Arvind Kejriwal, once India’s knight in shining armour against corruption, has come a full circle. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief rose to power riding a wave of support from the suffering underclass, who was at the receiving end of a systemic, endemic corruption and, in Kejriwal, had seen a man willing to clean up the system. In an ironic twist, the Delhi chief minister now finds himself embroiled in a corruption scandal. A day after English news channel Times Now made some shocking revelations against Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, a full blown controversy over the issue has erupted now. This, however, doesn’t augur well for Kejriwal’s party, which is hoping, and working hard to win the upcoming MCD elections in Delhi.
The news channel revealed that Kejriwal had sought to pay the charges of his “personal” legal battle against Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley from the taxpayers’ money. The Delhi CM is facing a number of defamation cases against many personalities. The most famous case among all is his legal battle against Jaitley. Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani is representing Kejriwal in the court. The controversy came to the fore when Anil Baijal, Delhi LG, reportedly sought Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar’s advice in clearing bills of Ram Jethmalani, who has been fighting for AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal in a defamation case against Arun Jaitley in a city court. In this regard, Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia had sent a note to the Delhi law department in December to release the appearance fee of Jethmalani. However, the department said that LG’s permission was necessary for clearing the bills. The law department said that the amount of pending dues to Jethmalani was around Rs 3 crore. The law department had also said why the Delhi government should not pay the bills when the case was not related to administration of the city. According to sources, the Delhi LG asked Ranjit Kumar, seeking his advice on whether the payment should be paid or not. Jethmalani had reportedly sent bills for Rs 1 crore in retainership and Rs 22 lakh for each appearance in the court to Kejriwal.
As per a report in The Times of India, the Delhi government wasn’t a party in the case that Jaitley had filed against Kejriwal and AAP leaders Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chadha and Deepak Bajpayee in 2015, claiming that these individuals made “false and defamatory” statements in the case involving the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), thereby harming his reputation.
The Union finance minister had sought Rs 10 crore in damages from the AAP leaders. What emerges from Delhi government’s handling of the issue is that they were all along aware of the impropriety involved and did everything possible to conjure up an alibi for the blatantly questionable act of using public funds to meet Kejriwal’s legal expenses in a case where the defendant was appearing in his personal capacity. This wasn’t a dispute between the Centre and the state or the Union minister and the Delhi government.
In its report, the paper quoted a legal analyst as saying that both parties (Jaitley and Kejriwal) were fighting the case in their personal capacities and if Kejriwal had wanted to turn it into a matter involving the Delhi CM, he should have invoked Section 80 of the Civil Procedure Code.
The trial, which is now in the cross-examination state, will commence on 20 May. If the media reports are to be believed then it emerges that Jethmalani’s office raised a bill of Rs 1 crore as retainership fees on 1 December, 2016 and intimated the client (Kejriwal) that an additional Rs 22 lakh will be charged per appearance. Documents to this effect are available in public domain. The bill stands at a whopping Rs 3.42 crore. The final figure may be up for substantial upward revision, not even taking into consideration the Rs 10 crore that Jaitley has demanded in damages, should the case be settled in his favour. Interestingly, Jethmalani’s move declaring that he is ready to forego his fees came only after media highlighted the anomaly.
A report by the same newspaper says Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia was especially keen that the file, which sought to clear the payment for Kejriwal’s legal expenses through the exchequer, “need not be sent to the LG for his approval” and instead “should be sent to the concerned administrative department, the general administrative department (GAD) which should give its compliance at the earliest, ‘preferably within a day’.”
Quoting government notings, the report says the file was then cleared in the same day (21 December) and subsequently approved by minister in-charge of GAD Gopal Rai on 27 February.
The AAP, feeling a major embarrassment and loss of face, has fallen back on its time-tested scoot-and-shoot strategy by launching ad hominem attacks on Arun Jaitley through social media. This is unlikely to cut much ice.
