Interview: Anil Chaudhary

‘The GNCTD Bill is unconstitutional and goes against the very nature of federalism,’ says Anil Chaudhary of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee

Print edition : April 23, 2021

Anil Chaudhary, president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Interview with Anil Chaudhary, president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee.

When the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment), or GNCTD, Bill, 2021, was passed, leaders of the Congress party registered a strong protest and walked out of the Rajya Sabha with members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party. A Congress MP termed the Bill “unconstitutional” and accused the ruling party of engaging in “coercive federalism”. Anil Chaudhary, president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, spoke to Frontline on the issue. Excerpts:

In his spirited opposition to the GNCTD Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress, termed the Bill unconstitutional.

The GNCTD Bill is unconstitutional and goes against the very nature of federalism. Ever since the BJP came to power, there has been a consistent attack on the various freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution, including the freedom of speech and the freedom to question. Never before has democracy been so much in danger. There is a concerted effort to destroy the roots of democracy in this country.

However, in political life, it is important to remember one thing: that governments change and people come and go. Janata janardan hai (public is supreme), and they choose leaders who understand their issues at the local level, take them to the Assembly, give them a voice and help formulate welfare schemes for the benefit of the people.Now with this new Bill, the power of the people’s representatives might get curtailed. With this single move, enormous power has been vested in one person [the Lieutenant Governor], and democracy has been considerably weakened.

Also read: With the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2021, the Centre has usurped the Delhi government’s powers

The BJP is frustrated that for 26 long years they could not come to power in Delhi. Since they failed through legitimate means, they have chosen this authoritarian way to achieve what they want. By bestowing excessive power in the Lieutenant Governor, the command has been handed over to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Home Ministry. The basic idea seems to be to control Delhi, by hook or by crook. This is an example of that.

Now let’s talk about Arvind Kejriwal. He used to be a protester. At every small and big issue, he would lead a sit-in protest/dharna. If you remember, they [members of the AAP] even blackened Sheila Dikshit’s face over some issue. But the stateswoman that she was, she never let these incidents deter her from governance. She always found solutions to every issue. Perhaps Kejriwal was using those issues of women’s rights, etc., to sit on dharnas and fulfil his petty political goals.

But I want to ask him. Where was he for 50 days? This Bill was passed after more than 50 days of being cleared by the Union Cabinet. Congress protested the Bill at that time. But where was Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi? He did not ask a single question nor did he write a letter to the Prime Minister. For 50 days he did not ask for time to meet the PM. A Kejriwal who used to hit the streets on every issue did not find it necessary to question the government why it was planning to override the powers of an elected government? There was absolutely no effort by Kejriwal to do so. I suspect that he had no intention of questioning the government over this.

On the face of it, there is opposition, but actually it is an inside job. Both the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party are responsible for the current situation where anybody who asks questions gets into trouble. Immediately, there will be an ED [Enforcement Directorate] raid or the person will be put in jail, be it a journalist, a student or a political leader.

Are you implying that Kejriwal has some sort of an understanding with the BJP and that his opposition to the BJP is only a façade?

See, the rise of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party is closely linked to the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare and the women’s rights movement that emerged around the Nirbhaya incident. You will remember the events that led up to Kejriwal forming the government in Delhi. Many, however, have forgotten these things today. In any case, the movement was hot at the time. We were also involved in seeking justice and signed many a petition. Kejriwal had said he would be a different political leader, would not take a bungalow or have a red beacon on his car, etc. This made huge headlines in those days. In the 15 years that Sheila Dikshit was at the helm of affairs in Delhi, she never made excuses for anything. She accepted the fallout from the Nirbhaya incident. Kejriwal claimed to be a strong and fearless leader. The politician who would not think twice before sitting on Rajpath to protest an issue or even inside the L-G’s house for that matter. What happened to him when he came to power for the second time? Where was he when Delhi was burning from the riots last year? Instead, he was seen showering praises on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. This is just a small example of what he has become.

