At around 9:15am on December 15, a team of CBI sleuths in plainclothes entered the Player’s Building, the Delhi Secretariat. They headed straight to the third floor, the Chief Minister’s Office, which houses the chamber of the CM and his officials. It is said that they blocked the two stairways leading to the office. They said a raid was on.
The men got on with their search in the office of Rajender Kumar, who is principal secretary to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, locking the room from inside. A group of policemen was deployed outside the Secretariat, as some 20 CBI officers of inspector rank and above raided the office. Officials and visitors were allowed to go to the other floors. Ministers Gopal Rai, Kapil Mishra and Sandeep Kumar attended office for some time.
Kejriwal, who normally comes to office around 10am, was not in. When he came to know of the raid from an aide, he immediately broke the news on Twitter. Then he launched a direct attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the CBI action, calling him a “coward” and a “psychopath”.
Kejriwal did not come to the Secretariat at all during the day. Leaders of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party said the CMO was off limits for everyone. “The Vyapam case is being investigated by the CBI. Can the CBI enter [Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister] Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s office like this?” asked AAP leader Ashutosh. He said it was the first ever instance of the office of a chief minister being raided and the aim was to discredit the AAP government.
Around noon, Kejriwal went to the official residence of Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, where he was joined by other leaders of his party. He continued with his Twitter tirade against the prime minister from Sisodia’s house, which is just a few kilometres away from the Secretariat. As the day progressed, Kejriwal had turned the issue into a lot more than just a raid on the office of his principal secretary. He took on the prime minister directly and turned the raid into an action that was meant to target him. What unfolded was the fiercest fight between the AAP government in Delhi and the BJP government at the Centre.
Emerging from Sisodia’s residence at dusk, Kejriwal told the media that the aim of the raid was not to probe the contracts awarded by Kumar. “The target is Kejriwal,” he said. “Rajender to sirf bahana hai, Kejriwal nishana hai (Rajender is only an excuse; the real target is Kejriwal),” he said.
Raiding the principal secretary’s office, he said, was akin to raiding him, as the CM’s files were kept there. He asked why the CBI came to the CMO rather than going to the relevant departments, as the allegations pertained to Kumar’s tenures in departments such as education and information technology. And then came the piece de resistance—he said the CBI had come to the CMO looking for a file that could prove to be damaging for Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
“Why has the CBI come to my office today? Which file are they looking for? It has become important for me to tell. These are files of the DDCA in which Arun Jaitley is getting embroiled,” he said. Jaitley had long been the president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association, which is facing many allegations of financial misappropriation. Kejriwal went on to say that he had set up an inquiry committee into the corruption in the DDCA. “Its report has come and a commission of inquiry was to be instituted. They had come to look for Arun Jaitley’s file,” he said.
And then, striking an aggressive posture and pointing his index finger at the cameras, he addressed Modi: “Let me tell you, Modiji, you have intimidated others by using the CBI. Kejriwal is not one to get scared.” Kejriwal justified the epiphets he used against Modi, saying if his words were wrong, Modi’s deeds were wrong. “You apologise to the country for your sins, I will apologise for my words,” he said.
Kejriwal’s origins as a politician lie in his crusade against corruption. His agitations at Jantar Mantar for an effective Lokpal turned him into an anti-corruption hero. Because of this, his furious reaction to the CBI raid would appear to be a volte face on what he had stood for as an activist and as a politician. His vehement defence of his 'trusted bureaucrat' in the face of allegations of corruption also seemed odd.
His was, however, a prompt political reaction to the CBI action. Kejriwal clearly went for the optics rather than delve into the technicalities. The raid was on the office of his principal secretary, but he tweeted that his office had been raided. The CBI was in the CMO, if not exactly inside his room. The office of the principal secretary is part of the area in the Secretariat that is known as the CMO.
The CBI said the raid was in connection with a case against Kumar and six others on complaints of corruption in awarding contracts to a private firm, Endeavour Systems, during 2007-2014. It is alleged that Kumar helped the company get contracts worth Rs.9.5 crore. In all, 14 locations, besides the Secretariat, were raided, in Delhi and in UP. The searches unearthed some Rs.28 lakh from Kumar's bank accounts. Fixed deposits worth around Rs.1.66 crore were found at the premises of co-accused A .K. Duggal, former managing director of Intelligent Communications Systems India Ltd. The other recoveries included papers of three immoveable properties, cash worth Rs.2.4 lakh and foreign currency worth Rs.3 lakh from Kumar’s residence in Delhi. About Rs.10.5 lakh was recovered from another co-accused, G.K. Nanda.
A CBI spokesperson said the seizures during the searches were in the presence of independent witnesses, as required by law. The search cum seizure memo containing details of the seized items would be produced in court, the spokesperson said.
Sources close to Kejriwal said that the chief minister’s angry reaction also had to do with the feeling that the Centre was targeting officers who were working with him. Kumar, said a source in the CMO, was being targeted because he was known as Kejriwal’s trusted officer. “He has always been an excuse to attack Kejriwal. They want to give a message to the bureaucracy,” said the source.
A 1989-batch IAS officer, Kumar is extremely close to Kejriwal, and is said to be the second most powerful person in the Delhi government. After keeping a low profile while Sheila Dikshit was chief minister, he shot to prominence when Kejriwal came to power. An IIT Kharagpur graduate like Kejriwal, he was one of the first appointments the chief minister made after taking charge in 2013. According to some Delhi Congress leaders, the duo knew each other even before Kejriwal fought the elections. Kumar was principal secretary to the CM during Kejriwal's previous tenure as well.
In what has turned into a battle of perception, Kejriwal got the support of the opposition parties, with the Trinamool Congress literally waging a war for the AAP in the Rajya Sabha. Party supremo Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Sealing of a chief minister’s office is unprecedented. I am shocked.” JD(U) leader K.C. Tyagi said it was the “return of the Emergency”. The leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress, said the government itself was putting hurdles in the functioning of the house. “A chief minister’s office is being raided during the session. This government does not want Parliament to run,” he said.
The government, on the other hand, struggled to explain that it had nothing to do with the CBI raid and the agency was acting on a complaint it had got earlier this year. In response to the questions raised by the opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley said: “It is an officer who has been searched. The raids have nothing to do with Kejriwal or his office. The raids were conducted on the officer's office on a complaint filed before he joined the Delhi CM's office.”
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu criticised Kejriwal for his accusations against Modi. “It has become a fashion with Arvind Kejriwal to blame the Centre and drag Modi into everything,” he said. “The PM and the government have nothing to do with the CBI. We don’t monitor the CBI.”
Kejriwal tweeted a day after the raids that the files checked by the CBI included the DDCA file. “CBI kept reading DDCA file in my office. They would have seized it. But after my media briefing, they left it. Not clear if they took a copy.” He said the files seized by the CBI had no relation to the case being probed by the agency. One of the documents seized was last month's file movement register.
Latching on to Kejriwal’s revelation on the inquiry into the corruption in the DDCA, the Congress demanded that Jaitley be sacked and a joint parliamentary committee investigate financial irregularities in the cricketing body during his tenure at DDCA, from December 1999 to December 2013. The Congress claimed that the inquiry report Kejriwal referred to contained damning details of financial irregularities in the construction of a stadium whose costs escalated by Rs.90 crore, discrepancies in the accounts of DDCA, unauthorised payments to office bearers, irregularity in payment in legal matters and lending of Rs.1.55 crore to private companies.
The issue has become a lot more than just the allegations against Kumar or a probe. It is about who wins in the battle of perception, Kejriwal or Modi.