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AAP under Scrutiny: Delving into Poetic Justice

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
08 Apr 2024

I have never understood the Aam Aadmi Party and its chief, Arvind Kejriwal. They defy the conventional norms of a political party and its leader. It was birthed by the 2011 anti-corruption movement launched by Anna Hazare, whose single-point demand was setting up Lok Pal as a panacea for all the ills plaguing the country.

For the first time ever, claims were made about the presumptive loss of lakhs of crores of rupees the nation suffered on account of the allocation of 2G spectrum and coal fields. You would laugh if I claimed that I suffered a presumptive loss of hundreds of crores of rupees because I did not choose to be a lawyer specialising in arbitration.

But the point is that Anna Hazare's hunger strike galvanised the youth and pitted them against the Manmohan Singh government. The agitation had two beneficiaries: Narendra Modi at the national level and Kejriwal at the state level. It is a different matter that Modi was never a votary of the Lok Pal, and Kejriwal was a clueless, though ambitious, person.

Kejriwal's credibility was questioned when the UPA government demanded Rs 9 lakh to relieve him of his duties as an Indian Revenue Service officer to join politics. He was less than honest when he said he had taken leave without pay for two years when he was contractually obliged to serve the government for at least three years. He finally cleared the dues.

It was not a good beginning for a crusader against corruption. I checked the party's official website to find out what distinguishes AAP from other parties. "As a political successor of the 2011 anti-corruption movement, the commitment to end corruption from politics and government forms an integral part of the party's values and its reason for existence. Under no circumstance will the party compromise its position on the issue of corruption".

The irony is that the party and its governments in Delhi and Punjab are facing an existential crisis mainly on account of corruption. Next month, former AAP minister Satyendar Jain will complete two years in jail. It is now more than one year since former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia was arrested. Kejriwal, too, does not have much hope of an early release from jail.

It would be harsh and illogical to claim that all of them are corrupt, as the Enforcement Directorate has not been able to produce any clinching evidence in the court so far. That was precisely why Sanjay Singh, the party's Rajya Sabha MP, was released on bail. He, too, had to be behind bars for six months. His release was possible because the ED did not object to it.

Had the Enforcement Directorate been efficient, it would have started the trial by now. However, there is no indication that it would be able to complete the investigation in the foreseeable future. Two more names of AAP ministers have come up on the ED radar, and this could lead to more arrests and further delays in the trial.

They are all being tried under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The reason why they are not able to get bail, despite prominent lawyers holding their brief, is because the Modi government has turned the Anglo-Saxon principle that every accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty on its head.

Under the Act, the accused are presumed to be guilty until they are able to prove their innocence. The "guilty" cannot claim mercy and bail becomes a distant dream. Proving innocence, too, becomes difficult when the charges against them are not even presented. Only insinuations that Kejriwal was the "kingpin" of the excise policy scam have been made, not proved.

In the instant case, the AAP leaders are believed to have received money from a business group in the South as a quid pro quo for drafting the new excise policy. The money was allegedly used for elections in Goa. Let's assume that the Enforcement Directorate has all the evidence to convince the court and punish Kejriwal and Co. The case arose from the new Excise Policy 2021-22, introduced in November 2021. "It sought to revolutionise the liquor retail landscape in the capital. Its objectives were to maximise revenue, combat the sale of counterfeit alcohol, and enhance the consumer experience". Anyway, the policy had to be scrapped following complaints of the government having received kickbacks.

The Southern Group is claimed to have paid Rs 100 crore to the AAP leaders. Despite so many raids at so many places, no money has been recovered. This was exactly the ground on which Sanjay Singh was released on bail. There is one P. Sarath Reddy, an accused turned approver in the liquor policy case. His statement is the "clinching evidence" against AAP.

Now, think of it. Sarath Reddy is the son of Aurobindo Pharma founder PV Ram Prasad Reddy. The electoral bond details the State Bank of India was forced to release suggest that between April 2021 and November 2023, Aurobindo Pharma purchased bonds worth Rs 52 crore. Most of the money had gone to the BJP.

Altogether, the BJP received Rs 6,060 crore through the bond scheme. The largest contributor was Lottery King Santiago Martin, who bought bonds worth Rs 1368 crore. His wife once admitted that his profit included lottery prizes that were never claimed because those tickets were never sold. Reports claim that the purchasers of the bonds did so voluntarily.
Far from that, many companies bought bonds worth crores of rupees immediately after they were raided by income tax and other government agencies. That is why it is mentioned that the electoral bonds were actually extortion bonds. Most of the donors were compelled to donate, not out of any love for the BJP but out of fear of endlessly counting the bars in a jail.

