Monday, June 18, 2018

Pratap Bhanu Mehta |- A crisis in plain sight Delhi saga showcases poison of recrimination, institutional subversion

The political and constitutional crisis over the powers of the Delhi government is not just a small drama being enacted in Lutyens’ Delhi. It is an ominous sign for Indian democracy and its institutions. It is also a story of how a sordid pettiness and politics of recrimination can so easily subvert institutions. The Delhi saga is institutionalising a new culture in Indian politics.

Look at the big institutional picture. A government in Delhi is elected with an unprecedented mandate. One can concede that because of Delhi’s special status, there might be areas of ambiguity, in the allocation of powers between the Lt Governor and the chief minister. But whatever those grey areas, under no circumstances can the allocation of power be interpreted to mean that the Lt Governor can act like a tyrannical Viceroy, subverting an elected government at every step. The Lt Governor has done exactly that. The Supreme Court allowed yet another constitutional subversion by simply delaying the clarification of Delhi’s constitutional status to a point that defies logic. The Election Commission, that most hallowed of institutions, passes an order that subverts natural justice and arbitrarily disqualifies a number of AAP MLAs. The president signs without question. Fortunately, the Delhi High Court sees through the charade and restores a modicum of justice. But no one is held responsible for this attempt at institutional subversion. The most serious checks and balances in our democracy nearly failed.

The saga continues. Some AAP MLAs may have a lot to answer for. But on the surface, the patterns by which the CBI and Delhi Police seem to have been used against them, is a reminder that these days you don’t have to declare an emergency. The chief minister is made to eat humble pie through that most controversial of mechanisms: Defamation suits. The institutions of law will follow political diktats. Then the civil service comes into the picture. Then there is an incident in which the chief secretary is allegedly manhandled. But the incident seems to become a pretext to politicise the bureaucracy.

The aftermath, instead of resolving the issue, creates an even deeper crisis. The bureaucracy claims it is not on strike but is being victimised. The Delhi government claims that IAS is not carrying out its duties; it may not be on strike but is striking against it. This formal breakdown of relationship between the bureaucracy and the elected government is another first; whatever the circumstances, this was a solvable problem. The chief minister, meanwhile, goes on dharna in the LG’s office and does not get so much as a hearing. The issue, then, becomes national with four other chief ministers, rightly sensing there is a major constitutional crisis, stepping in. Such a deep institutional crisis that has subverted every institution should have shaken us up. But we reduced it to another clash of personalities... read more: