Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his principal secretary, Rajendra Kumar, were batchmates at IIT Kharagpur. A 1989 batch IAS officer, Kumar is said to be close to Kejriwal. When the CBI raided Kumar’s office in December 2015, Kejriwal went out of his way to defend him.
“Rajendra is only an excuse. Kejriwal is the real target,” he said, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of misusing the CBI. Kejriwal even claimed that the actual intention of the raid was to get hold of a file on alleged financial bungling in the Delhi and District Cricket Association, which was committed when Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was the association president.
On July 4, however, the CBI arrested Kumar, along with four others, for allegedly misusing his position in the Delhi government to award five contracts worth Rs 50 crore to a front company called Endeavour Systems. According to the CBI, Kumar was the “kingpin” of the alleged scam, which took place between 2006 and 2014, when he worked in different departments of the Delhi government. It said Rs 3.3 crore was paid as bribes to various people, and that the Delhi government lost Rs 12 crore.
The arrest came at a time when Kejriwal was out campaigning in poll-bound Punjab. His deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia, accused the Modi government of exacting “political vendetta” and “hatching a conspiracy to paralyse the Delhi government”.
“Modi has orchestrated the arrest of two officers in the chief minister’s office and got a third one transferred,” Sisodia said. “Eleven senior officers have been transferred out in the last two days. This is a clear attempt to destabilise the Delhi government and ensure that we are not able to do any work.”
This time round, however, it will not be easy for Kejriwal to divert attention from the allegations against Kumar. The CBI, which took over investigation from the Delhi Anti-Corruption Bureau in July 2015, said the case against Kumar was strong. “We have enough evidence against him to put him in jail,” said an officer.
Kejriwal handpicked Kumar as his secretary when the Aam Aadmi Party first came to power in 2014. The government lasted hardly two months and when he took charge again in February 2015, he appointed Kumar in the chief minister’s office. With the CBI sinking its hooks into his principal secretary, Kejriwal’s anti-corruption credentials have come under a cloud. This could have an impact on the AAP’s plans to expand its reach in Punjab and Goa, which go to the polls next year.
Political opponents like former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit rejected the AAP’s charge that Kumar’s arrest was politically motivated. “The CBI must have got some information against the officer,” Dikshit said. “They don’t go around arresting people just like that.” Said Satish Upadhyay, president of the BJP’s Delhi unit: “Kejriwal has to answer to the people of Delhi about the corruption charges against his principal secretary.”
As the turf war between Kejriwal and the Centre intensifies, one thing is clear: he would have to fight harder to protect his anti-corruption credentials.