Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Another U-turn From Kiran Bedi’s BJP As Decades Of Promises For Delhi Statehood Are Suddenly Forgotten

For two decades, the Bharatiya Janata Party has sought to give Delhi full statehood. The saffron party was the first to make the demand and confer partial statehood upon the capital in 1992. In 2003, the National Democratic Alliance even introduced a bill in Parliament that aimed to make Delhi a full state. As recently as 2013, the BJP’s election manifesto promised that the “BJP shall continue the struggle for full statehood to Delhi”.

On Tuesday, as the party released its Vision Document for Delhi in lieu of an actual manifesto, the quest for statehood was nowhere to be found.
Almost exactly the second item that the BJP had promised in its manifesto back in 2013, integrating the transport system, has now become the first item on the vision document, as if all that had to be done was to just delete the statehood portion.

In comparison, the BJP’s chief competitor, the Aam Aadmi Party made the statehood promise fourth in its 70-point action plan for the city. “Acting within the constitutional framework our government will use its moral and political authority to push for full statehood for Delhi,” AAP says.

The Congress, meanwhile, has almost no credibility on this front. For nine years it controlled both the state and central governments, and yet, despite demands from the Delhi unit, there was no effort to introduce full statehood.

The constitutional amendment that granted partial statehood to Delhi, which was passed in 1991, kept certain entries on the state list out of its purview. As a result, all issues relating to law and order, policing and land, were left with the central government. The Delhi Police reports to the central Ministry of Home Affairs, while the Delhi Development Authority, which is responsible for government-owned real estate, is answerable to the central Ministry of Urban Development.

This means that politicians who come to power in the capital are both handicapped by not having access to all the levers of a full state, but are also given a free hand to rail against the inadequacies of the centre. Consider former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s response to the gangrape-murder that caused shockwaves across the capital: give us control of the police.

The opposition at that time frequently criticised Dikshit for failing to obtain full statehood for the capital, despite her own party being in power at the centre for nearly a decade. In the run-up to Delhi assembly elections in 2013, then-BJP chief ministerial candidate Harsh Vardhan said that she hadn’t done enough for statehood.

“Either Sheila Dikshit was not interested in the statehood for Delhi or the central government ignored her demand for it," Vardhan said. “After Narendra Modi becomes the prime minister, we will go to him and ask for it.”

So why hasn’t the party gone and asked for statehood? Because if it had made the promise before the polls and another party came to power, it would seriously damage the BJP to go back on such a commitment. And the BJP, knowing that the AAP actually has a chance of winning, wouldn’t want to make the mistake of potentially handing over so much power to party chief Arvind Kejriwal.

Delhi is a unique place, featuring Very Important Person zones and high-security enclaves. It also has a large amount of government land and buildings, all of which will move from being controlled by the centre to being in the state government’s purview if full statehood is granted. The AAP’s manifesto gives a hint to what they might expect to do if this ended up being the case.

“This will ensure that institutions such as the DDA, MCD and Delhi Police will be accountable to the elected government of Delhi,” the manifesto says. “This way land will be made available for the common man, there will be greater synchronization and shared purpose among civic services with regard to service delivery and the law and order machinery will be accountable to the citizens.”

Imagine Arvind Kejriwal and his populist band in charge of the properties in Lutyens’ Delhi, currently allocated primarily to the political class? Or the AAP, which has sought to make a virtue of spartan security measures, getting control of the Delhi police? 

Unwilling to take that leap, the BJP, despite internal pressure from the local unit pushing for statehood, decided to go with simply a vision document for Delhi (so that it wouldn’t be directly compared to the 2013 manifesto) and leave out mention of the statehood struggle altogether.

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