The national capital territory (NCT) of Delhi has become sadly accustomed to administrative confrontations and political crises. These have emerged from the combination of a confrontational Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, with scant respect for the proprieties, and a Union government that exercises considerable control over the administrative apparatus, which has gone out of its way to make Mr Kejriwal’s job more difficult. But the latest confrontation is of a different quality from those in the past. The chief secretary of Delhi has made a serious allegation: That he was physically assaulted by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) legislators inside the chief minister’s house. Delhi’s top bureaucrat has filed a police complaint to this effect; the police have raided the chief minister’s house and, according to some reports, are now claiming that CCTV recordings will need forensic analysis. Bureaucrats’ associations are understandably up in arms. Equally, supporters of the Delhi government and the AAP have argued that bureaucrats appointed by the Union government — since the Delhi government is deprived of control over crucial personnel choices — are carrying out a politically motivated campaign against Mr Kejriwal’s administration.
The police must transparently investigate these allegations of assault, and then the courts will decide the facts of the matter. Mr Kejriwal cannot attempt to remain above the fray, either, since he has been accused of tacitly accepting the assault on a bureaucrat. For that matter, a governance style that involves intimidation of bureaucrats, even short of physical assault, cannot be condoned; Mr Kejriwal limits his acceptability as a political leader through his failure to act in such cases and he must be held accountable and made to pay a price. Yet there are larger structural questions at play here that should not be ignored. Delhi’s citizens are being made to suffer through a proxy war between the Union government and the government of the NCT, being played out in this constant politician-bureaucrat confrontation. What suffers is governance and accountability. It is quite clear that the Delhi’s “limited statehood” experiment is failing, and failing badly. At one level, it is pointless to blame Mr Kejriwal for this; all Indian chief ministers are accustomed to appointing their own bureaucrats, and few would take kindly to having to deal with those appointed by their political rivals.
And therein lies the structural flaw that goes beyond the divide between the current political heads. There is a mismatch between the responsibilities of a popularly elected chief minister and the powers that he actually has. This needs to change. Control of the police and the bureaucracy of Delhi must pass on to the duly elected state government. The municipal corporations, too, serve no purpose but to divide accountability and complicate the structures of power; they must be wound down and their revenue base, powers and responsibilities handed over to the state government. The Delhi Development Authority and its control of land should also come under the state government. In short, Delhi should function as a full state, especially when all political parties are in agreement on the issue. In order to protect the institutions and persons of the Union government, the New Delhi Municipal Council area should be excepted, and a separate police force given the responsibility for the security of high officials of the state. This system works across the world, in other federal capitals, and it is high time India, too, adopted it.