For a week, Delhi has witnessed an unedifying spectacle – chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, along with his ministers, staging a dharna in the lieutenant governor’s secretariat. What seemed a local issue initially has now become larger in scope. Four opposition chief ministers have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and Delhi high court has begun hearing petitions on the case. The capital’s residents are the unfortunate victims of this imbroglio.
The immediate trigger for the sit-in is the collapse in relations between the permanent executive in Delhi and the political executive led by Kejriwal. Following an alleged assault in February on Delhi’s chief secretary by members of AAP, officers have attended only statutory meetings on account of safety concerns. Kejriwal claims the LG has not done enough to end a “strike” by officers and the sit-in is meant to catalyse a return to normalcy. There is a backstory to this. There has been friction between AAP government and successive LGs over the scope of their respective administrative powers. This friction escalated into a judicial dispute between the Centre and Delhi government and eventually reached Supreme Court. The apex court concluded hearings in December and its verdict is awaited.
Regardless of what Kejriwal might think is the root cause of the imbroglio, a sitting chief minister should not stage this kind of protest. The head of the political executive needs to find ways to deal with the permanent executive without adding to the administrative logjam. Air quality this year is particularly poor on account of dust storms but all that residents see is an administration not quite ready to deal with it. Also, the monsoon is a few weeks away and Delhi’s preparations are inadequate. The logjam has led to a deterioration in the quality of governance.
Delhi has a legislative assembly but is not a full state as it is the seat of the central government. A part of the capital’s administrative machinery such as the police force comes under the purview of the central government. Therefore, the Centre should help find a way out of this situation. One helpful step could be to get the police to quickly conclude their investigation into the alleged assault. The other step could be to mediate between the bureaucracy and Kejriwal to restore trust. It would also help if Supreme Court gives its verdict at the earliest.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.