Kejriwal’s Dented Image: Will It Affect Forthcoming Polls? 

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Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (left) and Lt-Governor of Delhi, Najeeb Jung (right). Photo: UNI
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The Delhi CM’s ding-dong battle with Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung and others have often seen him vanquished. Will this have an impact on the forthcoming polls in Punjab and Goa?

By Kalyani Shankar

Is the young Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) losing its sheen fighting on many fronts? It appears so even though Delhi chief minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal has claimed that while his legal battles are still on, his party’s expansion plans to Goa, Punjab and other states are on track.

Ever since he took over as Delhi CM for the second time on February 14, 2015, Kejriwal has been courting controversies on administrative, legal, political and other fronts. The chief minister has tried to make villains of the center, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi’s Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung for every failure of his government.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addressing a rally in Punjab for the forthcoming assembly polls in the state. Photo: UNI
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addressing a rally in Punjab for the forthcoming assembly polls in the state. Photo: UNI

LOGGERHEADS WITH JUNG

The tussle for Delhi’s reins began within days of Kejriwal taking over. He instructed officials to route all policy files through him and not the L-G. Jung struck back. Kejriwal claims that the administrative measures needed to implement government policy have also been routinely blocked by the L-G. The AAP government has been at loggerheads with Jung over appointments, transfers, file clearances and control of the police. 

What is relevant is whether the office is capable of yielding a profit or pecuniary gain and not whether the person actually obtained a monetary gain. If the ‘pecuniary gain’ is ‘receivable’… it becomes an office of profit, irrespective of whether such pecuniary gain is actually received or not.—Supreme Court

First, when Kejriwal passed an order against the removal of illegal encroachments in Delhi, Jung let him know that the chief minister had no power to issue it. In March 2015, when the chief secretary of Delhi went on leave for 11 days, Jung forced Kejriwal to accept Shakuntala Gamlin, the power secretary, as acting chief secretary. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) became another sticking point with the agency being headed by two people at the same time. The L-G appointed MK Meena, while the Delhi government appointed SS Yadav. The conflict came to a head when Jung ordered that the ACB would report to him directly. In recent times, after the court held that the L-G is the administrative head of the national capital, Jung directed the heads of all departments to review orders and identify files for which his approval was required but not taken. And this month, the L-G transferred Delhi’s health secretary Tarun Seem and Public Works Department secretary Sarvagya Srivastava among others.

There have been several legal battles which Kejriwal has taken to court over the past two years. He had rushed to court every time Jung overruled a controversial order of his regarding administrative powers. To Kejriwal’s dismay, the Delhi High Court has set aside a number of decisions made by his government.

PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARIES

The latest blow to Kejriwal came on September 8 when the Delhi HC quashed his government’s notification appointing 21 legislators as parliamentary secretaries. Having won 67 seats out of 70, the AAP chief appointed them to keep his flock happy. The High Court observed that the order had been passed “without concurrence/approval of the LG”. The AAP had maintained that the posts were “not an Office of Profit” as the MLAs do not receive any pecuniary benefit whatsoever. The related question on whether the parliamentary secretaries should also be disqualified as MLAs for holding an “Office of Profit” is currently pending before the Election Commission.

Ever since he took over as Delhi CM for the second time on February 14, 2015, Kejriwal has been courting controversies on administrative, legal, political and other fronts. The chief minister has tried to make villains of the center, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi’s Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung for every failure of his government.

For Kejriwal, the most important legal battle is about the status of his parliamentary secretaries. Earlier on June 13, President Pranab Mukherjee had rejected an amendment proposed by the AAP government to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, which would have exempted a parliamentary secretary from the definition of “office of profit”.

This controversy began when the Rashtriya Mukti Morcha, an NGO, went to court on March 15 for scrapping the appointments as they were “illegal”. Article 191(1) (a) says that “a person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council of a State… if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State specified in the First Schedule, other than an office declared by the Legislature of the State by law not to disqualify its holder”. The AAP now claims that the legislators cannot now be disqualified as the position itself has been held “void ab initio” (to be treated as invalid from the outset). “There are no parliamentary secretaries in Delhi,” the AAP claims now.

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OFFICE OF PROFIT

Though the constitution does not define the term “office of profit” clearly, some Supreme Court judgments have spelt out its scope. For instance, in the Jaya Bachchan case in 2006, the Court said: “What is relevant is whether the office is capable of yielding a profit or pecuniary gain and not whether the person actually obtained a monetary gain. If the ‘pecuniary gain’ is ‘receivable’… it becomes an office of profit, irrespective of whether such pecuniary gain is actually received or not.”

