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Mr Kejriwal, Read History on Delhi Statehood & Abort Draft Bill

MAY 11, 2016

By Naresh Minocha, Our Consulting Editor

WHAT is common between late Lala Deshbandhu Gupta, a freedom fighter, and Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister ? A lot.

Mr. Gupta humiliated and ridiculed Dr. B.R. Ambedkar while belligerently pitching for Statehood for Delhi in the Constituent Assembly during the late forties. Mr. Kejriwal is repeatedly insulting India's first OBC Prime Minister with a national mandate, Narendra Modi, in his quest for more power that he would get as Chief Minister of fully fledged Delhi State.

Both the activists preferred Delhi citizens' right for self-determination to the national unity. Mr. Gupta, however, ultimately let nationalism prevail over regionalism as we find later in this column. Can Kejriwal see Delhi through the prism of national unity and thus limit his demand to seeking control over municipal corporations & other utilities controlled by the Centre?

This throwback from history is relevant to Mr. Kejriwal's recent tweet that he would soon release draft Bill for Delhi's full Statehood. He is again raking up one of the most flogged governance issues. Over-flogged because it was intensely studied and wisely disapproved by Constituent Assembly, States Reorganization Commission (1954), Balakrishnan Committee (1989), Parliament's Standing Committee on Home Affairs (December 2003). Two ex-PMs, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, disapproved statehood proposal to sustain and promote national integration.

Before elaborating the issue - Delhi as national capital (representing interest of all states & Union) versus Delhi as a fully fledged State like Bihar, see how Mr. Gupta insulted Dr. Ambedkar, the chief architect of Indian Constitution and champion of social justice. This will put in perspective Mr. Kejriwal's repeated slurs on the office of Prime Minister.

The Constituent Assembly and one of its committees discussed the pros and cons of granting statehood to certain territories and keeping others as union territories, which were then known as Chief Commissioner's Provinces (CCPs). The committee recommended CCPs' transformation to Lieutenant Governor's provinces. The Assembly thus decided against granting statehood to Delhi in spite of vociferous demand made by Mr. Gupta and supported strongly by certain other members.

On 8th November 1948, Mr. Gupta stated : "I am sorry I cannot congratulate Dr. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee who has received congratulations from different Members of the House. I have read that part of the recommendations of the Drafting Committee which relates to the Chief Commissioners' Provinces, with great care. I would like to confine my remarks to this part only...."

Striking an emotional chord for Delhi statehood, Mr. Gupta added: "I ask my worthy friend that while he poses to be the standard-bearer of the minority-rights - Dr. Ambedkar's attentive eye at once catches even the minutest point, if any, concerning the minorities - how did the claim of this small province escape his notice? He should have shown some consideration to Delhi, regarding it at least as a minorities' province."

See how Mr. Gupta tried to confuse Delhi's elite citizens' demand with the rights of minorities. See how he belittled Dr. Ambedkar's credentials as champion of rights of minorities.

After Gupta's and G. D. Bhatt's forceful advocacy for grant of Statehood to Delhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru spoke at length. Without specifying this or any other issue that generated heat at Constituent Assembly, Mr. Nehru stated : "it is equally true that those who live in this country and are surrounded all the time with our numerous difficulties and problems sometimes may fail to see the picture as a whole. We have to do both; to see our problems in their intricate detail in order to understand them and also to see them in some perspective so that we may have that picture as a whole before our eyes."

Had the national leaders from the Congress and the BJP paid heed to Mr. Nehru's words of wisdom, they would have admonished their local leaders to not behave like frogs in the well. They should have convinced them to be happy with Delhi as national capital, which can be effectively governed by a fully empowered metropolitan council with all municipal corporations, utilities, hospitals and schools under its direct control. Had they done then that, they would be spared from the humiliation of being perennially torn between national and local interests. And they would not have given an opportunity to Mr. Kejriwal to torment them with their own stick (demand for statehood).

