The Delhi High Court has given a historic verdict stipulating the nature of functions assigned by the Constitution to various functionaries of the Delhi government. The High Court has made it clear that it is the Lt Governor who primarily calls the shots and the elected government cannot implement decisions without his approval in specific cases. In other words, the Lt Governor is supreme and is not bound by the advice of the Chief Minister and his council of ministers.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has already decided to challenge the High Court verdict in the Supreme Court and going by the indications, top legal eagles such as Rajeev Dhavan, K.K. Venugopal, Gopal Subramanium and P.P. Rao may lead the charge when the matter comes up in the Apex Court. It is evident that the last has not been heard on the issue and the AAP will make sure that it keeps the pot boiling in order to have potshots at the Bharatiya Janata Party and its government at the Centre, given the heightened hostility between the two sides.
There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the high court edict gives the legal high ground to the Centre and the BJP, since it is based on the interpretation of the Constitution. It has been made abundantly clear that Delhi continues to be a union territory and is not a state and therefore is under the overall control of the Centre. The matter of the fact is that the verdict is on expected lines and has thus not taken anybody by surprise.
However, while the AAP may have lost the first legal battle, it is actually looking at a larger picture—that of winning the political war. The high court order has made things easy for AAP leaders, who had made tall promises to the people of the city on way to an unprecedented victory which gave the party 67 out 70 Assembly seats and in the process also more than 50% of the total votes polled. The order has provided Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his associates a political handle to whip the BJP with. This is perhaps exactly what the AAP would do in the next few months.
The diktat is extremely convenient for the AAP functionaries to explain to the people why they have not been able to accomplish what they had set out to achieve. Whatever good has happened till now has been despite the Centre, which is not allowing the AAP ministers and MLAs to function and is using every trick in the trade to give them a bad name. Junior bureaucrats at the Centre have overriding powers over the elected representatives of the people and as a consequence were in fact preventing them from pursuing pro people policies. The high court verdict has brought to fore the limitations under which the Delhi government has to function and is being made to play second fiddle to the Centre because of legal hurdles that need to be done away with in the future by a Constitutional amendment. The AAP argument is that democracy is being throttled by lacunae in the Constitution and therefore justice is not being meted out to the common man who had reposed his or her unequivocal faith in the party in the 2015 Assembly elections. The political discourse thus would override the legal interpretation by the high court, which has arrived at a correct conclusion based on the rules and norms as laid down by the Constitution. It would also give a fresh lease of life to the party, which is rapidly catching the imagination of the people even in other states including Punjab, Goa and Gujarat.
Kejriwal and company can now easily take to the streets and explain to the people that the Centre stands between the promises made to them by their party. Going by this it is quite clear that for each and everything it is the Lt Governor who is supreme. Moreover, since he has such a lofty status where was the need to have an elected government in the capital in the first place? It is obvious that Kejriwal, while taking his case to the people’s court, would make a strong plea for full statehood so as to enhance the prestige of the government which had received an overwhelming mandate.
The short point is that while the bureaucracy and some in the intelligentsia may understand the validity of the high court order in the background of the Constitutional limitations of the elected representatives, the common people who voted in the Assembly polls did not do so after reading the Constitution. They simply want things to be done expeditiously and would hold their MLA responsible if anything goes haywire. Most people rightly or wrongly have problems with the police, which in Delhi is under the Centre. Many others have to deal with officers in connection with their encroachments or dwellings at various places. Land too is under the jurisdiction of the Centre. Till now the majority would spew their ire on the elected representatives. However, the AAP henceforth would use the high court verdict to give greater clarity to the people at large on the minimal role of its government. In the process, it will put the entire blame at the doorstep of the Centre and thus seek to derive political advantage.
Kejriwal, by no means, is a political novice and perhaps realises that his time has come to beat the BJP with the high court observations thereby absolving himself of any inaction. Simultaneously, he would want to take the matter to the Apex Court in order to further test the legal grounds. He is sitting pretty and has either way nothing to lose. Between us.