Monday, November 27, 2017

The Long, Slow Death of an Opposition Government

In the push ahead from a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ to an opposition-free India, the AAP in Delhi is proving to be an easy target for the BJP.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal (Reuters), Delhi lieutenant governor Anil Baijal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (PTI)

“God has shown us the way till now. He will show the way in the future also”  says Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal when asked about how his administration and party intends to cope with all the obstacles placed before them by the Centre.

This is first time Kejriwal has spoken on the record after his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) faced setbacks in the Punjab polls and received a drubbing in the municipal polls in Delhi.

Today, Kejriwal is in a situation where his chief minister’s office (CMO) will soon be without any officials as the fear of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – which is directly controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) through the Department of Training and Personnel (DOPT) – has driven officials away.

In a first for Delhi or any other state for that matter, around a dozen senior bureaucrats have declined offers to work in the CMO. This comes in the wake of Kejriwal’s principal secretary, Rajendra Kumar, and deputy secretary facing CBI investigations in alleged graft cases.

Kejriwal had said on an earlier occasion that during the tenure of lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, senior officials refused to come to his meetings and those who did turn up were “summoned by the LG, their ‘hazri‘ (hearing) taken, and they were asked why they had gone to attend a meeting with the elected CM”.

If this is not a textbook case of hobbling a administration, consider this: 

Fourteen bills are pending with the current LG, Anil Baijal – ranging from education to MLA salaries. Baijal has all the time in the world to meet AAP rebel Kapil Mishra with his serial charges against Kejriwal but no time to meet the elected chief minister of Delhi.

On Saturday, Kejriwal wrote him a letter asking that he should be granted an appointment. It’s the same with Kejriwal’s ministers; they keep seeking appointments with the LG but are not given time even as projects and clearances languish.

From the police to taxman

So far, 13 AAP MLAs have been arrested by the Delhi Police, which works under the Ministry of Home Affairs; one was pounced on and arrested while he was addressing a press conference. Most of them have been released by the courts.

If this was not hostile, consider the case of those who make donations to AAP. The party used to put their names on its official website in order to make the donation process transparent. Many donors, even those who had donated small amounts, found themselves at the receiving end from the income tax authorities. Notices have been issued, in some cases raids have happened. 

Says senior AAP leader Preeti Sharma Menon, “Every single person who donated to us found themselves in trouble with the IT or some other central authority like sales tax. So, much so that today all donations have dried up and we have donors calling and begging that we should take the list off the website as it makes them prime targets of the Centre. The kind of witch hunt we are facing, not even 5% [of it] is being reported. We are targeted every single day yet there is an eerie silence from the media. In fact, most of the media joins in the attack. I agree, we have failed in perception management but should silence prevail when a new party is being destroyed by [Narendra] Modi and [Amit] Shah?”

Menon’s charges seem to have substance when you consider how officials no longer even bother to notionally consult Delhi government ministers, bypassing them to go straight to Baijal. Ministers find out about decisions from the morning newspapers.

Take the case of Delhi roads, which were re-laid in 2010. The Delhi government decided to re-lay the awful potholed roads in the MCD areas. But, AAP leaders allege, the public works secretary held  up implementation of the order and ensured that AAP suffered in the MCD elections as citizens complained about the awful state of the roads in MCD areas. Says Menon “He has given the approval on the file only now after the MCD elections are over. If this is not trying to make our party and Delhi suffer what is?”

Roadblocks galore

Things have come to such a pass that if calls are made from Kejriwal’s office to the Delhi Jal Board when citizens call him with complaints, the standard response is “we will ask a junior engineer if we can act”. Says Ankit Lal, social media chief of AAP, “After the ordinance waiving bills below a certain amount [was issued], I was given 2500 bills by the people of Vishwas Nagar who had been maliciously issued wrong bills. Even if this is taken up at the CM’s level, the issue is not redressed. This is all being done to ensure that people feel angry with us and feel we are not working”.

Says a senior official who has been working in the Delhi government since the days of Shiela Dikshit, “This across the board lack of cooperation with the elected government is unprecedented. Clear instructions have been given to officials that they will suffer if they do anything asked by Kejriwal. When Dikshit was the CM, this was certainly not the case. I know of several officials who decided to cut short their tenure rather than face this tug of war and the threat of a CBI inquiry also dangling on their heads.”

Consider the case of the mohalla clinics which were an innovative AAP initiative after the 160 that were set up which were even praised by the British medical journal, The Lancet. The LG and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) – which is run by the Centre – control the allotment of land and there has been a tug of war on the issue. Now, Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain is stuck as people from other areas also want the clinics to be set up.

Similarly no land has been given for education which is another priority area for the AAP government. Says Menon “We have used the PWD to build 8000 additional classrooms since the LG has flatly refused to give us any land.”

Interestingly, the Delhi Police allows protesters, who are often from the BJP, to camp all day at the door of the chief minister’s residence or the Delhi secretariat. You have to wade in through a huge crowd shouting anti-Kejriwal slogans if you want to meet him. In other states, the norm is that the police do not let  protestors in within a certain radius.

All this has come to pass after the MHA issued a notification on May 23, 2015 stating that besides land, police and public order, even services – which means the transfers and postings of officials – were under the central government. By June 2015, the Centre took away the anti-corruption bureau under the same notification, hobbling Kejriwal completely.

The Delhi government challenged this notification in the Delhi high court. On August 4, 2016 the high court ruled that the LG was the administrator of Delhi. From that point on, all work came officially to a grinding halt in the city.

Take the case of resident doctors who went on strike in July 2015 against violence by patient attendants. Since the Delhi Police would not listen, the Delhi government hired a private agency to protect doctors and staff. Currently, the CBI is probing why the agency was hired.

The LG appointed the Shunglu committee and they scanned 400-plus files cleared by the AAP government for months. Says Kejriwal, “They have not found a single issue that incriminates us. If they had, they would not waste a minute to jail the CM or ministers”

So where does the beleaguered Kejriwal go from here? Says Lal, “Everyday, news plants appear against us in a planned manner in order to destroy our image.”

Kejriwal has again started to reach out to the people of Delhi by holding open meetings, but with the centre checkmating every project, it is debatable if he can turn things around. Says Menon, “We are victims of such huge propaganda that it’s difficult to get any truth out there.”

Paranoid, you would think. But then Amit Shah has declared that he wants every state to have a BJP chief minister. In the push ahead from a  ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ to an opposition-free India, the AAP in Delhi is proving to be an easy target for the BJP.

Swati Chaturvedi is a freelance journalist based in Delhi. She tweets at @bainjal.-The Wire

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