What a grand spectacle that will be.” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal could not hide his excitement in getting Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to the court when he spoke at a specially convened one-day session of the Delhi assembly on December 22. “In Patiala House [district court], he will be asked to present pre-summoning evidence after which the trial will begin. He will be in the witness box, and not one lawyer, but seven of our lawyers will cross examine him.” Jaitley had filed a defamation case against Kejriwal and five others, which will be heard on January 5.
In his speech, Kejriwal demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alleging that he had ordered raids on his office by the CBI (which is under the Prime Minister’s Office) to shield Jaitley. A few days before that, he had demanded the resignation of Jaitley, alleging he was involved in the corruption at Delhi and District Cricket Board. With that, the battle for Delhi moved beyond the fight for control over police and transfer and postings of bureaucrats.
Ironically, the relationship between the Union and Delhi governments seemed warming up at the beginning of December, when Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said the governments would “work together to curb the problem of rising air pollution”. It must have been music to Kejriwal’s ears, whose government had decided to allow private vehicles with odd and even number registrations only on alternate days. The success of this move depends on its implementation by the Delhi police, which is under the Union home ministry.
But the dark and dense political smog that enveloped Delhi a week later left soot on the faces of Jaitley and Kejriwal. Accusations and counter accusations flew fast and the issue snowballed into the biggest ever showdown between the Modi government and the Kejriwal government.
According to Jaitley, the CBI raided the Delhi government office twice. The first time, it was a search of a secretary who was caught accepting a bribe. Kejriwal welcomed it. The second time, it was search of the chief minister’s principal secretary Rajender Kumar, for an offence relating to the pre-Kejriwal period.
At once the game shifted from the Delhi civil secretariat to the Feroze Shah Kotla. Kejriwal screamed the raid was aimed at Jaitley getting hold of files pertaining to the report of a three-member inquiry into the wrongdoings in DDCA when Jaitely was its president. The inquiry was initiated after the government received a letter from the home ministry, asking it to probe the “wrongdoings” in DDCA.
As the wordy duel was played out in Parliament and on social media and television channels, Kejriwal got a boost from an unexpected quarter. Former cricketer Kirti Azad, a BJP MP, held a press conference, detailed the muck in cricket and raised 52 points, without naming Jaitley. Apparently, he ignored party president Amit Shah’s directive to keep quiet. Azad was suspended from the party on December 23.
When Jaitely, accompanied by half-a-dozen cabinet colleagues, filed a defamation case in the Patiala House district court, he spared Azad. He also filed a civil defamation case in the Delhi High Court seeking damages.
Jaitely’s name was not to be mentioned in the Delhi assembly the following day. But Kejriwal made sensational claims. He said his principal secretary was constantly asked about certain notings in the DDCA file in the CBI interrogation. “The file notings are regarding what a DDCA officer, a whistleblower, told me some months back. He said that he [Jaitley] in a meeting with DDCA officials, assured them not to worry about the probe of the Serious Fraud Investigation Office. He said he would get the offences compounded and get rid of the FIRs,” he said.
The Delhi government has ordered a probe by lawyer Gopal Subramaniam. The choice was interesting as the Modi government had stalled Subramaniam’s chances of becoming a judge. Subramaniam, however, has made public his 37 years of friendship with Jaitley.
For now, the Aam Aadmi Party could not be bothered about the defamation cases—as its spokesperson Ashish Khetan said, this was just one more. And, Kejriwal roped in 92-year-old bar horse Ram Jethmalani to defend him. “I am defending one of Arun Jaitley’s victims. I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I don’t like him,” Jethmalani roared, adding that he was doing it free. The years have not weakened his belief that Jaitley was behind his expulsion from the BJP in 2013.
Jaitely, however, has been backed by his party and Modi, who said the minister would come out of the controversy like party veteran L.K. Advani had in the hawala case. BJP leaders dissected the statement. Was it a hint to Jaitley to step down like Advani did? In fact, quite a few in the party, including some in the Modi cabinet, would love to see Jaitley take a beating.
The BJP and the AAP had a turbulent relationship from the beginning, and it only turned more volatile after the AAP trounced the BJP in the Delhi assembly elections in February. There have been confrontations galore between Kejriwal and Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung. The war turned ugly over appointing IAS officer Shakuntala Gamlin as acting chief secretary for ten days. A letter war ensued. Kejriwal even approached President Pranab Mukherjee and wrote to Modi.
Then the Union home ministry intervened with a notification, which said services, public order, police and land fell under the lieutenant governor. Not one to bow to such pressure, Kejriwal convened an emergency session of the assembly and passed a resolution rejecting the notification as “unconstitutional and invalid”.
Kejriwal has time and again raised the issue of federalism. He claimed that a CBI officer had told him that they were told to pursue opposition leaders till they fell in line or were destroyed.While every word that the Delhi chief minister utters cannot be taken without a pinch of salt, the BJP leaders, including Modi, have mentioned the benefits of having the same party ruling in the Centre and the states.
And, there is going to be no ceasefire between the two parties with the AAP gradually increasing its footprint in other states, notably in Punjab where assembly elections are due next year. “We will keep our fight against corruption going. Manmohan Singh was not seen as corrupt, but the BJP sought his resignation saying the scams happened under his watch, that he shielded the corrupt. The DDCA fraud or embezzlement or wrongdoing happened under Jaitley’s watch,” said Khetan.
Meanwhile, it is said that Jung is returning 14 bills that had been passed in the last session of the assembly citing technical lapses. Among them are Kejriwal’s pet law, the Jan Lokpal Bill, and the one to hike the salaries and allowances of MLAs.
with Soni Mishra