Najeeb Jung’s tenure as lieutenant governor of Delhi has been marked by repeated disputes with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on issues of jurisdiction.
Soft-spoken and courteous even when crossing swords with the elected Delhi government – that is probably how Najeeb Jung would like to be remembered as lieutenant governor. Arvind Kejriwal has sent best wishes for his “future endeavours”. One of Delhi’s stormiest political relationships may have come to a tame end but what the two protagonists indulged in was nothing short of jang, or war. For a man who was close to former chief minister Sheila Dikshit of the Congress, Jung also enjoyed a remarkably smooth relationship with the right-wing Narendra Modi government. So much so that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) did not realise that the man it castigated first as “Congress agent” and then as “BJP agent” was essentially playing on the side of power. Agent or not, Jung, as LG, took his job as the representative of whichever party was in North Block to literal ends, relying heavily on rules – whose constitutionality is under challenge before the Supreme Court – that essentially robbed the capital’s population of its right to be governed by elected representatives.
Jung’s decision to resign from his post 20 months ahead of schedule took both the Centre and the Delhi government by surprise. Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, who met Delhi chief secretary M.M. Kutty soon after Jung announced his resignation, later claimed that he had no inkling of the move though they had only met a day earlier. Similarly, Kejriwal, who spoke to Jung, tweeted that his “resignation is a surprise to me”. Jung is said to be eyeing teaching assignments in Singapore or the US.
However, a closer look at the relationship between Delhi’s two most powerful men would reveal that there was no love lost between them.
Most recently on December 15, Kejriwal had alleged that IAS officers in Delhi were being “intimidated” and “threatened” by Jung and Modi. “They are being provoked to revolt against me. I know who all are taking money. IAS officers are being forced to meet and speak out against the Delhi government. The LG is getting it done on the prodding of the prime minister’s office [PMO],” he said at a press conference.
While Kejriwal often took the name of Jung and Modi in the same breath, the fact remained that the tussle between the two had started during Kejriwal’s first term in Delhi, when the LG, during Manmohan Singh’s rule, had objected to the tabling of the Delhi Lokpal Bill in the assembly without presidential assent and had then sought the solicitor general’s opinion on the Bill. Kejriwal had accused Jung of “leaking” the solicitor general’s report to the media.
In February 2014, AAP had called Jung a “Congress agent”. Later, though, as the Congress lost the Lok Sabha polls and the BJP came to power at the Centre, AAP’s judgment on Jung also changed.
In October 2014, while seeking fresh elections in Delhi, Kejriwal accused Jung of “being in active collusion with BJP and running the backdoor government for the BJP and acting as an agent of Bharatiya Janata Party rather than protecting the Constitution of India”.
In June 2015, in his first interview after becoming chief minister, Kejriwal made several accusations against Jung, calling him BJP’s “polling agent” in Delhi and accusing Modi of taking “revenge” on the AAP government for BJP’s defeat in the state election. “The LG does not have the courage to act (against the AAP government). He is taking his orders from above…He is just saving his chair,” Kejriwal told NDTV.
This had come in the wake of Jung seeking all the files pertaining to Delhi government and AAP accusing him of working in the hands of the BJP government at the Centre and violating the spirit of “cooperative federalism”.
Jung’s critics accused him of subverting democracy. Kejriwal’s appointment of several officers was overturned by Jung; he made joint commissioner M.K. Meena the chief of the Anti-Corruption Bureau in place of AAP’s choice, S.S. Yadav, appointed Shakuntala Gamlin as acting chief secretary despite AAP’s opposition and the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) member secretary without taking the elected government into confidence.
Jung’s defence all through was that he was just going by the rule books. “In my mind, it is clear, the constitution is absolutely clear as far as Article 39(A). Delhi is and was intended to be a Union territory after exhaustive debate not only in public but also in parliament. There are constitutional restrictions on Union territories and while I would say you probably have a good point of view (about having one autonomous head), I’m not sure from the constitutional aspect if it can be implemented effectively throughout the country,” he stated at the Times ‘litfest’ in Delhi.
“I defer to the elected government in 99% of the cases that come to me. Only in 1% of the cases we might disagree,” he had also claimed at the November event.
Kejriwal did not agree with Jung’s claims. Earlier this month, the chief minister even equated Jung with Hitler. Upset at the appointment of Dilraj Kaur as the member secretary of the DCW, Kejriwal was quoted as saying on Aaj Tak: “LG is acting like Hitler, following in footsteps of his masters Mr Modi and Amit Shah…Najeeb Jung has sold his soul to the prime minister.” Jung claimed that the appointment of Kaur was necessitated by the November 30 retirement of Alka Diwan, who previously held the post.
A day after this event, on December 8, Kejriwal questioned Jung’s decision to check the files of the AAP government. In a tweet, he asked if the LG was “our headmaster or principal”.
“Whether we have committed corruption, thefts or done several irregularities… who has given him (LG) [the right] to check our files? Is he our headmaster or principal? Only the people have right to check our work and they can only throw us out (of the power). Will the LG now check whether the CM has done good homework or not,” he said.
The battle between the central arm and the elected arm of the Delhi government over their powers is now being fought in the Supreme Court. Earlier this month, the apex court held that the elected government in Delhi had certain rights and powers. The AAP government had moved the apex court against a Delhi high court ruling in August this year, which said that the LG was the administrative head of Delhi and enjoyed wide discretionary powers – a contention that had been challenged by the AAP government.
While in all probability Jung may not be around when the matter comes up for its final hearing on January 18, his tenure will have ensured one thing – that the powers of the two arms be defined clearly once and for all.