National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021
The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act (GNCTD) was passed in 1991, by adding Article 239AA to the Constitution via the 69th Amendment Act. Under the existing Act, the government of Delhi is empowered to legislate on all matters except public order, police and land. The central government recently made amendments to the GNCTD Act and it was passed through both the Houses of the Parliament. The new Bill amends Sections 21, 24, 33 and 44 of the 1991 Act.
The Bill enhances the powers of the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi and curtails the powers of the Delhi government and of the Delhi assembly. Claiming to give effect to the 2018 and 2019 judgments of the Supreme Court on the powers of the LG and the Delhi government, the Bill has the following key provisions:
First, the Bill states that the term “government” referred to in any law made by the Legislative Assembly will imply Lieutenant Governor (LG).
Second, the Procedure and Conduct of Business in the assembly and Rules to govern the same can be framed by the assembly but must be consistent with the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha.
Third, the Bill prohibits the Delhi assembly from making any rule to enable itself or its Committees to:
- Consider the matters of everyday administration of Delhi
- Conduct any inquiry in relation to administrative decisions.
The Bill also applies this retrospectively by stating that all such rules made before the enactment of the Bill will be void.
Fourth, the Bill requires the LG to reserve the following type of Bills for the consideration of the President:
- Those which may diminish the powers of the High Court of Delhi,
- Those which the President may direct to be reserved,
- Those dealing with the salaries and allowances of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and members of the Assembly and the Ministers,
- Those relating to official languages of the Assembly or of Delhi.
- Those which incidentally cover any of the matters outside the purview of the powers of the Legislative Assembly.
Fifth, the Bill specifies that all executive action by the government must be taken in the name of the LG. Further, on certain matters, as specified by the LG, his opinion must be obtained before taking any executive action.
The Bill has been passed by both the Houses of the Parliament due to the numerical advantage of the ruling NDA, despite Opposition protests, and is set to become a law.
The ruling party in Delhi, Aam Admi Party (AAP), has asserted that it will appeal the amendment in the Supreme Court, as it goes against the 2018 Supreme Court judgement. The 2018 Court judgement had stated that giving undue powers to LG undermines the principles of representative democracy, and had therefore, held that the Delhi government need not obtain LG’s prior concurrence on matters other than law & order, land and police. It had also held that decisions of the government would need to be communicated to the LG post-facto. The judgment was ambiguous on the role of LG and the Delhi government, stating that the LG is not a Governor but an administrator in a limited sense, and that the Delhi government must remember that Delhi is not a state.
The ambiguous judgement has left scope for drafting the present Bill, which more clearly defines the role of LG and the government of Delhi. Even if AAP challenges it legally, the approach of the Centre in passing the Bill is legally valid as it gives effect to a Court judgement. Moreover, the 2018 and 2019 Court judgements re-affirmed the powers of the LG under proviso to Article 239AA(4) of the Constitution, which empowers the LG to act on advice of the President.
Practically, the role of the Delhi government has been diminished completely. While the implications of the Bill will become evident only in practice, the effect might be seen in the following significant domains:
First, it may reduce the misuse of power by Delhi government for protecting the riot accused and the criminals. The delay in granting sanction for prosecution in cases like JNU violence, Delhi riots and others have made the national capital a hub for an unrepentant Leftist-Islamist ecosystem.
Second, the tussle over bureaucratic/administrative transfers is settled, and the Delhi government will not be able to exercise power over officers. It will also have to take LG’s advice prior to acting on any cabinet decision. Populist policy decisions, such as supply of free power, water etc., will come under the ambit of prior consultation with the LG.
Third, assembly committee inquiries on contentious issues like Delhi riots and other contentious issues, administrative matters and others will be curtailed.
PM Modi’s Bangladesh Visit
PM Modi’s recent visit to Bangladesh – his first since the COVID19 pandemic started last year – strengthened the bilateral ties further. PM Modi visited the country to commemorate the 50th anniversary celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence, 50th year of establishment of ties between India and Bangladesh and 100th birth anniversary celebrations of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman. The three together are being celebrated in Bangladesh as ‘Mujib Borsho’ (The Year of Mujib). The joint agreement from the visit listed cooperation in a range of areas, from connectivity and people-level ties to border management, COVID19 vaccines and energy projects.
