New Delhi: There’s more to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal flying to Puducherry on Monday to express his solidarity with his counterpart V Narayanasamy than what meets the eye.
With the recent Supreme Court verdict delivering a setback to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and an alliance with the Congress seeming increasingly difficult, the party is looking to invigorate its campaign for statehood in the capital ahead of the polls.
Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia met Narayanasamy on Monday to back the latter’s agitation against Puducherry’s lieutenant governor Kiran Bedi.
The Puducherry CM has announced an indefinite dharna, that entered its sixth day on Monday, outside the Raj Niwas, protesting against Bedi’s “undemocratic acts and ways of functioning”, the stalling of key decisions by the Congress government and “blocking crucial files”.
This, many in the AAP said, could prepare the way for the two parties, bitter rivals in Delhi, to find a common ground. After all, Kejriwal has had frequent run-ins with L-G Anil Baijal and his predecessors and had defeated Bedi in the 2015 Delhi assembly elections when she was the BJP’s CM candidate.
Last week, Kejriwal had said the Congress has “nearly said no” to an alliance with the AAP in Delhi.
“This is an issue that the AAP feels very strongly about. Where the BJP hasn’t been able to win elections, it has tried to control or sabotage the works of the elected government through its bureaucracy,” said a senior AAP leader.
Kejriwal, upon reaching Puducherry, said, “We will fight the battle for full statehood together.” The show of solidarity, AAP leaders said, would also be the beginning of the party’s campaign on statehood.
“The people of Delhi deserve better. It has a larger population than some states. Its people vote for a government and there is an assembly. But then you take away its powers, you hamstring it at every point and then ask the government to function. How is that democratic?” said a senior AAP leader.
Similar issues have been raised by Narayanasamy and his government in Puducherry. In January, the CM and its ally, the DMK, organised a demonstration at Jantar Mantar in Delhi.
At the time, the Puducherry CM had written to the leaders All India N R Congress (AINRC) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to participate in the agitation.
Services, Statehood and the Supreme Court
Last year, in June, Kejriwal had embarked on a similar sit-in outside the residence of Delhi lieutenant governor Anil Baijal, a similarity AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj was quick to point out.
At the end of the agitation, Kejriwal had also reiterated the demand for statehood and accused the BJP government at the Centre of rendering the Delhi electorate’s votes useless.
At the time, Delhi convenor and senior party leader Gopal Rai had said that in the past three years, Delhi's status as an ‘incomplete’ state had created “obstacles” in its progress.
He said, “In spite of working day and night, the rate of progress of Delhi's development has been slowed down by obstacles that were put up in the capital. This is because Delhi doesn't have the rights of a complete state"
Months later and with just days to go for the Lok Sabha election, Rai made the same argument in the capital as Kejriwal rushed to support Narayanasamy.
With the apex court verdict on the status of services and other key issues between Delhi and Central government effectively putting AAP on a back foot, the party has decided to resume its statehood campaign, said senior leaders.
If Delhi were to be declared a full state, the state finance ministry argued that Delhi would benefit greatly.
“Today Delhi contributes about Rs 1.3 lakh crore in direct taxes to the Union government, gets only Rs 325 crore as Central grant. If Delhi were to be declared a full state, the Centre would be bound to make transfers as per the recommendations of the Union finance commission, which is at least Rs 50,000 crore for Delhi’s development,” said a source close to finance minister Manish Sisodia.
For statehood, Puducherry has different obstacles than Delhi. For one, being a non-contiguous area with outlying regions of Mahe, Karaikal and Yanam, critics argue that there’ll be greater pressure on administrative expenditure.
Moreover, the French government had also earlier flagged its concerns that granting Puducherry statehood could dilute the rights of French residents there and cited the 1954 agreement signed between India and France during the merger of the erstwhile colony.
But the AAP argues that the issue has a common basis. “This is a vestigial system of colonisation that persists today. If there is an elected government, then why should there be a lieutenant governor, who is not answerable to people,” said an AAP leader.
This, many in the AAP hope, can perhaps give some common ground to bring the party closer to the Congress. “The fact is that in Delhi, if the AAP and Congress were to join hands, the BJP will get no seats. If they contest against each other, BJP benefits.”
But who belongs to Delhi?
As Delhi has evolved, so has its politics. The dominion of the jat vote ended by the late Nineties, as the migration from the purvanchal states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar propelled the Congress to power.
The BJP consolidated the Punjabi vote. This appeared to change again in 2013 with the two CM candidates both hailing from the bania community.
However, the issue of statehood, as a key poll plank, isn’t without its challenges.
“Who is a Delhi-wala? That is a tough question to answer. If you look at how the Delhi politics plays out… (you will see that) identity is important, but in a city of migrants, your identity from home dominates,” said a senior leader.
Instead, the party hopes to use the issue of statehood to impress upon voters.
“Delhi isn’t just the national capital or the New Delhi Municipal Council area. It is a state consisting of a larger population than some countries. It has among the highest, if not the highest per capita income of any state. But what do the people of Delhi have to show for it,” said a member of AAP’s political affairs committee (party’s highest decision-making body).