocracy’.

SIGNATURE TUNE

So, what exactly is the law that’s better known as the GNCTDA Bill? In its essence, the amendments in it shift power from the elected government to the Lieutenant-Governor. In fact, the Bill says the word ‘government’ in any law made by the Legislative Assembly shall now mean ‘Lieutenant-Governor’. The law makes it mandatory for the Delhi government to seek the opinion of the Lieutenant-Governor before taking any executive decisions.

This is a clear erasure of the democratic rights of the government and citizens.

Understandably, the Aam Aadmi Party government is up in arms. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked what the elected government is meant for if the Lieutenant-Governor is the executive authority. Also, he said that every file going to the Lieutenant-Governor is  against a Constitution Bench judgment that said the elected government will take all decisions and merely send a copy of them to Lieutenant-Governor.

Delhi Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal

Some important decisions that the Lieutenant-Governor and the AAP government have disagreed on are transfers and postings of bureaucrats, and the reporting of the head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau under the state’s Vigilance Department.

There is much credibility in Kejriwal’s allegation that the BJP, having been rejected by voters, is seeking to assume power in Delhi unconstitutionally through the backdoor.

At the root of the problem is the fact that Delhi is not a full state – certain functions like law and order come under the Union Home Ministry. And so the Supreme Court has had to step in to resolve disputes between the government and the Lieutenant-Governor. In 2018, it ruled that the Lieutenant-Governor did not have any independent decision-making power and he has to act on the aid and advice of the state government. It was clear – the elected government was paramount.

The GNCTDA Bill reverses that. It snatches away the rights of the citizens and is an assault on India’s federal structure. Not only are the amendments contrary to democratic norms, they are a violation of the supremacy of the Legislature and the Supreme Court judgment.

Ironically, the demand for statehood was spearheaded by the BJP and the Union Government in 1992 accepted the demand partially by making Delhi a Union Territory with an Assembly. However, the Delhi chief minister’s powers are limited. As I said earlier, the police remain under the Union Government and so does land administration.

Since then, the demand for full statehood has grown louder – which the GNCTDA Bill rejects outright now.

This is a result of the BJP losing the Assembly elections badly in 2015 and 2020. Prime Minister Modi, who positions himself as a vote magnet, flopped and the BJP faced humiliating defeats. Now, it fears losing even municipal bodies based on AAP’s performance in areas like education.

If a duly elected government is to be bypassed, why have elections at all? This approach by the BJP government is a threat to all states ruled by other parties. We’ve seen how democratically elected governments have either been toppled or attempts have been made to topple them. Think Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa, Puducherry, Karnataka.

The GNCTDA Bill will stall Delhi’s progress and virtually wipe out democracy there. Sadly, it’s an approach that’s become all too common in India and this will almost certainly not be the last such move by the Modi government.

Thank you for listening. Please visit allindiansmatter.in for more columns and audio podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter at @AshrafEngineer and @AllIndiansCount. Search for the All Indians Matter page on Facebook. On Instagram, the handle is @AllIndiansMatter. Email me at editor@allindiansmatter.in. Catch you again soon.