Modi also unveiled the foundation stone for the first memorial to be built in Bangladesh to honour Indian soldiers who fought in Bangladesh’s liberation war of 1971. His act of conferring the Gandhi Peace award on Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman is also a significant indication on India’s part of the goodwill it wants to infuse in ties with Bangladesh. Modi also met the Community leaders including representatives of minorities in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi Mukhtijoddhas, Friends of India and others. He also interacted with leaders of some opposition political parties in Bangladesh.
However, the key takeaway from the visit lay in the psychological impact it made in Bangladesh and India. This is visible in three domains,
First, India’s soft power: India has rapidly enhanced its strategic projects with Bangladesh, which are positively expanding its footprint in the country, going beyond mere rhetoric. Since 2014, border issues have been resolved very well, Sheikh Hasina has proved an important partner in helping root out terrorism in Bangladesh and cross-border insurgency in India. Having resolved these issues, the countries are now focusing on connectivity projects, with India actively involved in the development of strategic infrastructure in Bangladesh.
Rail links, bridges providing port connectivity, activation of waterways have been boosted, and the overall connectivity of India’s east with Bangladesh has improved from the point of view of trade and security. Bangladesh is also on board with the tri-lateral highway project between India, Myanmar and Thailand. India-specific Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Bangladesh are set to facilitate regional manufacturing value chains.
This is important from the point of view of China – not to counterbalance or compete with rising Chinese footprint in Indian subcontinent, but, in China’s own statement following Xi Jingping’s India visit, to ensure that India and China work together in third countries. Only a strong India with its own presence can complement China in this way, without allowing the latter to take it for granted.
Second, faint beginnings of India’s role as a global ambassador of Sanatan Dharma: Coinciding with Bengal’s first phase of elections, Modi’s Bangladesh visit further reinforced the ruling BJP’s unhesitating commitment to a syncretic Hindutva, not seen in previous political leaders. Thus, in the Islamic Republic of Bangladesh, Modi’s visit was highlighted through his worship at two famous Hindu temples of Jessoreshwari Kali Devi and the Orakandi temple (the birthplace of Matua gurus, Harichand Thakur and Guruchand Thakur).
The Orakandi temple, the cradle of Matua Mahasangh, is particularly significant for the Matua community – a Namasudra community. The community plays a powerful role in West Bengal politics, being a key Scheduled Caste community exercising influence in as many as 30 assembly constituencies, and sought after by all major political parties. The community shifted towards BJP about two years back, due to the party’s outreach and its implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019.
Modi’s outreach to minority Hindus in Bangladesh is rare for an Indian leader visiting abroad. It not only sends out a signal to foreign governments that Hindu minorities in Islamic states need to be treated well, but also indicates the faint beginning of the role of an India that has begun to seamlessly interweave its culture of syncretic Hinduism with its political dealings with the world and the nations.
Third, the Islamic backlash: In response to Modi’s successful visit to Bangladesh and his unprecedented visit to Hindu temples, the Islamic elements unleashed riots in the country. This was expected, as these elements had been protesting prior to Modi’s visit also. These elements included not only Islamists, but also madrassa students and clerics, and Leftists and intellectuals. After Modi’s visit, the protests turned into massive destruction and violence, with attacks on Hindus, temples and public property. At least 11 people were killed in the violence and in the strong police response. To bring the situation under control, Hasina government had to deploy the specialized and brutal Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) forces.
These were led by the mischievous radical Islamist outfit, Hefazat-e-Islam – a long-standing security threat to Hasina government, but one that is highly popular in Bangladesh. It was setup in 2010 to obstruct the government’s efforts to undo the Islamization of the country unleased under Khaleda Zia’s rule. Efforts by the government to bring Constitutional changes in favour of secularism and a policy for women’s equal right to property were the trigger for the formation of the group. In 2013, they protested widely and issued a 13-point radical Islamist agenda, including institutionalization of blasphemy laws. That year, the security forces also unleashed a bloody crackdown on the group.
Since this failure of 2013, the group has avoided clashing directly with the government. However, it has become a de facto powerful opposition pressure group, playing a key role in Bangladesh polity, exercising pressure on government. The government also had to give in to various demands of the group over the years, thereby raising its stature and legitimizing it further. Hasina government was already battling Jamaaat-i-Islami, which it viewed as a bigger threat.
The riot-like situation created in the wake of Modi’s visit has been blamed by Bangladeshi Parliament on Pakistan, but it also marks a turning point in Hefazat’s relationship with the government. Psychologically, it represents Islamists’ absolute abhorrence to the prospect of a rising and powerful Hindutva India in the region. Modi’s temple visit triggered such an extreme reaction, and played an important role in bringing to fore the poison that needs to be dealt with.
