India – officially an elected autocracy?

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The image of India being an electoral autocracy is being cemented to place with every passing day. For instance the President’s assent to the Government of National Capital Territory (Amendment) Act, 2021 on March 28, makes it obvious the direction in which India is heading. With this act, now the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi has more powers to control policies and decisions of the elected government in Delhi currently being led by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Though the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is calling the move to be unconstitutional and anti-democratic, the Union NDA government is in no mood to pay any heed to the objections raised by various quarters.

Notably, the Delhi government and the Lieutenant-Governor (LG) have been mired in various tussles in the past. The AAP government has always been complaining of massive interference by the LG since it came to power. But it seems that the scuffle between the Modi led NDA government at the Centre and the Kejriwal led AAP government in the state is here to stay. The new amendment passed in Parliament is Article 239AA of the Constitution, that now makes Delhi a ‘National Capital Territory’ led by LG as the head of the administrative machinery. It also gives the LG powers to refer ‘any matter’ to the President in case of a conflict between the Delhi government and his office. Additionally, Section 2 of the amended law inserts a new sub-section 3 in the original 1991 Act, which states that “any law passed by the Legislative Assembly of Delhi, which uses the word government, would simply mean the Lieutenant-Governor.” The new law also amends section 33 of the 1991 act to restrict the day-to-day decisions of the Assembly and curtails its ability to conduct inquiries that relate to administrative matters. Moreover, Section 3 of the amendment inserts a new clause in section 24 of the 1991 Act, according to which a bill passed by the Legislative Assembly shall be presented before the LG, who may reserve it for consideration by the President.

The three subjects in which the Delhi government has been restricted include land, public order and police. Thereby, handicapping the executive arm of the Delhi government. While on one hand, the Union government claims the move to be taken to minimise the repeated conflict between the Delhi government and the LG, on the other AAP finds it to be more sinister in design and made to make the elected government a rubber dummy in the assembly. If the perspective of legal experts are to be taken, the said amendment throws the court’s judgement for a toss, as it clearly mentioned that the LG may be the administrative head of the region but not a legislative body. Nevertheless, the new amendment strategically allows the LG to act as the legislative body and binds the elected government to work at the behest of the LG. Whatever the reasons may be, this move of the Union government cements the idea of elected autocracy being at practice in the nation. This autocratic nature of the Union government is very dangerous for the nation’s democratic values and identity.

 

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