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Ahead of civic polls, BJP, AAP at loggerheads again

By Radhika Ramaseshan
September 11, 2020 16:30 IST
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After an apparent truce between AAP and the BJP following the Delhi polls, sparks are flying once again.

Radhika Ramaseshan reports. 

IMAGE: Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at a meeting in February 25, 2020, to discuss the riots in Delhi. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Just when it appeared that the Aam Aadmi Party-Bharatiya Janata Party equations were headed towards conciliation after the former’s victory in the Delhi polls, incipient signs of a potential confrontation are visible.

“Our differences are over issues and not personalities,” said Adesh Gupta, who was recently appointed the BJP’s Delhi unit president.

“We do not want to provoke but when the AAP challenges, we are forced to respond,” said Ramesh Bidhuri, South Delhi MP.

The first incitement came shortly after the February communal violence when the BJP sought to paint the Arvind Kejriwal government into a corner after Tahir Hussain, an AAP councillor, was charged with the murder of an Intelligence Bureau staffer, Ankit Sharma, during the clashes.

The AAP suspended Hussain and hoped the move would dampen the BJP’s offensive.

 

The Delhi government’s decision to appoint its special prosecutors to argue the violence-related cases in the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court was overturned by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal.

In the distribution of powers, unique in a quasi-state like Delhi, the police are under the LG’s jurisdiction but approval of the state government is mandated for the appointment of prosecutors.

When the high court heard a petition filed by a human rights activist, Harsh Mander, seeking directions to lodge FIRs against BJP leaders who allegedly abetted crowds to attack the minorities, Tushar Mehta, solicitor general, argued on behalf of the police and the Delhi government, claiming he had been authorised by the LG.

The state government’s standing counsel, Rahul Mehra, objected and contended the LG could not act unilaterally, except on the aid and advice of the Delhi Cabinet.

It later emerged that Satyendar Jain, Delhi home minister, had endorsed Mehta’s appointment as special public prosecutor, which Mehra then confirmed in the court.

“The AAP’s flip-flop was evident. It could not make up its mind on how to handle the riots because of the fear of polarising Hindus and losing its votes in the coming elections,” a BJP source said.

While the strife over the prosecutors’ appointment remained inconclusive, with the AAP blowing hot and cold at the LG, other disputes surfaced.

Days after 50 Muslims -- some of whom were purported “organisers” of the Shaheen Bagh sit-in that was decried by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Delhi election speeches -- joined the BJP, the AAP assailed its opponent.

Saurabh Bharadwaj, AAP spokesperson and legislator, demanded a “thorough” probe into the antecedents of the inductees and accused the BJP of having engineered the Northeast Delhi conflict by spreading disaffection among Hindus and Muslims.

Gupta answered back, alleging, “The AAP is directly connected with the riots. Its preparations began before the elections. Kejriwal, so far, has refused sanction to prosecute the rioters because he wants to protect his minority votes.”

In July, the AAP accused the BJP-dominated municipal corporations of corruption and took to the streets to agitate against the tax hikes by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation.

The supposedly cash-strapped SDMC had brought in a professional tax, imposed 1 per cent levy on property transfers, and augmented duty on commercial properties.

The AAP asked why the municipal corporations had not paid salaries to doctors and paramedics of Kasturba Gandhi and Hindu Rao hospitals during the Covid19 pandemic.

Soon enough, the BJP found a stick to beat the AAP with.

On August 20, the Delhi Police arrested two businessmen on charges of donating Rs 2 crore to Kejriwal’s party through a shell company allegedly used for money laundering and entry operations.

The episode prompted Gupta to dash off a missive to Anna Hazare, who had spearheaded an anti-corruption “crusade” against the United Progressive Alliance government in 2011.

Kejriwal was a close Hazare associate.

Hazare has since retreated into a shell but Gupta nudged him to come out of it and “tell the people of Delhi that Kejriwal was mired in corruption”.

“His probity is a sham. He’s in the business of helping businessmen turn black into white. I called on Hazare because only he can credibly demolish his protégé,” said the state BJP chief.

What do the skirmishes signify?

Stressing that a distinction must be drawn between the government and the party, an AAP functionary explained, “The AAP and the BJP have always had an acrimonious relationship. There was an attempt on the Delhi government’s part to be conciliatory towards the Centre because there was a pandemic and we needed help. But local politics kicks in because the civic elections are coming.”

Though the civic polls are scheduled in early 2022, the AAP is making efforts to break the BJP’s long stranglehold over the three bodies.

“The BJP used these to create entrenched networks of patronage,” said the AAP source.

On the other hand, the BJP believes Kejriwal’s “larger ambitions” have got rekindled.

“He had immersed himself in Delhi after failing to make a mark outside. But now he senses there is a space that’s being emptied by the Congress and likely to be filled by regional entities. That’s why the AAP is making a noise about the Delhi riots to revive the secular card,” a source said.

Reconcilement over, are the sparks about to fly again?

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Radhika Ramaseshan in New Delhi
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