News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay  » News » If Kejriwal's Government Is Dismissed...

If Kejriwal's Government Is Dismissed...

April 09, 2024 10:20 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

'Kejriwal could have easily deputed someone to step in as chief minister, but being the authoritative and self-centered personality that he is, he chose not to do it.'

'If the AAP loses Delhi, where it has a huge majority, the only one to blame would be Kejriwal,' asserts Ramesh Menon.

IMAGE: An Aam Aadmi Party supporter at the INDIA rally in Arvind Kejriwal's support at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, March 31, 2024. Photograph: Shrikant Singh/ANI Photo

Politics is full of ironies.

The Bharatiya Janata Party rode to power in 2014 using Arvind Kejriwal's India Against Corruption movement, which electrified the country. Today, the BJP is rubbing its hands in glee as Kejriwal has been jailed on corruption charges.

The BJP, along with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and other affiliates like the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had put all its might into ensuring that the India Against Corruption movement caught the imagination of the country.

It wanted to show the country that the Congress government did not deserve another stint in power and that the electorate wanted change. It ignited hope for a corruption-free India where governance could be clean and the common man could breathe easily.

Today, the Narendra Modi-led BJP is baying for Kejriwal's political demise, as he is seen as a challenger who has the potential to get bigger and bigger.

Ten years ago, no one would have imagined that Kejriwal would be in Tihar jail with hardened criminals battling a charge by the Enforcement Directorate that his party had taken kickbacks from liquor barons after changing Delhi's liquor policy, and the proceeds amounting to around Rs 600 crore (Rs 6 billion) were used to finance the Punjab and Goa state elections.

The visionary and inspiring leader that Kejriwal was just ten years ago is today dented.

Apart from the liquor case, the CBI is probing what it calls irregularities in spending Rs 45 crore (Rs 450 million) to renovate the chief minister's residence. This charge, if proved, will not sit well with the electorate that otherwise adores him. He had promised a life of austerity before he became the chief minister.

IMAGE: Delhi Minister and AAP leader Atishi addresses a press conference over Arvind Kejriwal's arrest at the party headquarters in New Delhi, April 2, 2024. Photograph: Mohd Zakir/ANI Photo

After six months in jail, AAP MP Sanjay Singh, who was accused in the excise policy case, was granted bail by the Supreme Court. The court said there was no evidence produced by the Enforcement Directorate against Singh when the ED had charged that Rs 2 crore (Rs 20 million) had changed hands at his residence. The court also said that there was no money trail detected.

Former Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia is in jail for the last 11 months in the liquor policy case. He told a Delhi court that central agencies have not been able to prove that any money reached him and he should be released on bail.

Interestingly, the Enforcement Directorate did not oppose the bail.

Former health minister Satyendra Jain is also in jail on money laundering charges.

Education Minister Atishi, at a stunning press conference, alleged that she was approached by the BJP and other AAP leaders like Saurabh Bharadwaj to join the BJP to save their political careers or soon face arrest.

The BJP has denied this, but the fact is that other Opposition leaders who had corruption and other charges against them like Ajit Pawar, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Mukul Roy, Narayan Rane, Praful Patel, Digambar Kamat, and many others, were cleared of the charges soon after they joined the BJP. This made Opposition leaders label the BJP as a 'washing machine' that 'cleaned' corrupt leaders.

IMAGE: Police personnel escort Arvind Kejriwal as he leaves the court after a hearing in New Delhi, March 28, 2024. Photograph: Sharafat Ali/Reuters

Since Modi took over as prime minister in 2014, 25 politicians are facing action from central agencies for alleged corruption. Of them, 23 crossed over to the BJP and got a reprieve.

Kejriwal is reportedly running the Delhi government from jail but cannot do that for long as the jail manual will not permit it.

As he has been arrested under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, it is highly unlikely that he would be granted bail, and like Sisodia and the others, he could be in jail for a long time.

This gives the Modi government a handle to impose President's Rule, arguing that there is a Constitutional crisis without a head of the Delhi government.

IMAGE: Arvind Kejriwal during celebrations at the AAP headquarters in New Delhi, February 11, 2020, after the party won a huge majority in the Delhi assembly elections. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

"Constitutionally and legally, Kejriwal is not duty bound to resign just because he has been jailed as he has not been convicted of any crime. Even the charge sheet has not been filed," Constitutional lawyer Devender Singh told me.

"However, the President can remove the Delhi chief minister only if she feels that there is a grave apprehension of failure of the government not being run by the provisions of the Constitution. This decision would be subject to judicial review."

Kejriwal could have easily deputed someone to step in as chief minister, but being the authoritative and self-centered personality that he is, he chose not to do it. If the AAP loses Delhi, where it has a huge majority, the only one to blame would be Kejriwal.

In the last assembly elections in 2020, APP won 62 of the 70 seats. The Congress, which had ruled Delhi for decades, did not win a single seat. The BJP won just win eight seats with small margins.

