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The Bharatiya Janata Party government’s move to clip the powers of the elected government of Delhi came to India’s Parliament this week, as the centre tabled a bill to replace the ordinance passed in May. The cabinet cleared that ordinance just eight days after the Supreme Court had limited the powers of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi over bureaucrats to just three areas: public order, police, and land. The court had upheld the Delhi government’s authority to make laws and administer civil services in the national capital.

But the BJP would have none of it and quickly brought in the ordinance that effectively allows two senior bureaucrats to overrule Delhi’s democratically elected chief minister. The government has the power to override a court order with an ordinance, but that does not make it right. The ordinance is morally wrong and undermines the spirit of federalism on which India’s democracy stands.

Regional allies buoys BJP

Which is why the Aam Aadmi Party, led by Arvind Kejriwal, has spent the last few months aggressively campaigning for the support of opposition parties to try and block the ordinance from being passed in Parliament.

Elections are at the heart of parliamentary democracy, and to have civil servants override an elected government is simply wrong and sets a worrying precedent for state governments. This has forced even the Congress party — which has no love lost for Kejriwal — to oppose the ordinance. They realise this is not just about the Delhi government and has wider ramifications for Indian democracy.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal spent the last few months aggressively campaigning for the support of opposition parties to try and block the ordinance from being passed in Parliament. Image Credit: ANI

So it was surprising to see two important regional parties — Naveen Patnaik’s BJD (Biju Janata Dal) and Jagan Reddy’s YSRCP (Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party) — support the BJP on the Delhi ordinance in parliament. This makes it easier for the government to pass the Bill in the Upper House or the Rajya Sabha, where it does not have the numbers. Former Home Minister P Chidambaram rightly pointed out in a tweet — “Have the two parties found merit in the 3-member Authority where the Chief Minister will be just one against two officers appointed by the central government? Have they found merit in the provision where the LG can overrule even a unanimous decision of the Authority? Have the two parties realised that if the Bill were passed, the officers will be the masters and the ministers will be the subordinates”?

Since then, another important regional player, the TDP (Telugu Desam Party) from Andhra Pradesh, has also announced its support for the ordinance.

Naveen Patnaik and Jagan Reddy have not attended opposition meetings and can be described as BJP allies. They claim to be “equidistant” from the BJP and the opposition, but that is simply not true. Whenever any important legislation has to be passed in the Rajya Sabha, these parties have come to the centre’s aid. Strangely, both the parties from Andhra Pradesh — the TDP and the YSRCP, who are also bitter rivals — have been friendly in their overtures to the BJP.

The TDP’s about-turn has been more recent, years after Chandrababu Naidu walked out of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance). Ironically he and Jagan Reddy had made federalism a major political plank in Andhra Pradesh, and by supporting the centre on the Delhi ordinance for short-term political gains, they are acting against the interests of their state.

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The Delhi ordinance should have united all political parties who believe in federalism and the spirit of our Constitution. These regional parties supported the BJP when Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded from a state to a union territory in 2019, a first in Indian history.

All this shows that basic principles and ideals don’t matter at the altar of power. But one day, it can come back to bite you — as AAP learnt the hard way when they first supported the Jammu and Kashmir move, only to see their powers taken away later.