As BJP Makes Fresh Attempt to Win MCD War, Arvind Kejriwal Writes to L-G

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party may have lost the battle for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), but it could still end up winning the war. As the race for zonal council chairpersons and standing committee head heats up, all eyes are on the 10 aldermen appointed by Lieutenant Governor V.K. Saxena on Wednesday (January 4). These aldermen will vote in the crucial elections to the standing committee.

On January 5, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that he wrote to the Lieutenant Governor on the “illegal and unconstitutional” manner in which the appointments were made.

Wrote a letter to Hon’ble LG against the illegal and unconstitutional manner in which notification on aldermen has been done.

— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 5, 2023

Kejriwal has called the move “blatantly unconstitutional, [and] a colourable exercise of power, apart from constituting a fraud on the constitution.”

The nomination of these members, writes Kejriwal, is an attempt to influence the process of elections to the Standing Committee of the Municipal Corporation.

A majority of the aldermen are from three out of 12 MCD zones where the Aam Aadmi Party has a slender margin. The worry in the AAP camp is the aldermen will enable the BJP to win the zonal councils, which will then appoint the all-powerful standing committee head. If the BJP manages to win the standing committee, it will effectively control the MCD. The standing committee holds the purse strings of the MCD and clears all policy decisions before they are voted upon in the House. Together with the MCD commissioner, an IAS officer appointed by the Union government, the standing committee chairperson runs the House. The mayor is more of a figurehead in the existing set up.

Subhash Arya, senior BJP leader in the MCD, says,“We will have 10 candidates (in the standing committee) as we are winning a majority zones. We will also be winning the post of standing committee chairman. So we will be controlling the MCD.” He refused to divulge how the numbers would add up in zones where they fall short of a majority.

This exercise comes ahead of the January 6 meeting of the MCD House, where the oath of office will be administered to the 250 councillors and elections held for the posts of mayor, deputy mayor and six members of the standing committee.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows AAP has a majority in five zones and the BJP in four. In the Narela, Central and Civil Lines zones, the BJP has narrowed the gap with the aldermen. For instance, in Narela, the AAP had a clear majority of 10 councillors and the BJP had six, including an Independent councillor who joined the BJP earlier this week. The LG has appointed four aldermen here.

In the Central zone too, the AAP has 12 members, the BJP six and is closer to the majority with two aldermen. “In Civil Lines zone, we have six councillors, the AAP has nine and the LG has appointed four aldermen. We will easily win here,” said Arya. He refused to share how the numbers will work out in the other two zones.

Aldermen have voting rights only in the zones. In other words, their vote helps decides who the zonal chairperson will be. The scales are tilted, if Arya is to be believed, seven to five with advantage BJP.

Meanwhile, in a late night move and after some embarrassment, the LG changed the names of two aldermen. It was pointed out that the addresses they claimed to be residing in did not belong to them. The new aldermen too are from the Narela and Central zones.

The next big election that matters in the MCD is of standing committee chairperson. This committee comprises 12 members from the various zones and six members from the MCD House. On January 6, these six members will be appointed. As of now, both the BJP and AAP are evenly poised to win three members each.

Interestingly, the Congress with its paltry nine councillors is being wooed intensely by both the BJP and the AAP. Because if the Congress decides to boycott the election, there is a slim possibility of the AAP getting an additional member to the standing committee. If the Congress chooses to contest, it could end up helping the BJP win the standing committee and thus the MCD.

Thirty-five to 37 members are required to elect one member of the standing committee. AAP is offering to share its ‘spillover’ with the Congress to keep the BJP at bay. The Congress is yet to make up its mind.

The 250 members in the House will be joined in the voting by 14 MLAs and 10 MPs, including three Rajya Sabha MPs.  “Which is why the AAP has filled forms for four standing committee members and the BJP three. And which is why the AAP is offering their second preference votes to the Congress for that one extra vote,” say MCD insiders.

Says a former Congress councillor, “Even if the AAP manages four members in the House and five from the zonal councils, the numbers don’t stack up for them. But for the BJP with the appointment of the aldermen, the numbers have evened out. They now have seven zonal councils and even if they get three members from the House they will be in a position to elect the standing committee chairperson. The AAP is talking to us and suggesting various formulas.”

Which is why AAP MLA Atishi said the LG has not followed due process. She said he had asked the MCD commissioner to directly send the names of aldermen to him, bypassing the Delhi government. “I urge the BJP to stop these dirty tricks. All the 10 aldermen are BJP workers. These aldermen will be part of different committees and impede the work of the civic body. The BJP should respect the people’s mandate of giving AAP the chance to run the MCD,” Atishi added.

Says Arya, “We learnt this from the AAP. In 2012 they too appointed six members to the Narela ward and harassed us. Now it’s our turn to harass them.”

Congress’s Delhi in charge Shaktisinh Gohil says, “Since I am busy with the Bharat Jodo Yatra, I have asked our northeast in charge, Dr Ajay Kumar, and AICC secretary B.P. Singh to talk to our councillors and decide. We will take a call soon.”

The MCD is one of the largest civic bodies in the world, covering a population of 1.1 crore people.

Note: This article has been updated with news on Kejriwal’s tweet.