The QUAD Summit
The summit between Quadrilateral security dialogue countries – India, US, Japan and Australia – this month marks the first-ever leader-level summit for the QUAD. The summit marked a break from previous bureaucratic and ministerial level meetings, emphasizing not just military cooperation, but also strengthening supply chains in the Indo-Pacific region as a counter to China, though the summit did not name China. The summit fell early in the Presidentship of Joe Biden, who has from the beginning, emphasized US’s priority to counterbalance China. In many ways, minus the rhetoric of Trump, Biden has taken an equal or more hardline stand towards China. The importance given to Indo-Pacific is a part of this strategy.
While the Quad was first born in 2007, it could only revive after 2018, with an upswing in relations of India with US, Australia and Japan. Importantly, India’s vigorous construction work in the border areas, bringing it face-to-face with China, also helped change the status-quo. In more recent times, Quad has received a big boost in Biden’s Presidency, due to its vision to work on something substantive, instead of the just the Indo-Pacific rhetoric.
India’s emerging role as an arms supplier and its growing connectivity projects in its eastern backyard has revealed its potential to become a net security provider in the region. Most importantly, from an economic point of view, India’s manufacturing capability is now being eyed to be harnessed at a regional level.
This capability was displayed well last year during the COVID19 pandemic. When the pandemic started, India was manufacturing zero protective PPE kits. The whole world was securing supplies from China. However, soon, India not just started manufacturing its own PPE kits, but also started exporting them, producing a million kits a day. The same capability was seen in ventilators and other essential supplies, such as drugs being used for COVID19 trials.
India’s unprecedented supply of vaccines to the world under its ‘Vaccine Maitri’ programmed, has surpassed China, making the least developed countries heavily dependent on Indian vaccines. Even developed countries like UK, Canada and developing countries sourced vaccines from India. The temporary halt in the supply of Indian vaccines adversely affected the UK’s vaccination drive. The syringes, needed to administer vaccines, again led them to Indian manufacturers.
The rise in India’s manufacturing capacity has propelled Quad to envisage India as a manufacturing base for producing a billion COVID19 vaccines for the Indo-Pacific region. It is a strong India on the back of which the success of Quad has taken off and now rests. As long as India was reluctant and hesitant, the Quad simply remained a paper tiger.
Developments in Maharashtra
The Maharashtra government presently stands on a shaky ground, as a series of crime and corruption scandals have implicated its top leadership. The handover of the Antilla bomb scare case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has led to a sequence of events which may threaten the existence of the present government.
The gelatin sticks and the death threat letter planted outside industrialist, Mukesh Ambani’s residence, Antilla, in Mumbai, was a case initially being investigated by the state law enforcement agencies. However, it soon ended up being linked to an Indian Mujahideen cell whose member was operating from Delhi’s Tihar jail. This provided an opportunity for the central government to deem it a terror case and transfer it to the NIA.
With NIA investigation directly implicating and arresting celebrated, albeit low-ranked, encounter police officer, Sachin Vaze (who was also involved in arresting journalist and Republic TV CEO Arnab Goswami infamously from his house early morning, in a separate case last year), the case directly impacted the Mumbai police. Vaze was arrested for the murder of his long-time associate, Mansukh Hiren, whose car was used to plant the incriminating explosives outside Antilla. While Vaze could have been made a scapegoat, the expansion of NIA from terror investigation to Hiren murder case, further complicated the issue for the state government, as it might implicate a lot of top police officers too.
As a result, the next turning point for the state government came when Mumbai police chief, Parambir Singh, levelled allegations of corruption against Maharashtra Home Minister, Anil Deshmukh (of NCP). He accused Deshmukh of instructing Vaze to collect Rs. 100 crore per month from restaurants and other such joints in Mumbai. He also approached the Supreme Court for a CBI investigation against Deshmukh, but to no avail. Further, IAS Rashmi Shukla also accused the government of running a police transfer racket. To make matters worse, Opposition leader, Devendra Fadnavis (of BJP) had managed to get hold of incriminating evidence against the government in the corruption scandal case, and submitted it to the Centre.
As the situation stands at present, the cards are clearly in BJP’s hands, but the party is treading cautiously in the state. It may be the single largest party, yet it is aware of how regional media and public forums are biased against it. It also realizes that it needs the aid of extra legislators to form the government. The BJP is treading cautiously, working on building strong public sentiment against the present government before going any further.