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Calculus of Delhi Municipal Power-Grab Finally Fails

Subodh Varma |
A two-month-long fight by BJP to overturn the people’s mandate was laid to rest by the Supreme Court.
Calculus of Delhi Municipal Power-Grab Finally Fails

Image Courtesy: PTI

Finally, two and a half months after elections to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) were held, the decks have been cleared for it to start functioning. The local body looks after a range of tasks in the country’s capital, including sanitation, construction regulation, primary education, etc. All of which was in limbo – barely struggling along – while a disgusting spectacle of power grab played out in the Capital. In the elections held on December 4, 2022, the Aam Aadmi Party won 134 seats unseating the BJP which got 104. BJP had been holding the MCD for 15 years and its stinging defeat follows a loss in the state Assembly elections in 2020.

Since the loss in MCD, the state unit of BJP had created a series of obstacles in the House, preventing the election of the Mayor, which in turn prevented other important functions to be carried out. The Deputy Mayor could not be elected, and the all-important Standing Committee – which effectively is the decision-making body – could not be elected. The Lieutenant Governor, put in place by the BJP-led central government, had played an active role in keeping the leash tight on AAP. The events of the past two and a half months revealed how much the BJP cares for people’s will, electoral mandates and the welfare of citizens. Even after losing an election, they were trying, by hook or by crook, to hijack the mandate. The House even saw a physical confrontation and blows exchanged between BJP and AAP corporators.

To understand the devious way in which the BJP tried to scuttle the election mandate, it is first necessary to understand the laws that govern MCD functioning.

There is a provision in the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act for the nomination of 10 local experts as members of the House. This nomination is done by the Lt. Governor. Naturally, he nominated 10 persons who were BJP supporters. These Aldermen were planned to be used by the BJP to subvert the majority that AAP had got and capture the Mayor’s post as well as get a majority of their members into the Standing Committee.

On February 17, the Supreme Court in its order and oral comments made it clear that Article 243R of the Constitution and Section 3(3) of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 uphold the view that persons nominated by administrator do not have the right to vote for the election of Mayor and Deputy Mayor. It also made it clear that the Mayor, once elected in the first meeting, will act as Presiding Officer and carry out the elections of Deputy Mayor and Standing Committee for which also the nominated members (that is, Aldermen) cannot vote. With this, AAP will now win the Mayor and Deputy Mayor posts.

Standing Committee Election

This Committee has 18 members – six of them elected from amongst the corporators and the other 12 elected from Wards Committees of each of the MCD’s 12 Zones.

The election of six corporators for the Standing Committee takes place on the preferential voting system, which, for a full strength House of 250 members, means that each candidate needs to get 36 votes to win. With AAP having 134 corporators, it would get four members in the standing committee while BJP with 104 members (and one Independent supporting it) would get two. But if you add the 10 Aldermen to this mix, the equations would change. BJP could get up to four members from the House itself. Again, the Supreme Court has stymied this possibility.

But there is another possibility. If Congress with its nine seats is persuaded to abstain, then the effective strength of the House goes down and again BJP might get three standing Committee members.

The real battle will, however, take place for the remaining 12 members of the Standing Committee which are elected from the Ward Committees, because the Aldermen can vote here and will play a crucial role. The Ward Committees are made up of all the corporators from wards falling in that Zone as also, all the Aldermen nominated from that Zone. Of the 12 Zones, AAP has a majority of corporators in eight Zones while BJP has a majority in four Zones. This means that from the Zones, AAP could have got eight of its members elected for the Standing Committee and BJP, four.

But this position has now changed with the nomination of Aldermen. There is no limit on the number of Aldermen that can be nominated from a zone. All 10 could be from one zone, if so desired. What the LG did was that out of the 10 Aldermen, four each were nominated from the Civil Lines and Narela Zones and two from the Central zone. This means that AAP loses its majority in the Civil Lines and Narela Zones. AAP will face a tight contest in the Central zone. So, it will end up with six members out of 12 elected to the Standing Committee with a possibility that it may go down to five. Conversely, BJP will get six or even seven.

Since the Supreme Court has ruled that the Alderman can’t vote in the House, the Standing Committee members elected by the House will be divided as either four or three for AAP and either two or three for BJP. Add to that six each for the two parties from the Zones and we get either 10 or nine for AAP and eight or nine for BJP. If Congress abstains then both parties may end up with nine each in the Standing Committee or even

It was all this complex calculus that the BJP worked out in order to sabotage the very clear mandate that the people of Delhi gave – which was a majority to AAP and consequently, a right to take decisions. With the Aldermen and with this manoeuvring, the BJP will get a shot at paralysing the functioning if not openly capturing real decision-making powers in the MCD. So much for their oft-repeated claim of being committed to democracy and respecting peoples’ will.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court put a stop to this power-grab and put paid to the whole conspiracy to have the mandate overturned through nominated Aldermen. But the sorry episode has once again exposed the depths to which the BJP can go to grab power in even a municipal corporation.

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