Whether or not Jethmalani fights pro bono isn’t the point. Kejriwal is a habitual offender. He has been repeatedly accused of using public funds for self-promotion in contravention of Supreme Court guidelines. It recently invited censure from the Comptroller and Auditor General for spending Rs 29 crore in releasing advertisements outside Delhi.
A few days ago, Delhi LG directed AAP to settle the bill for ad spends from party coffers after it emerged that the Delhi government has spent Rs 97 crore in an ad blitzkrieg promoting Kejriwal ahead of MCD polls.
Not just that, in July 2015, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) forwarded a charge of corruption against Rajendra Kumar, Kejriwal’s principal secretary, to the CBI.
It is alleged that Kumar had benefitted one company in the tender process for purchasing of computers. Kumar is also alleged to have formed benami companies to allot government work and appointed his relatives as directors in many of these firms.
The Shunglu debacle
The three-member Shungulu committee, formed by the then Lt Governor Najeeb Jung, has pointed out “gross abuse of power” by the Arvind Kejriwal government in its report. The committee has flagged decisions including the allotment of land to the AAP for its party office, appointment of Minister Satyendra Jain’s daughter as “mission director” of Delhi State Health Mission and a number of purported AAP functionaries as “advisors”.
The report observes that the genesis of the conflict lies in an April 2015 order issued by Kejriwal to all the departments. It directed officers to take decisions without consulting the Lt Governor on all subjects that have been transferred to the Delhi Assembly under Article 239AA(3)a of the Indian Constitution. The panel said the decision to allot land to the AAP to build a party office should be considered “null and void” and also questioned the allotment of residence to DCW Chairperson Swati Maliwal.
The report that runs into over 100 pages deals with decisions, including appointment of certain individuals as advisors to the government, taken by Kejriwal and his Cabinet where it had no authority do so and without the LG’s concurrence. “In pursuance of the directions of the CM in April 2015, it became the practice among ministers not to obtain the approval of the LG and to provide approval at their level,” it said.
Among other issues, the report raised questions on the government posting officers to the Anti-Corruption Branch, its decisions on transfer and appointments of officers, foreign travel undertaken by ministers without the LG’s sanction and appointment of lawyers. Earlier Jung had said that Kejriwal may face “criminal charges” over irregularities found by the panel.
Following 14 raids in different locations including Rajendra Kumar’s office in Delhi secretariat, CBI sources said Rs 13 lakh cash and foreign currency worth Rs 3 lakh have been recovered from Kumar and also from another person. It said Rs 2.4 lakh was found from Kumar’s residence along with papers of three immovable properties.
It is to be noted here that Kumar, a 1989 batch IAS officer, was appointed principal secretary to Kejriwal in February when AAP came to power for the second time. He was also secretary to Kejriwal during his previous 49-day stint as chief minister.
It is incredible to suggest, therefore, that Kejriwal was completely in the dark about serious charges of corruption against his favourite babu, both of whom go back a long way. At that time Kejriwal claimed that the Centre had initiated “an undeclared emergency” — on which he got vociferous support from Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee, who is battling Saradha Scam, and from the Congress which is locked in the National Herald imbroglio—which was as fantastic as it is ridiculous.
If CBI raid on a bureaucrat against whom a corruption probe is under way is a breach of federal structure, then it would be better to simply do away with India’s legislative and judiciary. Thereupon all cases of law and order should be released in the political arena so that ugly mud-slinging freely occupies the social media and news feed.
Going by the crusader-against-corruption image that Kejriwal is so fond of projecting, this would have been a marvelous opportunity for the Delhi chief minister to show that he walks the talk on graft. In one
fell swoop, Kejriwal would have silenced his critics who accuse him of giving birth to a stillborn Lokpal Bill that makes a mockery of the original Bill which he fought for in 2011 and even the one over which he once ended up resigning as Delhi chief minister.
Unfortunately, Kejriwal seems to be so taken in the shadow-boxing against favourite enemy Narendra Modi that not only has he lost the opportunity to redeem his image, he has exposed himself as a politician who despite holding a high office, is callous with facts.
By Nilabh Krishna