What greater wrong has Kejriwal committed than BJP chief JP Nadda? Will the Enforcement Directorate be able to take any action against the BJP which is thriving on electoral bonds, described as the world's worst scam? It is on this ground that Kejriwal & Co. deserve public sympathy. Not because they are intrinsically incorruptible!

AAP is one party that has sought to depoliticise the polity. Does anyone know the party's stand on key political issues? When women occupied a road to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Shaheen Bagh, Kejriwal said he would have evicted them in no time if the police were under him. For once, I thanked God that he was a glorified "Mayor-like official" rather than a full-fledged Chief Minister.

Like me, Kejriwal is also against the CAA. His reasons, however, are different from mine. I oppose it because the law singles out Muslims. He opposes it because he does not want any refugees to get citizenship. He wants the borders to be sealed so that no Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh enters the country. Under the CAA, all non-Muslims who reached India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan before December 31, 2014, are eligible for citizenship. Kejriwal would rather have them thrown out of the country.

He blames the BJP government for the Rohingyas who are in Delhi. I wish he had visited one of the refugee camps where they stay in Delhi to realise their pathetic condition. Such thoughts do not weigh on him. Given a choice, he would even stop the influx of people from other states into Delhi, though he himself came from Bhiwani in Haryana.

When riots occurred in Delhi in 2020, I expected him to rush to the area to restore normalcy. Jawaharlal Nehru risked his life when he went to the spot where some people had started attacking the Muslim refugees. He used his moral right to wave his walking stick against them and bring the situation under control. Mahatma Gandhi went to Noakhali in 1946 to bring peace between Muslims and Hindus.

In contrast, Kejriwal went to the Gandhi Memorial at Raj Ghat to pray. Why he chose Gandhi is unknown. Not long after his prayer, he removed Gandhi's picture from his office. Instead of Gandhi, he displays pictures of Dr B R Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh at his office. By the way, the Sangh Parivar is also not enamoured of Gandhi and his ism, which they know is rooted in the Biblical worldview.

Ideologically, AAP is closer to the BJP than any other party. For instance, one of the core demands of the party is full statehood for Delhi. At present, land and law and order in Delhi are directly dealt with by the Central government. So when Home Minister Amit Shah sprang a surprise on the nation by abolishing Article 370 of the Constitution and splitting Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories directly administered by the Centre, Kejriwal was quick to welcome it.

After the Assembly elections in which the BJP won only three seats and the AAP 67 out of 70, he went to the Hanuman temple near Rajiv Chowk to thank the deity. That could be considered a measure of his piety, but what about him asking his MLAs to recite Hanuman Chalisa in their constituencies soon after the victory in 2020?

Worse, he built a replica of the temple at Ayodhya in Delhi to facilitate the prayer of his ministerial and legislative colleagues. It cost the state exchequer a considerable sum of money. One of his electoral promises was to send people on pilgrimage to religious centres. He sent many groups to Ayodhya. He was also supposed to send people to the Catholic pilgrimage centre at Velankanni. I do not know whether such a trip was organised.

An educated leader like Kejriwal should have known that sending people on pilgrimage is not the job of a government. Incidentally, soon after his arrest, he issued a statement in which he mentioned the BJP members as his brethren. It does not stand to reason why he should call them his brethren when they would like to see him packing from the state secretariat.

It is not the first time a chief minister had to go to jail. Lalu Prasad Yadav resigned when it became apparent that he would be arrested in the fodder scam case, which was a figment of the imagination of some of his influential detractors. Recently, Hemant Soren in Jharkhand resigned when the Enforcement Directorate questioned him.

Legally, Kejriwal has not committed any crime. At least no charge has been proved against him so far. That is why the court has refused to answer whether he should resign as Chief Minister. However, there is a thing called morality. It demands that he resign as chief minister.

Kejriwal will not lose anything if he resigns. As chief minister he cannot hold meetings of the Cabinet. He can meet officials and colleagues only as per the jail manual. He will also not be given access to official papers. So, the best course of action for him will be to resign honourably.

The resignation would not mean that he accepts guilt. The system allows him to prove his innocence. It is a different matter that Delhi University professor GN Saibaba, who is a physically disabled person, had to remain in jail for a decade to prove his innocence! That is how the law has been twisted like crooked timber.

What are the options for Kejriwal? Minister Atishi Singh could have kept the chair warm for him. Now that her name also figures in the case, it would be risky to have her at the helm. One of the "core principles" of the party is its opposition to politics of dynasty. It is clearly mentioned in the party Constitution.

That makes it impossible for Kejriwal to imitate Lalu Yadav and install his wife as his successor! As Kejriwal and his former ministerial colleagues populate Delhi's Tihar Jail, Dr Manmohan Singh would not even remember that they were the ones who called him "corrupt" and turned the people against him. Is that poetic justice?

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