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Delhi Statehood Demand: CM Arvind Kejriwal Wants to Have the Cake and Eat It Too
Given the performance of the party in Assembly polls in several states after registering a mammoth victory in Delhi, Kejriwal knows that political survival is the call of the hour.
News18 Illustration by Mir Suhail.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has released its campaign song for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, focussing on the demand for statehood for the national capital.
The song makes it amply clear that AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has, for now, decided to focus on Delhi politics. Given the performance of the party in Assembly polls in several states after registering a mammoth victory in Delhi, Kejriwal knows that political survival is the call of the hour.
In pursuance of this goal, Kejriwal has set an agenda which he hopes would make him reap rich political harvest. The question is whether Kejriwal is asking for full statehood without understanding that its grant is only next to impossible.
He is making statehood a sentimental issue, as he did in the case of the Jan Lokpal Bill during his earlier 49-day stint as the Chief Minister in 2013-14. Has Delhi got public ombudsman in the last three years? By raising the issue of statehood, Kejriwal is creating a counter to the anti-incumbency which his government may have generated in the past four years.
The special status for Delhi emanates from it being the national capital. The first demand for freeing the administration of the city from the apron strings of the Centre was made way back in the 1950s by Delhi’s first chief minister Chaudhary Brahm Prakash. Delhi then was a Category C state with a legislative Assembly. Prakash was replaced by the Congress leadership for making the demand and Delhi was converted into a Union Territory in 1956 following the reorganisation of states.
Now let’s come to the central theme of AAP’s campaign song, ‘Poorna Rajya’ or full statehood. Kejriwal is a sharp politician and has used the issue of statehood on and off, ever since he took oath of office in the spring of 2015, as a safety valve to gloss over anti-incumbency. Having failed to get any relief from the courts on the issue of Centre’s supremacy in governance of Delhi, he is now talking of taking the matter to the people’s court.
However, it must be noted here that even though he is talking about freedom from Centre in matters of governance, he isn’t conceding that shortcoming in his governance.
Recently, AAP government’s advertisement blitzkrieg ran neck-and-neck with the BJP’s ‘Mumkin Hain’ (it’s possible now) campaign, often overlapping each other on the pages of the newspapers, which made hay till the poll panel announced the date for polls and the electoral code of conduct came into force.
Kejriwal had fought the 2015 polls on the “freedom” agenda, that is freedom from paying power, water and Wi-Fi bills. But soon after winning the polls, right in the first meeting he had with the Prime Minister, he raised the issue of full-statehood. It was done, as mentioned earlier, as an act of political precaution than tool of governance.
The present governance model gives Delhi a cash rich state government. Elected city governments in Delhi may complain about not being allowed a free run, as in the case of other states, but at the same time, it should not be forgotten that the pampered and prime status of Delhi is all thanks to the Centre’s intervention.
Delhi’s annual state budget today is almost Rs 40,000 crore. The sum is much bigger than the budget of several full-fledged state governments. In addition, the budget does not include the expenditure on Delhi Police, which is part of the Union Budget. Even the responsibility for pension liabilities of former Delhi government employees lies with the Centre.
Moreover, the Delhi government’s budget only includes part funding of the three municipal corporations; the remaining amount comes through their own revenue models and funding from the Centre.
Delhi Government contributes no funds to the New Delhi Municipal Council and Delhi Development Authority (DDA). These civic bodies raise their own revenues and the shortfall is again met by the central government.
Given the situation, if Centre was to give full statehood to the national capital, along with control over the NDMC area, Delhi’s Budget outlay would jump to at least Rs 70,000 crore. Where will the additional sum come from?
As experts have pointed out, if the Delhi government lives within its means, it has unlimited fiscal autonomy, like any other state. However, this state of affairs is dependent on its positive cash balance. Once the city government spends beyond its means, it loses that autonomy and becomes a subordinate office of the Home Ministry, like other Union Territories.
The present chief minister, as well as his predecessor Sheila Dikshit, know well that if special status is withdrawn, the Delhi government would become penurious. However, there is no harm in asking for it as long as it’s not granted. Thus, the politics of having the cake and eating it too.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
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