Slugfest in Delhi

Print edition : January 08, 2016

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Photo: K. Pichumani

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Photo: PTI

Principal Secretary Rajendra Kumar leaving the CBI headquarters in Delhi after investigators questioned him in connection with a scam, on December 16. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The CBI’s raids on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Principal Secretary sparks another round of hostility between leaders of the AAP and the BJP with both sides hurling corruption charges against each other.

THE long-drawn-out political tussle between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-run Delhi government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre over exercise of powers took a dramatic turn when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), often criticised as serving the interests of the Union government, raided the office of Rajendra Kumar, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on December 15. It was an unprecedented raid as the investigative agency blocked access to the third floor of the Secretariat that also houses the Chief Minister’s office for almost half a day. While the CBI claimed that the State Secretariat was only one of the 14 places it searched in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to investigate some old charges of corruption against the Principal Secretary, Kejriwal and his party members launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who, they believed, was trying to intimidate the AAP into submission. Kejriwal, in an almost impulsive response, called Modi a “coward” and a “psychopath” on his twitter handle as he commented on Modi’s inability to produce a credible counterargument to the AAP’s political opposition.

The tussle, which had until then been a legal and constitutional debate over the appointment of bureaucrats and control of agencies in the multi-authority governance model of the national capital, escalated into a full-fledged political battle between the AAP and the BJP. Charges of intimidation, harassment and abuse were hurled at the BJP by the AAP leaders, while the BJP kept exhorting the AAP to respond on the corruption charges against Rajendra Kumar. The AAP turned the situation in its favour by raising an allegation of corruption against Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during his tenure as president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), a political move the BJP had not anticipated.

The AAP alleged that the actual intent of the CBI action was to search for files relating to the DDCA. In October 2015, the Delhi government formed a three-member committee to investigate the charges of financial irregularities made by many former cricketers associated with the DDCA, including Kirti Azad, a BJP Member of Parliament. The committee submitted its report on November 15. The AAP claimed that the BJP was using the CBI to shield Jaitley, who served as the president of the DDCA for almost 14 years (1999-2013).

Besides the Delhi government’s inquiry report, the AAP has cited many other investigations on the DDCA, including those by the Tis Hazari district court in Delhi, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), the DDCA’s own internal committee, and many letters of complaints against the DDCA written over the past 10 years.

Three charges

Primarily, the AAP has focussed on three important charges against the DDCA, which most of the inquiry reports mention. First, a portion of the Feroze Shah Kotla stadium that the DDCA runs was built at a cost of Rs.114 crore, whereas the estimated cost of the construction was projected as only Rs.24.26 crore. The AAP alleged that the rest of the money was unaccounted for. Secondly, a loan of Rs.1.55 crore was given to companies without stating the reason for the grant. The AAP alleged that these companies were owned directly and indirectly by members of the DDCA. Thirdly, many tenders were given to nine different companies, but all these companies had the same director, email ids and addresses. The AAP alleged that this pointed to a single entity receiving the contracts from the DDCA through proxy firms.

The AAP also pointed to other procedural irregularities such as leasing out of contracts without due tendering processes and non-cheque transactions for crores of rupees. Many instances of proxy litigation and proxy billing were also found in the Delhi government’s inquiry report. The AAP also said that selectors were appointed without any procedure and that the DDCA functioned like an elite club during the period that Jaitley was at the top. They also alleged huge corruption in the process of selection of players.

The BJP dismissed the allegations and said Jaitley worked to improve the infrastructure in the stadium. However, both the BJP and the DDCA admitted to procedural lapses in the DDCA but said none of these allegations directly incriminated Jaitley in any way. “No embezzlement took place during Jaitley’s tenure. You can check the SFIO report. There were only procedural lapses, and we have compounded [paid fine] for those lapses. There were no criminal cases during his period as president. Had there been anything the SFIO would have taken action,” said Chetan Chauhan, DDCA’s working chairman.

However, Kirti Azad, a long-time member of the association, had been vocal about the DDCA’s corruption during Jaitley’s regime. and the party machinery had chosen to remain silent. The party, however, put all its energies behind focussing on the charges of corruption against Rajendra Kumar.

The CBI, in a conflict of interest case, has accused him of having promoted a company called Endeavour Systems from 2007 onwards by misusing his official positions and facilitating tenders worth Rs.9.5 crore to the firm. The BJP accused Rajendra Kumar of having received kickbacks from the company, an allegation he has refuted.

