Why the nation’s capital can never be a ‘state’

Abhijit Bhattacharyya

I recently read somewhere that a particular political party had decided to make statehood for Delhi an issue in the coming general election. I will explain why that cannot happen.
A country’s capital is defined as the city or town that hosts its “seat of government” and is its administrative centre. Over a century ago, the Government of India and the “home government” (that means His Majesty’s Government in London) decided to shift the capital of (then British-ruled) India from Calcutta to Delhi on December 12, 1911. King George V announced this decision at the Delhi Durbar held on that day.
Says British lawyer and constitutional expert A.B. Keith: “Unquestionably this mode of procedure was unconstitutional for a liberal government, since it precluded the exercise by the House of Lords and the Opposition in the House of Commons of the right of criticism of so far-reaching a change in policy”. In other words, the King (meaning the government acting in his name) evaded a key convention of the unwritten British Constitution by short-circuiting Parliament. (Indians are used to hearing about the ruling party short-circuiting Parliament for the past several decades. One only wonders how they managed to pick up this art, as most Indians were probably not even aware of this act of the King 106 years ago!)
Thus, under the authority of the Government of India Act 1854, effective September 1912, the transfer of Delhi took place from the jurisdiction of the lieutenant-governor of Punjab to the direct control of the Viceroy and Governor-General, to be exercised through a chief commissioner, who exercised the functions of a divisional commissioner, financial commissioner and inspector-general of police. With an area of 678 square miles, it formed a sort of enclave similar to the District of Columbia and Washington in the United States.
While over 106 years have passed since then, Delhi remains India’s capital city. But all is not well with Delhi now, as continued political rumblings have been creating turbulence since the 1990s. In fact, if the past is any indicator, some upstart politicians appear hopelessly out of depth to be able to grasp the “idea of India” and its geography, constituted as a sovereign state for the first time in over 1,000 years.
Sadly, however, democratic India is traditionally “high” on election-mode and mood and “low” on development, economics and good governance. The most conspicuous of all these above features, not surprisingly, seem present in the Indian capital since the 1990s. This drama has now reached quite an absurd level, with a few politicians, transcending ideology, have started playing with fire. They seem to have lost touch with the ground reality of India’s 1.26 billion people. They need to reassess and revisit their preposterous demand to turn India’s “capital city” into a “state”. These politicians are unable to anticipate the possible anarchy and potential adverse fallout that could follow if Delhi is indeed made a state.Indeed, Delhi (and in some ways the whole of India) is for some the ultimate destination, a paradise of real estate, gold, diamond, dollars, honey, sugar and money. All they want to do is ascend the throne. It’s like the Bollywood film Duniya Meri Jeb Mein (meaning the world is in my pocket)!
These politicians don’t seem to have any idea about India’s Constitution, its demography or geography. It’s time for a reality check.
India comprises 29 states and seven Union territories, with 1.26 billion heads. Under Schedule VIII, it has 22 recognised languages, which includes two official languages — Hindi and English. Its linguistic composition consists of Hindi 41 per cent; Bengali 8.11 per cent; Telugu 7.19 per cent; Marathi 6.99 per cent; Tamil 5.91 per cent; Urdu 5.01 per cent; Gujarati 4.48 per cent; Kannada 3.69 per cent; Malayalam 3.21 per cent; Odia 3.21 per cent; Punjabi 2.83 per cent; Assamese 1.28 per cent; Maithili 1.18 per cent; Bhil/Bhilodi 0.93 per cent; Santhali 0.63 per cent; Kashmiri 0.54 per cent; Nepali 0.28 per cent; Gondi 0.26 per cent; Sindhi 0.25 per cent; Konkani 0.24 per cent; Dogri 0.22 per cent; Khandeshi 0.20 per cent; Tulu 0.17 per cent; Kurukh/Oraon 0.17 per cent; Manipuri 0.14 per cent; Bodo 0.13 per cent; Khasi 0.11 per cent; Mundari 0.10 per cent; Ho 0.10 per cent; Sanskrit 0.0013 per cent and all others 1.41 per cent.
Those who want Delhi’s status to change from being the nation’s capital to one of the states of India must remember the capital belongs to the whole of India, to each and every Indian, and that its future can’t be unilaterally decided. Delhi’s constitutional status cannot be changed or tampered with by those who think they are the sole stakeholders and custodians of India’s capital city.
Let’s assume that Delhi becomes a state. What will happen next is the immediate implementation of “sons of the soil”. Reservations. Quotas. Throw out the outsiders. Loot their property. Deprive them from jobs. Stop their entry. Who will gain in such a scenario? Possibly only a few adjacent states and a particular group of people.
Further, where will the Central government offices/officers go? How will the two Delhis — Delhi the capital and Delhi the state — be differentiated? What do the two police forces do? Fight each other? Or loot together?
What happens to the 200-plus diplomatic missions? They will openly fish in the perennial troubled waters created by feuding and myopic politicians. And how will the majority, 99 per cent of the people of India, who don’t live in Delhi, take the transformation of their country’s capital? Will India become one of the rarest of the rare — a country without a capital? Or a capital cut to shape and size by India’s political class?
Can India ever be taken seriously in the world arena once this happens? Won’t it look like a super banana republic of South Asia? How will we deal with China and Pakistan? How will India’s rulers face their sniggering counterparts at the United Nations? How will India keep Jammu and Kashmir intact? What answers can they offer, if questioned? What sort of economic scenario will emerge from a hopelessly divided polity? If you cannot keep your capital intact, how will you keep the country united?It’s time to take the bull by the horns. It’s time to abolish both the legislature and the office of lieutenant-governor. We should revert to the two-tier system, according to which administratively Delhi will be headed by a chief commissioner, who reports to the President of India through the Cabinet Secretary, while the mayor will be responsible for the upkeep, maintenance and planned development of the capital through five-yearly elections.
Land would fall under the jurisdiction of the urban development ministry and the police under the home ministry. But all this should be done through the Cabinet Secretary. Otherwise, Delhi’s transformation from capital city to state is sure to be a prelude to the breakup of India. Those in authority need to take corrective steps, and the sooner the better. India’s capital city can never be allowed to become a state. It would be like hara-kiri!