Capital vendetta

Print edition : September 02, 2016

AAP workers protest in Delhi on July 24 against the arrest of Amanatullah Khan, MLA. Photo: PTI

AAP leader Somnath Bharti being taken to the Dwarka court by the Delhi Police on September 29, 2015. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

AAP MLA Naresh Yadav, who was arrested by the Punjab Police in connection with the alleged Malerkotla sacrilege incident. A file photograph. Photo: PTI

AAP MLA Surinder Singh being taken to Parliament street police station after his arrest on August 21, 2015. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The alacrity shown by the Delhi Police in arresting Aam Aadmi Party MLAs on flimsy charges smacks of a witch-hunt by the BJP regime.

Twelve Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were arrested in as many months, some dramatically. There was a raid on the Chief Minister’s office, apparently to arrest his Principal Secretary, Rajendra Kumar, on corruption charges (Rajendra Kumar is now in jail). Another AAP MLA was raided by income tax officers. All these make one wonder whether there is an element of witch-hunting in the ongoing tussle between the AAP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and whether a political vendetta is being unleashed by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, which controls the Delhi police. Leaders of the AAP, including Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, have obviously cried vendetta, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not yet been able to digest his party’s humiliating defeat in the Delhi Assembly election and is taking revenge by getting AAP MLAs arrested on flimsy charges.

Interestingly, even independent observers like Prashant Bhushan and Prof. Anand Kumar, who were founder-members of the AAP and later parted ways with the party after the historic Delhi win accusing Kejriwal of being arrogant and distributing the party ticket to people with shady credentials, grudgingly admit that there does seem to be some exaggeration in the way the Delhi Police has been acting, which could be attributed to witch-hunting.

Both Bhushan and Kumar, who are now leading a parallel campaign called Swaraj Abhiyaan, which has announced its decision to go political, concede that the charges of witch-hunting may not be true in all cases, but that there was indeed an element of truth in them as the Delhi Police has not been seen to be so efficient in many other similar cases and is obviously discriminating in its attitude towards AAP MLAs vis-a-vis other party MLAs. In many cases involving AAP MLAs, the courts have granted bail easily and in some cases they have even admonished the Delhi Police for arresting the MLAs without any material evidence.

A close look at the charges, and what the courts said while giving bail, shows that many of these arrests were politically motivated. The most glaring cases in point are the arrest of two AAP MLAs on the same day, July 24. Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan was arrested on charges of threatening a woman in his constituency with rape and murder when she complained about the power situation in the area, while Mehrauli MLA Naresh Yadav was arrested by the Punjab Police in Delhi on charges of desecration of the Quran in Malerkotla in Punjab.

In the case of Khan, the woman, a former AAP worker, was later shown in a sting to be confessing that she was pressured by the Delhi Police to make false allegations. Interestingly, while granting bail to Khan, the magistrate noted that there was no material evidence to suggest that Khan actually threatened the woman or pressured her into withdrawing the case, as alleged by the police.

Naresh Yadav was also granted bail by the Sangrur Sessions Court as there was no evidence against him. His arrest was executed by the Punjab Police (Punjab is ruled by the Shiromani Akali Dal, an ally of the BJP) merely on the statement of an Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh worker named Rohit Kumar who was the main accused in the case and who had claimed to have desecrated the Quaran at Yadav’s behest.

Barring a few cases, like the accusation of abetment to suicide against Narela MLA Sharad Chauhan or domestic violence charge against Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti, charges against other AAP MLAs booked by the Delhi Police are frivolous at the most and, at the least, not serious enough to merit arrests in the manner in which they happened, especially in view of the fact that MLAs, Members of Parliament and even senior Ministers at the Centre and in many States continue to roam free and even occupy high posts despite having serious charges against them, as studies by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) show.

The ADR, which regularly studies affidavits filed by MLAs and MPs at the time of filing nominations, has many times pointed out serious criminal charges against many MPs and MLAs, but the governments, whether at the Centre or in the States, have refused to take action.