“Transparency International [an international civil society organisation against corruption] wrote a letter to Mr Kejriwal about complaints against Kumar in May 2015. But he chose to ignore the letter and continued to have him as his Principal Secretary. Now he is deflecting the issue of corruption in his government by making accusations against the BJP,” Satish Upadhyay, president of the Delhi State BJP, told Frontline.

‘Attempt to destabilise’

However, AAP leaders maintained that they were ready to cooperate with the CBI in the investigation against Rajendra Kumar but alleged that the whole episode was directed by the BJP to destabilise the Delhi government. “What are we supposed to infer from the last few events? The BJP has been creating obstacles in our functioning through constant interference by the L.G. [Lieutenant Governor].

The CBI decides to shut down the Secretariat for one whole day without informing the C.M. The seizures at Kumar’s house, like alcohol bottles and small amount of foreign currencies, show that the CBI is there to harass and not to investigate,” a senior leader of the AAP said.

“That the CBI wanted to check documents that would implicate Jaitley is obvious. Why would the ACB [Anti-Corruption Bureau], at this moment, decide to file an FIR [first information report] against Chetan Sanghi?” the senior leader asked. Sanghi was the head of the Delhi government’s inquiry committee on the DDCA’s irregularities, and the FIR against Sanghi was in connection with the alleged irregularities by the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) during 2011-2012 when Sanghi was its head. The DSIIDC has been accused of unilaterally allowing the conversion of around 350 industrial plots from leasehold to freehold. The ACB suspects that Sanghi might have received kickbacks from the companies he favoured.

The control of the ACB is a matter of huge debate between the Delhi government and the L.G. The L.G. had cancelled all appointments made by the Delhi government in the ACB and had appointed M.K. Meena without consulting the Chief Minister.

At the moment, the AAP has successfully turned the CBI’s raid into a case of political vendetta against the party. Its aggression against the BJP and the unfolding of the DDCA scam amidst this political game turned the tide in its favour among the public. “The attention of the public is clearly on Jaitley’s involvement in the DDCA scam, something the BJP might not have anticipated. The AAP has managed to turn a prolonged bureaucratic tussle into a war with the BJP. What started off as a tussle between two personalities, Kejriwal and Modi, has turned into a battle of two governing ideologies, with the BJP representing autocracy at this moment and the AAP standing for democracy,” said a New Delhi-based political observer.

Many BJP insiders Frontline spoke to echoed the sentiment. “The anti-corruption rhetoric of the AAP had faded. We gave them another lease of life,” said a senior BJP leader. Many BJP leaders questioned the ways of Modi in tackling the opposition. “We should have countered the AAP with political rhetoric. We should have taken them on by launching a nationwide campaign against the AAP’s Jan Lokpal Bill to show how Kejriwal had reneged on his promise. Our campaign against Kejriwal worked in Delhi and other urban centres when he openly supported the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav combine in Bihar. We could say that he was no longer a true crusader against corruption. But such knee-jerk responses from the Union government devastate such potent opportunities,” a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh activist and a BJP member who teaches in Delhi University told Frontline.

Political observers believe that the AAP’s strategy in the last few months is to emerge as the single-most credible political alternative to the BJP. Not only has the AAP been directly attacking the Prime Minister in his day-to-day activities but the party has also been forging issue-based alliances with anti-BJP democratic forces. “Undoubtedly, Kejriwal’s voice against Modi is the loudest at the moment. The AAP’s goal to become the most powerful alternative to the BJP can only be achieved if the party cements its place as the most important voice of the opposition in the next few years. Kejriwal’s open support to Nitish Kumar suggests that he is also ready to lead the opposition against the BJP. To do this, the AAP has to remain the most accessible and most acceptable,” said the New Delhi-based political observer.

The series of allegations and counter-allegations in the last few days has certainly helped the AAP to take a stride in that direction, given the fact that the fragmented opposition, including dominant regional parties, is united in its criticism of the CBI raid. The BJP is aware of such political possibilities in the future. At least, such crude vindictive action against the AAP indicates the anxieties among the BJP leadership.

However, as the BJP’s move backfired, it is left with three pressing issues to address immediately. One, it has to find legitimate ways to bail out Arun Jaitley, against whom doubts persist in the court of public opinion. Two, it has to address the public concerns about the CBI turning into a “caged parrot”, a term the Supreme Court used to describe it, again. Three, it has to reign in the dissidence within the party catalysed by this unsophisticated political action.

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