The Strange Claim of a Victory

Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Anil Baijal (L) and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal
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AAP’s revolutionary ideas have not found the Supreme Court’s support

THE DAY AFTER the Supreme Court’s decision on the case about the limits of the power of Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor has seen loud claims of victory by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The Lieutenant Governor has to take decisions according to the advice of the capital’s council of ministers, ruled the court. Within no time after the judgment on July 4th, AAP—led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal—exuberantly declared it a ‘victory for the people of Delhi’.

The expression ‘victory’ is cathartic, no doubt. Little, however, has changed constitutionally. The provisions of the Constitution that have a bearing on how Delhi is governed—Articles 239, 239A and 239AA—remain as they were. The key provision that defines the relationship between the Lieutenant Governor and Delhi government, one that has been reiterated by the apex court—Article 239AA(4)—remains as it has been since 1991, the year it was added to the Constitution. So also the Transaction of Business of the National Capital Territory of Delhi Rules, 1993, which remain effective.

If anything, there could be smoother governance after the verdict. For one, the Lieutenant Governor can still refer contentious matters on which there is disagreement between him and the council of ministers to the President (in effect, the Union Government). The court said that recourse to this power has to be ‘exceptional’. The reality, however, is that it is very hard to define the expression ‘exceptional’ in the context of an insurrectionary party in power that seeks to alter the very structure of authority that hold the balance between its rights and those of the Centre. Then, there is the intricate structure of the 1993 Rules that lay down elaborate procedures on how Delhi’s council of ministers can change things in the capital.

The British Constitutional theorist AV Dicey once wrote that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who becomes a pope and the man who becomes a pope has no wish to be a revolutionist. When the 69th Constitution Amendment on the matter was passed in 1991, the changes were designed to give a representative flavour to the governance of Delhi while maintaining the authority of the Centre. This has severely been tested by the assumption of power by a party that sees itself as revolutionary. The judgment makes it clear there is no room for that idea in Delhi.