Sangam Vihar MLA Dinesh Mohaniya, a former vice chairman of the Delhi Jal Board, was picked up by the Delhi Police from a press conference and bundled into a police van. The charges against him were molestation and sexual harassment and the alleged incident reportedly happened when a group of women went to him to complain of the water crisis in their area. The arrest led Kejriwal to comment that the Centre had declared an emergency in Delhi. Mohaniya was granted bail for lack of evidence by the Saket court, after 14 days of custody.

Similarly, Delhi Cantonment MLA Surinder Singh was arrested for making casteist comments against a New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) employee while he was trying to protect a vegetable vendor from being harassed by NDMC employees. Arresting him seemed excessive, especially when one takes into account the abhorrent statements made by BJP leaders on issues concerning love jehad, gau raksha, beef eating, etc. Not one of those leaders has been put behind bars. Surinder Singh got bail immediately and the Delhi Police was rapped by the court. Deoli MLA Prakash Jarwal, who was arrested on charges of molesting a woman in July this year, was given bail by the court as there was no evidence against him. Jarwal said he would quit politics if there was any evidence against him.

Kondli MLA Manoj Kumar was arrested on July 10 last year in connection with allegations of cheating and land-grabbing and was granted bail later. Akhilesh Tripathi, the Model Town MLA, was arrested on November 26 last year in a “rioting” case. Tripathi was later acquitted after the main witness, Bittoo Jha, turned hostile and told the magistrate that he had neither been beaten by Tripathi nor seen Tripathi rioting or instigating a crowd to riot.

The charges against these MLAs indeed sound flimsy when one considers the fact that BJP’s Delhi MLA O.P. Sharma was captured in action by all television channels earlier this year beating a student activist from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the Patiala House court premises when the JNU controversy had broken out.

The Delhi Police was seen watching as silent spectators even as Sharma rained blows on the activist and later proudly said that he would have shot the man if he had had a gun at that time. Sharma remained free for days after the incident; his arrest, when it happened after three days, was a mere formality as he was released within hours. Similarly, when a group of lawyers beat up mediapersons covering JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s visit to the Patiala House Courts Complex, the police stood by, watching silently.

Of the 12 arrests, the only cases that merit serious attention are those of Somnath Bharti; Jitendra Tomar, who apparently faked his law degree; and Sharad Chauhan, who abetted the suicide of his party worker Soni Mishra.

Prashant Bhushan told Frontline: “By and large the charges are true, but yes, exceptions are there and those are giving substance to the charges of witch-hunting.”

Prof. Anand Kumar, who sounded as if he was celebrating the AAP dilemma, said: “ Boye ped babul ka to aam kahan se hoye,” (if you sow babul, you cannot reap mango), implying that the party was reaping the “fruits” of its distribution of the ticket to people with criminal antecedents. According to him, the charges in some cases were not serious enough but the MLAs were put behind bars simply because they were from the AAP.

Former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit blamed the situation on the AAP’s confrontational style of politics. “They are in a perpetual confrontationist mode, which provokes the other side too into confrontation, which has resulted in the situation you see today. There may or may not be truth in charges against their MLAs, but if there is no truth and this indeed is a witch-hunt, then the Chief Minister should come out with facts. Instead, he only speaks in hyperbole, blaming the Prime Minister for everything, and in the process governance comes to a halt and people are the ultimate sufferers,” she told Frontline.

According to her, Kejriwal has made it a habit to find excuses not to work and the witch-hunting saga seems to be only a part of that. “Keeping the peculiar position that Delhi has, both a State and a Union Territory, the gentleman should understand that governance in Delhi means cooperation, even if it is an opposition government next to you. But he simply does not seem to be interested in governance and is finding excuses for that. His confrontationist style has robbed him of any sympathy even if the witch-hunting charge is true.”

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