This is despite every Cabinet minister and the prime minister hitting the roads during the election campaign to win the prestigious city-state.

AAP won as its government had done excellent work in revamping all the government schools, hospital care, mohalla clinics for the poor, cheap electricity and water, and generally, good governance.

IMAGE: AAP supporters at the INDIA rally to protest Arvind Kejriwal's arrest at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, March 31, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Will AAP win again in 2025? This is the question political analysts are asking as there is a cloud over the leader and the party, with the Enforcement Directorate claiming that bribes of around Rs 600 crore were paid by liquor barons to the party, which they used to fight the Punjab and Goa state elections.

In 2021, the AAP government in Delhi rolled out a new excise policy suggesting that it would end black marketing of liquor and the state would benefit by Rs 9,500 crore (Rs 95 billion).

In 2022, Delhi's then chief secretary Naresh Kumar wrote to Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena that the AAP government had provided undue benefits to liquor vend licensees, causing losses to the tune of over Rs 580 crore (Rs 5.8 billion).

The CBI followed up with an investigation. The AAP government scrapped the excise policy and reverted to the old one, admitting that the government suffered a monthly revenue loss of over Rs 193 crore (Rs 1.93 billion).

The Enforcement Directorate filed a money laundering case alleging that the AAP government had hiked the profit margin for wholesalers to 12 percent, hoping to get a kickback of six percent, causing a loss of Rs 2,873 crore (Rs 28.73 billion).

After his arrest, the ED said that Kejriwal was the 'kingpin' of the scam.

The ED may use the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act to demand that AAP's assets be attached or confiscated. It could do this by saying that Kejriwal is vicariously liable for the money laundering case. Vicarious liability is a legal principle that holds a person responsible for the actions of others.

IMAGE: AAP National Convener Arvind Kejriwal's wife Sunita Kejriwal, former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren's wife Kalpana Soren, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) Chief Uddhav Thackeray, Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai, Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and others during the INDIA alliance rally in New Delhi, March 31, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The fact that Kejriwal is AAP's convenor would be used to argue that he knew of the use of laundered money in election campaigns.

A survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies indicated that 30 percent of AAP voters said they would not have voted for the party if Kejriwal was not the chief minister. If he continues in jail, there will be an impact on the Lok Sabha election and the state assembly elections in 2025.

AAP workers hope that the arrest will help them ride a sympathy wave. It all depends on whether the charges stick or are seen as a vendetta by voters.

Pradeep, a taxi driver in the capital, says that people would give a fitting reply to the BJP for not allowing AAP to function and also arresting the chief minister before elections so that he cannot campaign.

In closed-door meetings, the BJP has underlined that the biggest threat to it is not from the Congress, but from the AAP, which has the potential to make inroads to emerge as a challenger, as it did in Delhi and Punjab. Even in the BJP fortress of Gujarat, AAP garnered a vote share of 12 percent.

The Centre has used Delhi's lieutenant governor in the last nine years to interfere in the AAP government's programmes and policies. Now even AAP's Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has complained about how interference by Governor Banwarilal Purohit is affecting his government.

When the Supreme Court last year declared that the state government in Delhi had supremacy over the administrative services, the central government quickly got the law amended and restored control over the bureaucracy to the centre.

This paralysed the workings of Kejriwal and his government to a great extent, as bureaucrats would follow dictates from the Centre and not from him.

With Kejriwal missing from the election campaign, AAP will be affected, as he is the face of the party and has always been the main campaigner drawing crowds.

This is what the BJP wants.

Opposition leaders from various parties and even his opponents have condemned the arrest on the eve of elections, calling it an attack on democracy.

The unprecedented arrest captured headlines day after day, helping the electoral bonds scandal fade away in the public mind.

IMAGE: Sunita Kejriwal speaks to the media, April 1, 2024, after the Rouse Avenue Court sent her husband to judicial custody till April 15. Photograph: ANI Photo

Kejriwal did not cultivate a second line of leadership. Many others who could have by now emerged as strong leaders like Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh and Kiran Bedi, all quit not being able to tolerate his autocratic ways.

AAP's press conferences are being addressed by Sunita, Kejriwal's wife. If he wants to foist her as the chief minister, it will show how AAP is like any other party. There are educated vocal leaders with a clean image like Atishi, Delhi's education minister.

APP leaders have told Sunita that they want Kejriwal to continue working from jail.

Former AAP leader Ashutosh, who has gotten back to journalism, says that Kejriwal forgot why he got into politics and started making compromises that the system forces you to make to stay in power and capture more power.

The BJP is working on a game plan to target Kejriwal and AAP in the months to come in the run-up to the assembly elections. It desperately wants to win Delhi.

It plans to keep the Delhi liquor licence scam alive. Will Kejriwal, who emerged as someone in the Opposition who can fight Modi, come out unscathed?

Ramesh Menon, an award-winning journalist, educator, documentary filmmaker, and corporate trainer, is the author of Modi Demystified: The Making of a Prime Minister.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024