On the same day in the Constituent Assembly, K. Hanumanthaiya contended India's capital should be located in Central province or somewhere near about. He stated: "Most of us from the South, from Bengal and from other parts of the country, feel that Delhi is not suited to be the capital of India for various reasons. Historically Delhi has developed a course; it has got all the empires it had buried in its tombs scattered all about the place, and we do not want our new Government to go that way."

The embedded message was that the future of national capital and how it should be governed has to be decided by the country as a whole and not by citizens of Delhi.

Even Mr. Gupta belatedly realized this later though he did not give up his demand for statehood for Delhi . On 1st August 1949, he thus stated: "if it is considered by the House that any measure of autonomy given to Delhi will prejudice the best interests of the country, I will be the first person to say ‘well, keep back autonomy; we shall be content to be governed as heretofore'. But I can say that there is no reason to entertain such a fear."

Had Mr. Gupta been alive, he would have witnessed with disgust how this fear turned into chilling reality when Mr. Kejriwal as Delhi CM sat on day-and-night Dharna near Parliament in January 2014. He was demanding action against Delhi Police for not toeing racist stance of an APP minister against African women! Recall how his government decided to restrain the police from acting against errant drivers of three-wheelers. Recollect how he insulted cops by calling them as "thulla".

Recall Kejriwal calling Mr. Modi as "psychopath" in December 2015. What would stop such CM from sending PM to mental hospital after Delhi gets full Statehood? What if his cabinet colleague Kapil Mishra orders arrest of PM, whom he recently described as an ISI agent? Such apprehensions are well-founded as Mr. Kejriwal Government had showed the audacity to book the then Union Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily in Cabinet approved-gas pricing by twisting it as a case of corruption in February 2014.

It is worse than nightmare to imagine what would happen to Parliament when a party that has soft corner for J&K separatists and naxalites comes to power in Delhi after grant of full statehood? Should we expect another terrorists attack on Parliament?

Imagine a situation where Delhi State Government disrupts the working of Parliament through stunts such as #OddEven scheme. Factor in scope of a Chief Minister of Delhi State nurturing unlimited political ambitions. What would restrain such a person from ordering phone tapping of Delhi-bound chief ministers of other States? Visualize this apprehension against the backdrop of unprecedented spat between CMs of Telangana & Andhra who share Hyderabad as capital, the place where latter's political conversations were tapped and leaked.

The grant of full Statehood would mark the beginning of marginalization of the Union Government. It would give Delhi CM an upper edge over his counterparts from other States. It would herald start of disintegration of the Nation. The day it happens Pakistan and China would have the last laugh!

Different committees and commissions perhaps visualized similar apprehensions while disapproving grant of full statehood to Delhi.

Way back in 1955, States Reorganization Commission (SRC) stated : "Because of Delhi's position as the Federal Capital, the Commission recommended that it should continue to be centrally administered. The Commission referred to the circumstances leading to a separate administrative unit being carved out for housing the Capital of the country and came to the conclusion that the scheme of division of powers as envisaged in the Constitution between the Centre and the State, if extended to a unit functioning at the seat of the national Government, would give rise to embarrassing situations. Administrative necessity and the desirability of avoiding conflicting jurisdictions and also practice in other countries were cited as reasons justifying direct administration of Delhi by the Central Government."

Acting on this recommendation, the Centre abolished Delhi legislature and its council of ministers in November 1956 and transformed Delhi into a Union Territory for which metropolitan council, a municipal corporation, etc. were formed later. The Legislature had first come into existence in 1952 after constitutional categorization of Delhi as ‘Part C State'. The Centre wilted before BJP local leaders' political ambitions in nineties by amending the Constitution to transform Delhi as Union Territory with a State Assembly, which came into existence in December 1993.

The State Assembly and Delhi Government of fifties enjoyed few powers than that enjoyed the present assembly and the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD).

Before the enactment of Constitution (Sixty-ninth Amendment) Act, 1991, the Nation's precious time was wasted by recurring debates on the need for grant of Statehood to Delhi both within and outside Parliament. In each debate, wise statements came either from treasury benches or from MPs from other States.

