Capital drama

Print edition : July 10, 2015

The police take former Delhi Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar (centre) to Faizabad for investigation in fake degree case. Photo: PTI

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia during an Aam Aadmi Party rally on April 22. Photo: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

The BJP regime at the Centre and the party’s State unit in Delhi are resorting to indirect attacks and direct smear campaigns against the AAP even as Arvind Kejriwal’s party is suffering from a crisis of credibility of its own making.

THE political tussle between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government and the Centre escalated to a new level when the Union Home Ministry-controlled Delhi Police arrested the State Law Minister, Jitender Singh Tomar on June 9 on the charge of acquiring fake educational degrees. It was a dramatic event, with nearly 40 policemen, including several high-ranking officials, descending on Tomar’s house to arrest him. AAP leaders alleged that the Delhi Police, in an unprecedented manner, had worked overtime to prepare the first information report (FIR) against Tomar at 3 a.m. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia responded to the arrest by calling the episode “an emergency-like situation”. Indeed, the drama that unfolded at Tomar’s house shocked everyone as he was treated like a fugitive. Such heavy-handed action against Tomar forced political observers to see the arrest as political vendetta amid a continuing battle between Lieutenant Governor (LG) Najeeb Jung and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal over devolution of powers.

The AAP leadership asked Tomar to resign, and Kapil Mishra, Chairman of Delhi Jal Board and legislator from Karawal Nagar constituency, took over as Law Minister.

Allegations against Tomar have been a cause of worry for the AAP for some time. They first surfaced before the Delhi Assembly elections earlier this year. Santosh Kumar Sharma, a lawyer in Delhi, filed a petition before the Delhi High Court just ahead of the elections alleging that Tomar had procured a bogus BSc degree from Avadh University and used it to apply for a law degree at Bishwanath Singh Institute of Legal Studies College in Munger, Bihar. He also accused Tomar of forging his migration certificate from Avadh University. However, Sharma later attempted to withdraw the petition and was reprimanded by the court. Former AAP national executive members Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav continually called for a probe within the party during the elections, a senior party leader told Frontline. However, he said that Tomar produced documents for his degrees and managed to convince Kejriwal that he had done no wrong. As the AAP won 67 out of the 70 seats in Delhi, the matter was pushed to the back burner. It resurfaced when the Delhi government was listing the achievements of its first 100 days.

The LG and the Chief Minister suddenly locked horns over the exercise of powers (see “Capital stand-off”, Frontline, June 26, 2015). The Central government’s moves were in addition to targeted attacks on individual leaders of AAP on the ground by the Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit. Firstly, the Delhi BJP ran a malicious social media campaign alleging that AAP leader Kumar Vishwas had had an extramarital affair with an AAP volunteer in Amethi. Secondly, the secretary of the Bar Council of Delhi, Puneet Mittal, on the complaint of a lawyer associated with the BJP, Ripudaman Singh Bharadwaj, filed a formal police complaint against Tomar on May 11 for forging his law degree. Thirdly, with the help of expelled AAP leaders like Rajesh Garg, the State leadership of the BJP started a campaign against AAP legislators such as Vishesh Ravi and Surinder Singh for faking their degrees. Fourthly, it was reported that the Union Home Ministry had created a seven-member intelligence team to snoop on AAP leaders Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, and Kumar Vishwas, an allegation the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh denied.

Amid all these attacks, the controversial former AAP Law Minister, Somnath Bharti, also courted trouble for his party when his wife, Lipika Mitra, filed a case of domestic violence against him. The constitutional battle between the Chief Minister and the LG aside, the AAP handled the accusations against its individual leaders with great political immaturity.

The AAP leadership, while unanimous in describing these episodes as a “BJP plot”, did not have any convincing answers to defend their leaders. In trying to circumvent the accusations, it engaged in counter-attacks from a moral high ground but was unclear about the charges against Tomar or Ravi. Kejriwal, too, was conspicuously silent over these charges.

As both the BJP and the Congress upped their ante by demanding Kejriwal’s resignation, the AAP was forced to acknowledge that there might be a problem in their ranks. Senior AAP leader Sanjay Singh told reporters: “Because we talk of clean politics and this entire incident has raised various questions and doubts on his degree, the party has decided that the case will be referred to the party’s internal Lokpal for probe.”

While the Tomar case is pending before the courts, the principal of the law college in Bihar has acknowledged that Tomar was indeed a student there, but doubts still remain over the charges over his undergraduate degree and migration certificate. The allegations against other AAP leaders seem to have faded as both the Congress and the BJP are banking on Tomar’s case to push the AAP into a corner.

According to a senior AAP leader, the massive defeat of the BJP in Delhi and Kejriwal’s rising popularity among Delhi’s trader class, which has traditionally supported the BJP, have made the BJP wary. He said that an erosion of support among its traditional vote bank would mean that the BJP would be left without any organisational presence in Delhi.

The turn of events in Delhi clearly suggests that the BJP has developed a twofold strategy to oppose the incumbent government in the capital. Firstly, it attacks the Kejriwal government indirectly through a complicated federal structure. Secondly, the State unit digs up accusations against individual leaders of the AAP in a bid to dent its image of being an honest and efficient party.

At the same time, political observers say that internal dissensions within the AAP over the last few months, and its infighting becoming nakedly public, have contributed to creating this kind of an oppositional space in Delhi politics.

Indeed, both the BJP and the Congress have mounted their opposition against the AAP through smear campaigns instead of concrete opposition based on public issues. It is unfortunate that Delhi is witness to an anti-ideological, vindictive politics shortly after what many thought was a new wave of electoral politics that the AAP ushered in a few months ago.

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