It was an outburst so out of the ordinary that it invited extreme reactions, from shock and disbelief to scorn and ridicule. With a grim look on his face, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal made a claim that surpassed the allegations he had levelled against Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier. “I want to tell you, this is a crucial period,” Kejriwal told partymen in a video posted on YouTube. “This fight is going to get very dirty. They [the Modi government] can go to any extent. They can try to kill us. They can try to kill me. They can do anything.”
Kejriwal is not known for doing politics the traditional way, and he chose a nontraditional medium to make an extraordinary claim. The setting of the video was simple—the Delhi CM had his arms resting on a table, a bare white wall behind his back. Kejriwal literally has his back to the wall, with 12 legislators of the Aam Aadmi Party getting arrested in various cases. The video was an extraordinary measure meant to tackle an extraordinary situation.
According to sources in the chief minister’s office, the arrest of two MLAs in a single day—that of Amanatullah Khan, on charges of attempt to culpable homicide, and Naresh Yadav, for alleged desecration of Quran in Punjab—prompted him to issue the video message. It was Kejriwal’s response to the Modi regime in their ongoing tussle, and it also had the AAP national convener using the victim card to the hilt.
The AAP is certainly embattled, with a 12th legislator, out of its 67 legislators in Delhi, getting arrested on July 31 on charges of abetment to suicide. The legislator, Sharad Chauhan, is accused of protecting the main accused in a case related to the alleged sexual exploitation of an AAP worker, who later committed suicide. Seven AAP legislators have been arrested this year on different charges, four since June, and five last year. As of now, one MLA, Chauhan, is in custody; the remaining 11 are on bail.
Kejriwal says the arrests are part of a ‘cycle of oppression’ unleashed by Modi, the other elements of which are the possible disqualification of 21 MLAs who are facing the charge of violating the office of profit rule on account of their appointment as parliamentary secretaries, the inquiries of the Anti-Corruption Bureau against his cabinet colleagues, and the suspension of Bhagwant Mann, MP, from the Lok Sabha for making a video that allegedly put the security of Parliament at risk.
The AAP has come out in support of all the arrested MLAs, saying the police action is motivated, as Modi is worried about the AAP’s foray into states like Punjab, Goa and Gujarat. “Do not be surprised if half the MLAs are arrested before the elections in Punjab,” said party leader Ashutosh.
AAP leaders say only one among the arrested MLAs, Somnath Bharti, has been charge-sheeted. They point out that in the Amanatullah Khan case, the court, while granting bail, questioned the evidence placed before it; that in the case of commando Surender Singh, who was arrested on charges of assault, it asked the police how it could slap section 467 of the Indian Penal Code (forgery of valuable security, will, etc.) against him; and that it threw out the case against Akhilesh Tripathi.
“The courts are reprimanding the police as they give bail to our MLAs. They say there was no reason for arresting them,” said AAP spokesperson Deepak Bajpai. He said the court raised questions about the case against Bharati. “Bharati’s wife had accused him of trying to kill her by instructing his dog to attack her,” said Bajpai. “It turned out that the dog just did not listen to him, as it was his wife who used to take care of it.”
The party’s Delhi convener Dilip Pandey said Khan was arrested despite the complainant accepting in a video that her allegation that Khan had threatened her was false, and that she was being pressurised by the police to implicate him.
AAP legislator Dinesh Mohaniya was arrested for allegedly slapping a senior citizen. But his party maintains that the charges in the FIR are vague. Earlier, a complaint was lodged by a wholesale vegetable trader against Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. After Mohaniya's arrest, Sisodia marched to the prime minister’s residence, along with 52 MLAs, to ‘surrender’ before him.
In the case of Naresh Yadav, the AAP says that the Punjab Police changed its stance abruptly—from saying that three persons belonging to the RSS had torn the pages of the Quran to arresting Yadav for conspiracy in the desecration case.
The party has also asked why the police have not yet arrested New Delhi Municipal Council vice chairman Karan Singh Tanwar of the BJP, who is accused of being involved in the murder of NDMC legal officer M.M. Khan, and O.P. Sharma, the BJP legislator who was caught on camera thrashing journalists outside the Patiala House courts.
AAP sources admit that there is concern over the impact the arrests could have on the credibility of the party, especially as it is making its assembly polls debut in Punjab and Goa. It is also being felt that it would not be easy to defend some of the arrested MLAs, especially Chauhan, who was arrested in the case related to the suicide of party volunteer Soni.
Kejriwal’s critics say the chickens have come home to roost for the AAP. Former party colleague Prashant Bhushan tweeted that he had warned Kejriwal about the MLAs who have been arrested. Former AAP leader Shazia Ilmi, who is now with the BJP, said Kejriwal’s party has been exposed for what it is. “They talk about the PM masterminding everything,” she said. “I have a simple question: what about this girl named Soni? She went to Kejriwal for help, and he asked her to compromise.”
She said the AAP had the worst kind of elements in it. “When I was contesting from RK Puram, these kind of people would misbehave with me. I would come back and complain and see those very people sitting comfortably in the party office,” said Ilmi.
Critics have questioned the AAP’s claims of being a party with a difference, saying it got several inductees who were formerly with the BJP or the Congress, and some of them were even history-sheeters. The Delhi Police have been saying that 23 of 67 AAP legislators were facing criminal charges even before the 2015 assembly elections.
“I do not think any of these arrests is wrong. Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav had opposed tickets to the likes of Sharad Chauhan and Amanatullah Khan. Arvind Kejriwal’s party is paying for straying away from its ideals,” said Anupam of Swaraj Abhiyan, which was launched by Yadav and Bhushan after they were expelled from the AAP.
But AAP leaders complain of the Centre’s efforts to intimidate the state government. Kejriwal had earlier claimed that the CBI was threatening his officials. When the CBI raided the office of his principal secretary Rajendra Kumar, he had called Modi a “psychopath” who could go to any extent to intimidate him.
Anupam said there was no doubt that an element of vendetta was behind the arrests. “If the Delhi Police show the kind of alacrity it has displayed in acting against the AAP legislators in dealing with every criminal, Delhi will be the most peaceful city in the world,” he said.
AAP leaders said a BJP activist called Nikunj Sahu, who is part of the party’s IT cell and has issued online threats to AAP leaders, including Kejriwal, is followed by the prime minister on Twitter. They also claimed that BJP MP Giriraj Singh requested Twitter to unblock Sahu’s account.
Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay said Kejriwal had lost his political sense and ethics. “People know well that Kejriwal is frustrated after the corruption, nepotism and atrocities on women by AAP leaders were exposed,” he said. According to him, Kejriwal’s need for vipassana sessions has arisen out of this frustration.
Kejriwal has headed for a ten-day vipassana session in the hilly retreat of Dharamsala. A lull before the next storm?