India | India's politicization of high-level bureaucracy is damaging

India’s politicization of high-level bureaucracy is damaging

Kadayam Subramanian January 2, 2017 3:28 AM (UTC+8)
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On December 28, the media reported that Anil Baijal, former member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and former Union Home Secretary, would be the next Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi, the capital of India. He replaces Najeeb Jung, also of the IAS, who had earlier submitted his resignation from the job.

Baijal had served under Prime Minister Ataj Behari Vajpayee (1998-2004), a leading light of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Post-retirement, he was member of the Executive Committee of the influential right wing think tank, the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), New Delhi,

Retired officials often move to the prestigious VIF in the hope of being in the selection range for suitable assignments in the government of India.

Ajit Kumar Doval, former Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), now National Security advisor (NSA) to the Prime Minister, is the founder-director of the VIF.

The unexpected resignation of Najeeb Jung as LG of the Union Territory of Delhi has serious implications.

The role of Governors of states in India has always been controversial. In particular, the role of politically aligned former civil servants who are often appointed as Governors of states, a trend which has become an all too frequent recently.

The Governors of Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh states, both former senior civil servants, appointed by the present government in Delhi brought discredit to their office and were reprimanded by the Supreme Court of India.

Jung, a former civil servant, had a controversial background before he became LG, Delhi under the Manmohan Singh government. He was retained by the BJP government for political reasons when it assumed power in Delhi in 2014.

Despite being a Union Territory and not a full fledged state, Delhi has the distinction of having an elected state assembly, cabinet and a Chief Minister. However, the functioning of the state government of Delhi is tightly controlled by the central government through the LG, Delhi. The Union Home Ministry is the controlling authority for the Delhi police.

Arvind Kejriwal, an anti-corruption crusader and Convener of the recently formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) became chief minister of Delhi in 2015 when his party captured an overwhelming 67 out of a total of 70 seats in the state assembly.

Kejriwal is youthful, educated and dynamic; and a fresh face in Indian politics. His organizational skills helped defeat Narendra Modi’s BJP in the 2015 state assembly elections in Delhi.

Kejriwal’s functioning as Chief Minister became difficult because he was keen to do things. But decision-making in Delhi, a bureaucratic city, is centralized in the hands of the LG Delhi. Najeeb Jung asserted his authority as LG and repeatedly clashed with Chief Minister Kejriwal on perhaps every vital matter that concerned the state government.

Jung was also under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to control the functioning of the Arvind Kejriwal-led state government, which is out of favor with the Modi-led central government. The Modi-led BJP was convincingly defeated by Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP in the 2015 state assembly elections, Modi tends to see him as his nemesis.

Thus, since the ruling BJP government negatively viewed the state government in Delhi, it was determined to teach a lesson to Kejriwal and his party in their official functioning.

Najeeb Jung as LG Delhi played a crucial role in this regard and made all attempts to discomfit Chief Minister instead of helping him to discharge his Constitutional duties properly.

Kejriwal, unlike other politicians in Delhi, was not scared of Modi and opposed his every move to harass him calling him a ‘psychopath and a coward’ who was negatively disposed to the democratically elected state government. Kejriwal had become a thorn in the side for Narendra Modi.

Jung, the ‘yes’ man of the Narendra Modi government at the Center, mounted vicious attacks on Kejriwal’s government by utilizing the all the instruments of the state available to him under the Constitution and the general and specific laws of the land and the police force under his control.

The Police Commissioner of Delhi enthusiastically supported Jung’s campaign against Kejriwal and did not utilize even the limited autonomy available to him to maintain the rule of law

He was fully rewarded by the Narendra Modi government when he retired from service.

The administration in Delhi thus presented a chaotic picture. The unchanged colonial rules ad regulations in place prevented a dynamic Chief Minister in functioning effectively to meet the development challenges facing the poor people of Delhi.

Najeeb Jung’s sudden resignation from his coveted position as LG, Delhi came therefore as a surprise to even those who supported him.

Reliable sources say that the LG came under further pressure from the ruling circles to get the Kejriwal government dismissed from office to impose President’s Rule in the state. Though Jung was doing his best, he needed to do more to produce a story of ‘Constitutional breakdown’ in Delhi to justify the imposition of President’s Rule in the state.

In view of the approaching state assembly elections in early 2017 in several states including Punjab, it became essential for the ruling classes in Delhi to remove Kejriwal from the political scene and prevent him by hook or crook from campaigning against the BJP in the forthcoming state assembly elections in early 2017.

To facilitate the proposed operation, Najeeb Jung, the ‘yes man’ set up the Shunglu Committee to examine 400 odd decisions taken by the Kejriwal government for alleged violation of existing rules and regulations.

Kejriwal had maintained that as the duly elected Chief Minister of a popular state government he had sufficient autonomy to take these impugned decisions.

The Shunglu Committee reportedly produced a helpful report (November 2016) for the government pointing to irregularities by the Kejriwal government.

Reliable sources say that Najeeb Jung had become averse to become a part of the move to unseat the Kejriwal government and bring Central Rule in Delhi at the instance of the ruling BJP. He apprehended that he would meet the same feat as his fellow Governors of Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh did in having to face the wrath of the Supreme Court of India for their irregularities.

Thus came about the abrupt resignation of Najeeb Jung from his position as LG, Delhi.

Anil Baijal, the newly appointed LG, Delhi faces the onerous task of having to recommend the imposition of President’s Rule in Delhi to please his political bosses well before the state assembly elections in early 2017, something his predecessor was unwilling to do.

Kadayam Subramanian
Kadayam Subramanian is former Director, Research and Policy Division, Union Home Ministry, Government of India, and former Director General of Police in Northeast India. He is the author, among others, of Political Violence and the Police in India, Sage, 2007, and State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India, Routledge, 2016
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