By Sanjana Sanghi:
In what could earlier be considered solely Aam Aadmi’s determined demand of full statehood for Delhi, a recent survey carried out suggests 81% of Delhiites, across all barriers of class, caste and background desire the same, which increases the feasibility of holding a referendum by a considerable amount. AAP had taken this fight for statehood to another level when it refused to acknowledge the limited powers of the Delhi Assembly in appointment of the top bureaucrats during the frictional phase of party President Arvind Kejriwal, and Najeeb Jung Lieutenant Governor. The question of Delhi’s statehood is, however, a conundrum laden with complexities and varied possibilities. Here is an attempt to dissect a few.
Let’s first look at a few reasons why Delhi’s demand for statehood is a correct one. For clarity: currently, Delhi is a special Union Territory with unique institutions such as the High Court and an elected Legislative assembly. This assembly, however, does not have powers similar to other state assemblies that has resulted in the elected governments in Delhi to feel crippled in terms of decision making from time to time. At present, public order, police and land fall under the Centre’s jurisdiction, however these reserved areas extend into those which are strictly a state prerogative which forms the core of the problem. With the National Capital Region recently being extended to Muzzafarnagar of Uttar Pradesh and Karnal district of Haryana, a responsible and fully able local government will be imperative. Currently, the Delhi Government has to work with a cadre of bureaucrats chosen for all Union Territories as it cannot recruit it’s own. In addition, land allocation, is under the Centre’s control as the Delhi Development Authority is headed by the Union Government through the LG.
Agreed, that is way too much information to take in. However, it is essential to analyze the restrictions the Delhi Government faces, in order to judge the demand for full statehood as fair or not. According to this precedent, the current structure renders the Delhi government as severely handicapped in terms of autonomy and ability to make certain crucial decisions.
Let us also look at the flip side. The flip side suggests certain severe shortfalls that could backfire, if statehood is brought about, without a change in AAP’s fundamental outlook to governance. For a city-state to be economically independent and flourishing, a large number of non-polluting and value-adding manufacturing units will have to be set up. These will inevitably require highly skilled and trained manpower possible only with a structurally organized government machinery. Kejriwal, on the other hand has consistently spoke of “mohalla sabhas”, that seem unlikely to come up with the possibility of solving the pressing problems of a rapidly expanding state, and more inclined towards resolving a neighborhood brawl or power cut.
The term city-state is not nearly as simple as it sounds. The future of Delhi lies in Kejriwal deciding whether he wishes to run Delhi as a city or a state. A state has a vastly diverse rural and urban population, spatially segregated and distributed with vast stretches of land for power plants and irrigation projects. Delhi has neither, it has a heterogeneous urban population, topped with a constant influx of migrants and land is a severely limited resource. On receiving full statehood, it will also experience the withdrawal of all subsidies from the Centre on power and water which instantly thrashes the hopes of tariff cuts that Kejriwal filled every voter’s heart with. Moreover, the extent of structural and functional upheaval that the transition to full statehood will put Delhi under; the several urgent needs of the aam aadmi Kejriwal had promised will land on the backburner.
While the CM has asked the Urban Development Department to come up with a feasibility report, the BJP and Congress have termed this demand for statehood as unconstitutional and dangerous. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s complete support for Kejriwal’s demand and the promise that his party along with others will raise the issue in Parliament, serves as encouragement for the AAP government, which has continuously felt that the LG’s interference in several matters is a deliberate attempt by the Centre to take matters under its own control. The politics and war-of-words aside, without revamping and rebooting Kejriwal’s outlook of governance at large, Delhi’s sethani-khandaani culture and shortage of essential resources will prevent it from stepping into the developmental trajectory that is essential to make the city-state dream with a fully endowed and independent state government a realistic possibility.