The biggest argument against granting full statehood to Delhi is Arvind Kejriwal himself. If an election leads to the elevation of what a former Union Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, called a “yeda” Chief Minister — yeda is a Marathi word for unhinged — when referring to Kejriwal, then the risk of elevating the status of the national capital cannot be taken.
Shinde’s ire related to Kejriwal’s dharna in a high-security zone on the eve of the Republic Day in 2014 during his first term in office when he was the Chief Minister for 49 days. He had also threatened to disrupt the Republic Day parade on that occasion and proclaimed himself an “anarchist”.
Although he appeared to have calmed down a little after winning a second term in 2015, his anarchism has again surfaced on two occasions. One was the reported assault on Delhi Chief Secretary Angshu Prakash by legislators of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) after Prakash was summoned to the Chief Minister’s residence late on the night of February 19, 2018, for a “discussion” on various issues, including an advertisement on the completion of the AAP government’s third year in office.
And the other is the sit-in by Kejriwal and other AAP leaders in the Lieutenant Governor, Anil Baijal’s office to urge him to intervene in the “strike” being observed by the IAS bureaucrats over the assault on the Chief Secretary.
Even though Kejriwal’s unique form of protest has received support from several politicians, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and a former member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Yashwant Sinha, the extent of public support — fed up with mounting unsolved problems of the capital city — for him is not known.
However, it is generally believed that Kejriwal’s support base comprises the slum-dwellers and the poorer sections of the population who still have faith in the anti-corruption and pro-common man plank with which he has been associated ever since the time when he was a part of Anna Hazare’s movement in the closing years of the Manmohan Singh government.
His role in improving the conditions in poorly-run government schools and in providing affordable medical relief is also appreciated. It is the middle class, however, which is uneasy about his quirky brand of politics and is likely to turn even more against him as a result of his latest acts which smack of gimmickry.
The main grouse of this group against Kejriwal is his unending confrontations with whoever he believes is his enemy. It isn’t only the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who are his targets. He also found it impossible to get along with his earlier close supporters like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, who were virtually hounded out of the AAP.
While there has been a decline in the kind of megalomania which marked his earlier outlook when his party contested more than 400 Lok Sabha constituencies in the hope of winning enough seats to enable Kejriwal become the Prime Minister, an element of uncompromising hauteur is still prevalent.
A main reason is his unwillingness to accept the position of being the Chief Minister of a Union Territory rather than of a full state. Although other Chief Ministers had also sought an elevation of Delhi’s status, they never engaged in constant warfare against the Centre or its representative, the Lieutenant Governor. Instead, they worked within the parameters set down by the Constitution and performed creditably as the role of Kejriwal’s immediate predecessor, Sheila Dixit’s three terms and 15 years as Chief Minister (1998-2013), showed.
In fact, she might have won another term, as a BJP MP once said, if she had not been a victim of perception about Manmohan Singh’s virtually paralysed government in the period before the 2014 general election.
It is obvious that Kejriwal’s overweening ambition and cantankerous temperament, which makes it difficult for him to work with anyone except the most subservient, has led to the unprecedented standoff with the Lieutenant Governor.
The support which he is receiving from the BJP’s inveterate opponents has apparently made him all the more adamant, leading to a situation where governance in the national capital is being held hostage to the Chief Minister’s hubris.
One way out is for the Election Commission to hold a mid-term election for the Delhi assembly, perhaps along with the Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan elections.
There is little doubt that the last election in Delhi is 2015 was something of an oddity in the sense that it led to the AAP winning 67 of the 70 seats — a feat which had never before been achieved in Delhi. Considering that only in the previous year, the BJP had won all the seven parliamentary seats in the national capital, there was clearly something unusual about the overwhelming support for the AAP.
Evidently, the electorate had reposed an extraordinary level of faith in Kejriwal in the belief that the Magsaysay award winner is the political messiah who will cleanse the Augean stables of corruption. Three years down the line, it is time that the faith of the voters is again tested to see whether or not they made a mistake or they still retain faith in him.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)