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COLLISION COURSE

Arvind Kejriwal has been on a rollercoaster ride dealing with the Modi government and trying to create a working relationship with the LG. He has mellowed down, apologised, politically matured but the struggle continues…

Arvind Kejriwal was on a collision course with the central government from the day he took office as Delhi Chief Minister. It was a mandate for change, he won 67 out of 70 seats. He literally wiped out the two national parties — Congress was decimated, whereas BJP barely managed to retain three seats.

He has his own ideas of ‘Swaraj’—to decentralise decision making, greater involvement of the people, and taking government to grassroots. He was in no mood to budge from his agenda, for he thought he had the historic mandate.

But then there was a complication, a significant one. Delhi is not a state per se, it’s a union territory with a legislature. Delhi Police, for instance, is not under the Delhi government, nor is Delhi Development Authority. Therefore, he was supposed to create a cordial working relationship with the central government, particularly with PM Narendra Modi. Soon after being elected as the CM, Kejriwal, accompanied by his deputy Manish Sisodia, called upon Modi and told him, “Let’s work together to make Delhi better.”

But soon Kejriwal realised the hard way that a Delhi CM has less power, whereas the lieutenant governor (LG) has more powers compared to their respective offices in other states.

1.WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION: One of the main planks of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was war against corruption. Kejriwal activated a defunct government department called the Anti-Corruption Bureau or ACB. In his first stint as CM for 49 days, he ordered an FIR against two former petroleum ministers and Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani in a natural gas case. When he became the CM for the second time, one of the first turf wars was between him and the then LG Najeeb Jung. It was triggered by the appointment of Delhi police joint commissioner MK Meena as head of the ACB in June 2015 in the place of additional commissioner of police SS Yadav, who was handpicked by Kejriwal a month before. And since then, Meena has initiated many investigations against some of Kejriwal’s cabinet colleagues for alleged acts of impropriety. Nothing came out of them.

In the meantime, the home ministry issued a notification and barred ACB from pursuing any case pertaining to officials of the central government. Thus, the corruption plank was effectively scuttled.

2.ABUSING THE PRIME MINISTER: As the year progressed, the turf war between Kejriwal and Jung turned uglier. Kejriwal continued to speak his mind openly and took on Modi directly. In December 2015, Kejriwal’s office was raided by the CBI after registering a case against Rajendra Kumar, his principal secretary, on allegations of abusing his official position by “favouring a particular firm in the last few years in getting tenders from Delhi government departments” many years ago. Kejriwal accused the Modi government of resorting to vendetta politics, and famously tweeted, “CBI raids my office…When Modi could not handle me politically, he resorts to this cowardice. Modi is a coward and psychopath.”

3.DELHI HIGH COURT RULES LG IS THE BOSS: In August 2016, the Delhi High Court asserted, based on reading of Article 239 and Article 239AA of the Constitution that Delhi continues to be a Union Territory under the administrative control of the LG. In matters in which Assembly can make laws, the Ministry’s decisions should be communicated to LG and should be implemented only if LG agrees. And, therefore, Delhi Government’s decisions to probe alleged irregularities in the functioning DDCA and CNG fitness scam was deemed illegal as these orders were issued without seeking LG’s consent, so was the policy directions to electricity regulatory commission for compensation to people for disruption in power supply. This judgement by Delhi High Court brought instant relief to certain powerful people, curbing Kejriwal’s powers manifold.

4.THE NEW LG DELAYS DECISIONS: Anil Baijal, former union home secretary and member of the influential Vivekananda International Foundation, took charge as the new LG in December 2016. It was a relief after constant bickering between his predecessor and the CM. He was deft at handling Kejriwal. He wouldn’t react and did do his bit. The turf war between ‘the elected and the non-elected’ continued, but tempers were lower. The white paper on the performance of the LG prepared by Kejriwal government and tabled in the state Assembly, early in April, alleges that the LG was slow in discharging his duties. As a result, out of the 32 policy initiatives sent to the LG for approval since he took charge, only 15 were approved. And the average delay in approving projects is 157 days or about five months. Some of the key schemes affected are higher education scheme—402 days delay and Mohalla clinics in schools—146 days delay. Some of the other key initiatives still await approval, like the one proposed to establish the Delhi Healthcare Corporation, a public limited company to provide clinical, non-clinical, administrative and support services.

5.DEBACLE IN THE LOCAL ELECTIONS: BJP gave a deadly blow to the AAP in the three civic bodies elections in May 2017, retaining control for the third consecutive time. In the North MCD, the BJP won 64 wards, AAP 21 and Congress 15. In the south, the BJP won 70, AAP 16 and 12 went to the Congress; in east Delhi, 47 went to BJP, 11 to AAP and three to the Congress. Kejriwal acknowledged, “We made mistakes but we will introspect and course correct. Time to go back to drawing board. To not evolve will be silly.” One of the things he did, or stopped doing after local elections, is the verbal attack on the prime minister.

6.THE APOLOGY SPREE: When one can’t do much about being cornered politically, the only resort is to tongue-lash. There are about 30 defamation cases pending against Kejriwal in various courts of the country, mostly by his political contemporaries. Many of them filed criminal defamation cases against him, most talked about was by the finance minister Arun Jaitley. He apologised to all of them. It was like paying a karmic debt and many political commentators, even his detractors privately were of the view, Kejriwal is maturing as a politician. It’s pragmatic not to fight a losing battle.

7.SACKING OF MLAs AND ADVISORs: Ever since Kejriwal took office, he has had strained relations with Delhi Police. In the first two years of office, Delhi police arrested 13 AAP MLAs for various offenses ranging from forgery, molestation, kidnapping or rioting. Most of the MLAs were let off on bail as soon as the matter reached court, but for two notable cases. The court pulled up the Delhi Police several times for their shoddy investigation that lead to arrest of legislators. Then, 20 MLAs of AAP were disqualified for holding ‘office of profit’ on January 19 this year by the outgoing chief election commissioner, Achal Kumar Joti— who was also Gujarat’s chief secretary when Modi was the state CM—just a week before he was to retire. In a major embarrassment to the Election Commission, the Delhi High Court declared the disqualification of 20 MLAs ‘bad in law’ and a violation of ‘natural justice’ as no oral hearing was given to them by the commission before disqualifying them.

Before the dust could settle in this matter, earlier this month, nine of the advisors to various ministers of Delhi government, including Atishi Marlena who was spearheading educational reforms in Delhi, were dismissed by LG on the objection of the Home ministry, as “no prior approval of the Central government has been taken for creation of said posts.”

8.ASSUALT ON THE CHIEF SECRETARY: On February 19, the Delhi chief secretary, Anshu Prakash, was allegedly assaulted by two AAP MLAs when he was attending a mid-night emergency meeting at the residence of the CM. The bureaucracy has since revolted and the Delhi government functions merely on written communications. After searching Kejriwal’s residence, the police claims there were discrepancies in the timing of CCTV footage. Kejriwal’s key aide Bibhav Kumar was questioned for three hours by Delhi Police a few days ago. AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj while assuring the ongoing full cooperation with the probe, stressed, “on the same day, our minister was manhandled and his staff assaulted in full view of CCTV cameras within the Secretariat….. video evidence of the chief secretary instigating them…but probe on that front has been lax.” Insiders in the party claim that Delhi Police is trying to implicate Kejriwal directly in the assault case. If Delhi Police manages to do that, Kejriwal’s job will be in serious jeopardy.

For Kejriwal, the last three years as the CM of Delhi, have been a
roller coaster ride. He seems to cut a sorry figure, but hasn’t given up, not yet.