Also read: Sanjay Singh: ‘A cruel joke on the people of Delhi’

In Delhi, he opposes the powers being given to the L-G. But when in Kashmir the same thing happened, he appreciated it. When there the statehood was snatched, Kejriwal applauded the move. And here he is shedding his crocodile tears?

The Congress has for long been saying that Kejriwal is the BJP’s B-Team. And it has been proven beyond doubt. To give you another example, when the Lok Sabha passed the GNCTD Bill, Kejriwal simply tweeted his protest. The leader who used to hit the streets, registered his protest through just one tweet? Does that seem plausible to you?

He has slowly changed into a version of Modi. He does not respond to any of the media’s queries in his press briefings. He just presides over a one-way communication and leaves. Inside his party, you ask anyone, he behaves like a little dictator. No one can ask him any question. His demeanour has completely changed, especially after coming to power for the second time in February 2020. We have said this before and we will say this again, that he is the B-Team of the BJP.

In real terms, how will the passage of this Bill impact the lives of Delhi’s citizens in the days to come? Last year, during the lockdown when you accompanied Rahul Gandhi to meet the migrants who were walking home, the Delhi Police immediately put you under house arrest. So, how will this change in the power dynamic between the State and the Centre impact the common citizen?

You see, it is not democracy when one person gets all the power. As you pointed out, I was put under house arrest by the Delhi Police. Rahulji hits the streets to oppose certain policies of the government, be it demonetisation or the farmers’ issue. On any contentious topic, from women’s rights to migrants problems, the role of the opposition is to hold the ruling party accountable. The media also has a role to play in this. But today the government does not entertain any questions. If all the power is vested in one person, compared with 70 people who were elected from all corners of Delhi, what does that mean? These 70 legislators represent different parts of Delhi and are conversant with local issues and culture and can work for the specific kind of welfare and development required in those local contexts. Now, one person will sit there with his officials and decide for the whole of Delhi as if it is a monolith. Who will talk of the poor and what they need? One person will arbitrarily and unilaterally take all the decisions.

I have been trying to get an appointment with the L-G for over a year now. I have been an ex MLA, ex councillor and been in this field for many years. If a worker like me cannot get face time with the L-G even after trying continuously for one year, do you think the common person will be allowed to meet the L-G? Only rich industrialists will get the chance. You will also see how the police will misuse their powers. Just recently, we saw how legislators were beaten up inside the Bihar Assembly. Whatever issues are debated in the Assembly or in the political sphere are of public concern. They are not personal issues.

Also read: Federalism in peril

Debate is important in a democracy, but nowadays only orders are being given. The farm laws were also brought in in a dictatorial fashion. Rahulji has said that democracy is declining in India. There have been surveys that have said so and so have some journalists. These are all the reasons why. But whoever says so or asks questions, be it professors or students, is put behind bars. What was wrong with the CAA [Citizenship (Amendment) Act] protests? Or the farmers’ protests? People were sitting with the Indian flag. But Delhi burned. The Constitution has given us the right to protest. And the courts have also said we can raise our voice.

Now that the law has been passed, what will the Congress’ stand be? Will you continue to oppose it?

The law has been passed, but the Congress will work to strengthen democracy amongst people. Wherever possible, State governments should be made stronger. India is so diverse. Every place has a different concern, a different culture. If the Centre tries to control it or rule with a single hand, it will be disastrous. It does not matter which political party is at the helm. When the Congress was in power, it did not cut off the rights of States.

Will the passage of this Bill diminish the elections in Delhi in any way? Does it make elections redundant?

In all likelihood, the Central government will use the L-G, and the Congress will be there to expose their agendas. We will make the public aware of their games. Elections will take place again. This Bill has been imposed on the people of Delhi, who had elected their government. They will definitely give a response through their vote when the time comes. Meanwhile, the Congress will also work towards strengthening democracy and give a response in an appropriate manner.

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