AAP minority government of Delhi resigns

Well, that did not last long. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) tendered his resignation today after his minority government was refused support by both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party for tabling its signature Jan Lokpal Bill to create an anti-corruption body.

The federal dimension of the Indian system is critical to the story here, as the Congress, which had earlier promised support (at one time even saying it would be “unconditional”) to the AAP, is now claiming that an anti-corruption bill for Dehli can’t be submitted without clearance from the central (Congress-led) government.

The legislators from the Congress and BJP who voted today to prevent him from tabling the Jan Lokpal Bill say they support the proposal, but cannot ignore the fact that it has been vetoed by Delhi’s constitutional head, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung. The chief minister had firmly rejected the opinion that before it is presented for review in the legislature, the bill must be vetted by the Lieutenant Governor as a representative of the centre.

Of course, the underlying story here is that the BJP expects it might lead the next central government, after elections in April-May this year. The upstart AAP is one of its principal competitors in some parts of the country for voters turning away from the Congress party. If the resignation holds, most likely the assembly would be put in “suspended animation” under rule from the center until new elections would be held. Those elections could be concurrent with the federal election.

For background on December’s Delhi assembly election and formation of the government, see my earlier post.

Delhi AAP conducting poll about whether to form government

…and the results are in: The Aam Aadmi Party of Delhi has polled and obtained “a sense of what the people want”, which is that it form a government with the backing of the Congress Party.

In the assembly election on 8 December, the Congress Party’s 15 years of governing Delhi came to an end, with the party falling to just 8 of the 70 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the most seats (31, plus 1 for a pre-electoral ally), and the AAP, a brand new party focused mainly on anti-corruption, won 28.

With no party having a majority, the options were a post-electoral coalition or a minority government–or, failing agreements, an early election following a period of what is known as President’s Rule. (During President’s Rule, the assembly would be kept in “suspended animation”–truly a lovely political science concept!) The latter was seen as likely, after the BJP refused the day after the election to stake a claim to forming a government, and the AAP initially did likewise.

However, the AAP’s decision caused some controversy, because Congress had stated on 13 December it would support an AAP minority government “unconditionally“. The Congress observed on the 17th that most of the eighteen issues on which the AAP sought “clarification” from Congress and BJP do not require assembly support, so essentially the Congress simply said: just form an administration and do it. (In the same statement, the Congress also backtracked on the idea that support would be “unconditional”.)

It is not hard to see why the party would be torn. It campaigned against corruption and might be reluctant to depend on the very party it just defeated to remain in office. It’s a parliamentary form of government, and thus the support party could pull the plug whenever it found it convenient. On the other hand, AAP was the big winner of the election, even if it fell short of a majority, and one can’t effect much change from the opposition benches. Complicating matters further, a new election might have been held concurrently with the federal election due in April or May, 2014. With a BJP wave anticipated at that election, the AAP might not do better than it did this month.

So the AAP announced it would conduct a poll as to whether it should accept the Congress offer of support to form a government. It appears it will accept yes for an answer after all.

In the election itself, it should be noted, the BJP’s seat gain came in spite of a loss of votes. (That calls into question a coming BJP wave, of course.) In other words, in some constituencies, the AAP’s cutting into Congress’s votes resulted in the district being won by the BJP, even though the AAP presumably cut into the latter party’s vote as well. (India uses the first-past-the-post rule both in federal and sub-national elections, so correspondence between votes and seats is not guaranteed, especially with multiparty competition.)

Meanwhile, the AAP surge may have been what finally pushed both chambers of the federal parliament to pass a long-delayed bill to establish a “Lokpal”, which will be an anti-corruption ombudsman.