Of the babus, by the babus, for the babus

Of the babus, by the babus, for the babus

By Pankaj Vohra | 23 May, 2015

The confrontation between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and the executive head, the Lieutenant Governor has brought into public focus how the bureaucracy continues to be stronger than the elected representatives of the people in Indian democracy. The Centre on Friday issued a notification defining the powers of the LG and those of the elected government and also stipulated certain Lakshman Rekhas in response to the stand off in the capital.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has responded to the Home Ministry's notification by declaring that LG Najeeb Jung was the viceroy of the Centre, thereby indicating that he does not agree with the opinion and thus could go to the Supreme Court for final redressal. The question that arises is that should the bureaucracy take refuge under the garb of Constitutional provisions to deny the duly elected government its right to run the affairs through officers of its choice. Constitutional references should not be made for negative purposes and even if there are provisions which stipulate certain powers for the LG, the elected government should not be deprived of making its choices. The entire issue in Delhi appears to have been badly handled and the conflict between Jung and Kejriwal could have been easily avoided. It is evident now that though Jung may have won round one, aided by his fellow bureaucrats, his continuation in Delhi as the LG would become untenable, which the Centre too may have realised by now. The Home Ministry has spelt out its view, but at the same time may not endorse the LG's continuance, since it would mean that the confrontation would continue indefinitely. Jung could be given another assignment, since both Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi realise that in a democracy, a government has to be of the people, by the people and for the people and not of the babus, by the babus and for the babus. What has been happening in the capital has to be seen in conjunction with how the present Act, which restricts powers of the elected governments, came into being over a period of time. The Indian bureaucracy has never been comfortable with giving up its stranglehold over the national capital on some pretext or the other and has been successful in influencing the political leadership to deny people of Delhi their rights.

In 1989, after the Metropolitan Council and the Municipal Corporation were dissolved and superseded respectively, a Justice R.S. Sarkaria commission was formed to go into the question of finding suitable alternatives, as well to end multiplicity of authority in the capital. Justice Sarkaria was overworked and was later substituted by Mr Balakrishnan, a bureaucrat who finally prepared the final report. The recommendation accepted by the Congress government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao did not end the multiplicity of authority, but in fact enhanced the authority of the bureaucracy. In the civic body, the commissioner became more important than the mayor. Simultaneously, the recommendations diluted the powers of the elected bodies, leading to the formation of a truncated municipal body and an ineffective assembly. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi was trifurcated some years ago through active connivance of the bureaucracy.

Madan Lal Khurana, Delhi's first Chief Minister after the Act came into effect, was able to usurp some powers because of his stature acquired from years of street fighting and agitations. The Rao government appointed P.K. Dave as the LG, but he could not tame Khurana, who had his own vision for Delhi. Khurana could have made the office more powerful, but his tenure was cut short by his resignation and those who followed him did not have his kind of grip over the administration.

Being the wife of a bureaucrat, Sheila Dikshit always gave an impression that she was running her government with the help of babus and kept elected MLAs away from decision making. It is a matter of record that barring Omesh Saigal, who was very vocal and critical, no chief secretary of the Delhi government ever "retired" and instead was accommodated in some position or the other. Dikshit had her showdowns with the then LG, Vijai Kapoor, but they were more for public consumption than for real as the two got along fabulously.

Kejriwal has come from a background that is totally different and has won a mandate that is unprecedented in the annals of Indian democracy. Therefore, he has to be given that respect in order to honour the will of the people. If he feels comfortable working with some officers, where is the need to have a conflict on such a matter? Rule books are brought out and it is stated that the President can resolve the issue in case of a dispute between the LG and the CM, as if the President has the time for all this. The decision vests with a Joint Secretary in-charge of UT, sitting in the Home Ministry. In the end, a Joint Secretary is more powerful than the elected Chief Minister. Between us.


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