The Jaya Bachchan case had also forced Congress President Sonia Gandhi to resign and get re-elected to parliament in 2006 as she was the president of the National Advisory Council holding an office of profit.

Politically, these court orders have come as a shot in the arm for opposition parties. They know that the AAP is weakened and it may not get back these 21 seats if polls are held in Delhi today. The BJP and the Congress expect the Election Commission to disqualify the 21 AAP legislators. They have started preparations for the by-polls already. The BJP which got just three seats last year is now hoping to get at least ten more. The Congress is enthused by the recent corporation poll results where it bagged five seats.

PUNJAB, GOA POLLS

It suits the Congress and the BJP to confine Kejriwal to Delhi to check his expansion plans in Punjab and Goa where elections are due next year. However, the AAP is still optimistic that the Supreme Court might rule in its favor. As for his running battle with Jung, the High Court held on August 4 that the Lt-Governor was the final authority under Article 239 and without his “concurrence or approval”, the government should not take decisions. This came as a big setback for Kejriwal, but he has not given up as he has taken the fight to the Supreme Court now.

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There has been an ongoing tussle between Kejriwal and Jung over many issues, including the handling of government files. Two scams of hundreds of crores, both involving issues such as bus services and water tankers, could take the AAP chief down further. Politically, these court decisions could not have come at a worse time for the AAP.

Controversies have been dogging the heels of the Kejriwal government from the beginning. He first got rid of some founding members such as Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. His postures of having a moral high ground are now dented. The police have till now booked 15 AAP legislators and arrested 13 of them on various charges in the past 20 months, including for crimes such as abetment of suicide, domestic violence, murder, sexual assault, molestation and possession of fake degrees.

SACKED MINISTERS

Kejriwal has sacked half of his cabinet for various crimes. Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar’s “bogus degree” became a major controversy in April 2015. Delhi’s Food and Civil Supplies minister Asim Ahmed Khan was sacked on charges of serious corruption after a series of audio clips surfaced in the public domain.

If the AAP wants to survive as a political force, it has to redeem itself in Delhi and follow it up with an impressive performance in Goa and Punjab. Both appear to be difficult. If the party’s image goes down in Delhi, it is bound to start a chain reaction. If the Election Commission disqualifies the 21 AAP MLAs, the by-elections which might follow will give a hint of which way AAP is headed.

On September 1, Kejriwal sacked his women and child development minister, Sandeep Kumar, after receiving a CD where he was purportedly shown in a “compromising position with two women”. Kejriwal has also annoyed bureaucrats who are caught between him and the Lt-Governor over various appointments.

The root of the matter is that Kejriwal had promised to get full statehood for Delhi in his party manifesto. This was a demand made by his predecessors also. Unlike other state governors, who have to act on the advice of the state cabinet, Delhi’s Lt-Governor has executive powers.

This is what makes Delhi both a Union Territory and a state. More importantly, the National Capital Region—which includes the state of Delhi and adjoining territories in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana—will involve sharing jurisdiction not only with the center but the two neighboring states as well.

Today, the AAP is at a point where, if it fails to conquer Punjab and/or Goa, it will further dent Kejriwal’s image. Even in Punjab, there have been revolts with the removal of former AAP convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur after a sting operation that allegedly showed corruption. Bhagwat Mann, popular comedian and AAP MP, has also been mired in controversies.

The entry of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Siddhu has added to his problem.

The Congress and the BJP are both entrenched in the political system. If the AAP has been passing through troubled times in its “home turf” of Delhi as well as Punjab, then what is its future in faraway Goa?

The party may try to derive some advantage from the fissures that have appeared in the ruling BJP in Goa because of a division within the RSS. 

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As for his national ambitions, Kejriwal has built a good equation with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The Left parties have mostly been watching the developments, without taking a strong position against the AAP.

The moral of the story is that the AAP is spreading the butter too thin by ambitious expansion plans, while ignoring the people of Delhi. Disenchantment has already set in and its support among the middle classes has decreased.

The cheap electricity and water given by the Delhi government and education reforms may go some distance, but with the onset of dengue and chikungunya, the lack of medical attention for Delhiites may have an impact on Kejriwal’s expansion plans.

If the AAP wants to survive as a political force, it has to redeem itself in Delhi and follow it up with an impressive performance in Goa and Punjab. Both appear to be difficult. If the party’s image goes down in Delhi, it is bound to start a chain reaction.

If the Election Commission disqualifies the 21 AAP MLAs, the by-elections which might follow will give a hint of which way AAP is headed.

Lead picture: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (left) and Lt-Governor of Delhi, Najeeb Jung (right). Photo: UNI

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