Arvind Kejriwal is breathing easy politically (not physically, as his delicate health gets affected by the high pollution levels in Delhi). Two significant victories have strengthened the Delhi chief minister: he has been bolstered by the Supreme Court’s constitutional decision to restore much of the powers of the elected government, and to restrict the hitherto unbridled powers of the lieutenant governor, who is a nominee of the Narendra Modi government.
There are several doubts about the exact implementation of the orders of the five-judge Constitution Bench, but Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal and the Union government are a subdued lot. Kejriwal has also become more accommodative, especially on the expansion of the Delhi metro, a decision his cabinet was refusing to clear. Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and his officials still try to exercise their powers through the Delhi Development Authority, which controls land matters in Delhi, but there is some circumspection lest they attract the wrath of the Supreme Court.
While the Supreme Court has made it clear that both land and police will remain with the Centre, the department of personnel is taking its own time in clarifying on the chief minister’s powers for appointment and transfer of All-India Services officers, especially from the IAS. Earlier, bureaucrats would not even clear policy decisions as they waited for the LG’s green light. Now, the traffic signal from Raj Niwas is not functioning. Policy decisions like the installation of CCTV cameras across the city and the door delivery of services, which were blocked by Baijal, are being implemented by the same bureaucracy. Raj Niwas was the venue of the long sit-in by Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia for the control of the bureaucracy. Kejriwal, who was very aggressive against the Delhi Police, has now toned down the rhetoric.
The concerted moves to disqualify AAP MLAs (the party had won 67 of 70 seats) have not succeeded so far. The Election Commission, which had recommended to the president the disqualification of 21 MLAs for holding an office of profit as parliamentary secretaries, was rapped on the knuckles by the Delhi High Court, which said the commission did not follow due procedure. The commission rejected another petition to disqualify a batch of 27 MLAs, saying they did not attract the office of profit prohibition. The decisions are seen as a setback to the BJP, as the party is desperate to put hurdles on the path of Kejriwal, the first politician to win against the Modi wave in an assembly election in north India.
Kejriwal is no longer looking at a pan-India impact in the 2019 elections. In 2014, apart from fielding a number of candidates across the country, Kejriwal himself contested against Modi in Varanasi. While AAP candidates lost in all seven seats in Delhi, the party notched an impressive four seats in Punjab. This time, Kejriwal has no intention to contest, and his party is focusing on Punjab and Delhi, where it has a strong grassroots presence.
Kejriwal has been careful to avoid allegations that groups which are sympathetic to the separatist cause are supporting the AAP in Punjab. While he ruled out a pre-poll alliance with the Congress, he is in touch with a galaxy of opposition leaders. Kejriwal, however, seems to have realised that it is not the right time to float a federal front, a pet idea of his close political friend Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress.