Former President K.R. Narayanan was widely praised for his unwavering commitment to constitutional morality throughout his tenure. As the President of India, he remained faithful to the Constitution and its moral underpinnings, even during times of political turbulence. Despite the dissolution of two Lok Sabha sessions, Narayanan, a fearless constitutionalist, steadfastly adhered to the principles laid out within the four corners of the Constitution. His unwavering dedication to constitutional morality guided him as he questioned, deviated, or tactfully navigated alternative courses of action. The leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, who held the position of Prime Minister during Narayanan’s presidency, further reinforced the importance of constitutional morality in Indian politics. Although Vajpayee hailed from a different partisan background than Narayanan, he shared a similar commitment to upholding the principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Indian politics greatly benefited from leaders who prioritized constitutional morality over mere legality. However, in the ongoing power struggle between the Lieutenant Governor (LG) and Chief Minister (CM) of Delhi, it is evident that the same tensions and fundamental questions of power segregation persist. The issue of control over Delhi and the delineation of power between the elected government and the LG has been a recurring point of contention. The heart of the matter revolves around who has the authority to control Delhi. The recent Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, clarified the powers of the LG, stating that they can exercise authority only in three areas: public order, police, and land. The Bench specifically highlighted the issue of “services,” affirming that decisions regarding services fall within the purview of the Government of National Capital Territory Delhi (GNCTD). This clarification should have put an end to the dispute, given that it came from the highest judicial authority responsible for interpreting the Constitution. However, the current political climate seems to favor circumventing constitutional morality in favour of a “might-is-right” approach.
A week after the Supreme Court’s judgement, the President of India passed an Ordinance titled the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Ordinance, which grants overriding powers to the Delhi LG in matters concerning the transfer, posting, and control of officers in Delhi. While the ordinance includes the provision for a National Capital Civil Service Authority, which involves the participation of the Delhi CM, chief secretary, and principal home secretary, the final decision-making authority lies with the LG. Notably, in the event of a difference of opinion, the LG’s decision is deemed final. The Central government’s response to the Supreme Court’s judgment was alarmingly swift, deviating from the typically slow pace of legislative processes. This response reflects not necessarily efficient governance but, perhaps, a pursuit of one-upmanship and a disregard for the constitutional morality that has historically been upheld regardless of partisan affiliations. The absence of towering figures like K.R. Narayanan and Atal Behari Vajpayee in today’s political landscape is deeply consequential. These leaders embodied the conscience of constitutional morality and embraced opposing viewpoints with dignity, acting in line with the spirit of India’s civilisational values and the principles of the world’s largest democracy. Unfortunately, the current absence of such statesmen, coupled with a decline in the commitment to constitutional morality, raises concerns about the state of Indian democracy. International organizations like the V-Dem Institute, Freedom House, and the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance have all expressed apprehension about the diminishing institutions of checks and balances and the erosion of democratic principles.