It is here pertinent to recall what Home Minister, late P.C. Sethi, told Parliament in December 1983 . Mr. Sethi stated: "I would like to quote two former Prime Ministers also. Prime Minister Shri Jawaharlal Nehru said that being the capital with a large number of foreigners and embassies, any subject of Delhi had to be considered in that context. He further said that to include Delhi would confuse issues and Delhi need not be put at the same level as other Union Territories. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, (lining a debate in the Rajya Sabha, expressed the view that functioning of a Government in the capital city would create an awkward situation. They may function at cross purposes, further said that he had no doubt in his mind that any kind of Legislature or Cabinet in the city of Delhi would not be desirable in the larger interest."

These concerns were articulated by the Committee on Re-organization of Delhi Set-up (commonly referred to as Balakrishnan Committee ) that submitted its report during December 1989. The Committee concluded "that it will not be in the National interest and in the interest of Delhi itself, to restructure the set-up in Delhi as a full fledged constituent State of the Union."

When National Front Government (that included BJP) was existing at Centre, BJP launched blitzkrieg for Delhi statehood, this alarmed leaders from other states . H. Hanumanthappa , an MP from Karnataka, for instance, voiced his concern over BJP's opportunism on 25th May 1990 by making a special mention in Rajya Sabha.

He stated : "Government should not be in a haste to please BJP. The Government should not bring the Bill (for statehood) before the House. Other parties also should be consulted....My personal view is that grant of statehood to Delhi requires deep study. The pros and cons have to be studied by the Government before taking any decision."

He added: "Apart from that, the Central Government should re-think over the matter before bringing the Bill before both Houses of Parliament because it is & very sensitive matter."

Parliament Standing Committee (PSC) in its report on The Constitution (One Hundred and Second Amendment) Bill, 2003 & The State of Delhi Bill, 2003 (commonly referred to as Delhi Reorganization Bill, recommended: "After having gone through the administrative set-ups as prevailing in the capitals of the United States of America and Australia - two major countries having federal system of governance, the Committee is also of the view that Delhi's status is sui generis. Keeping this unique feature of Delhi in mind, the Committee recommends that while granting Statehood to it to fulfill political aspirations of the people, Delhi's distinct identity as the national capital should be preserved. Although, the Government has taken care to retain certain powers with it in the proposed constitutional set-up with a view to preserve the identity of Delhi being a national capital, these provisions alone, however, are not sufficient. In this context, a view was expressed that New Delhi or areas falling under the jurisdiction of New Delhi Municipal Council be earmarked or designated as the National Capital Territory. But according to the proposed constitutional set-up and as clarified by the Ministry of Home Affairs, these areas will also form part of the new State of Delhi. All that is being proposed by way of retaining powers vis-a-vis Land and Local Government in respect of New Delhi is a measure to have control over land management to preserve and protect the establishments of the Union Government located largely in that area. Thus, it is crystal clear that Delhi's identity of being national capital is likely to get enfeebled to a certain extent if not lost completely. Therefore, there is need to preserve and promote a sense of Delhi's distinct identity of being the national capital even after granting Statehood to it. Mere retention of certain powers with the Union Government and insertion of certain special provisions in the Constitution alone will not be adequate to preserve Delhi's identity as national capital."

Mr. Kejriwal and other short-sighted Delhi leaders from BJP and Congress should thus view their demand for Statehood from the standpoint of majority of Indians living outside Delhi. They should above all weigh their parochial demand against the non-negotiable duty of citizens to allow the Centre to function, promote cooperative federalism and strengthen national unity.

Simultaneously, Modi Government should immediately work for transfer of municipal corporations including its hospitals and schools, Delhi Milk Scheme and all other central Government entities serving exclusively Delhi to Kejriwal Government.

Modi Government should also improve law and order situation radically by expanding and modernizing Delhi Police and by setting up fast-track crime courts.

The end of term of the tenure of State assembly should be co-terminus with enactment of a law to create a metropolitan council, which should have full and direct control over all affairs of Delhi, except public order, Delhi Police and land. And with this constitutional reform, genie of statehood should be bottled and thrown in Yamuna river and forgotten forever.