There was magic in the air in 2011. And not just in India. In an extraordinary global, seemingly unconnected movement the civil society started a spirited pushback against systemized corruption. Occupy Wall Street originated in the US and quickly gained global recognition. Russia witnessed the Snow Revolution. India, too, suffered the birth pangs of a similar wave with the emergence of India Against Corruption.
The movement tapped into the popular discontent against rampant graft under the UPA rule. It was driven largely by the middle class angst for a corruption-free society while it strived, under Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal, to bring about a corruption-free India through the creation of an all-powerful Lokpal (ombudsman) who would have powers to arrest and charge government officials accused of corruption.
As IAC splintered into two and Hazare receded into background, Kejriwal eventually emerged as the knight in shining armour. The media and the middle class hung on to his every word as he promised to cut through swathes of corruption in one swoop of his Valyrian sword. In a series of much-publicised press conferences, he did one 'expose' after the other: accusing Robert Vadra of large-scale corruption, waving a sheet of paper claiming it as a 'list of 700 Indians who have parked black money in Geneva' or blaming the judiciary of corruption.
It is crucial to recollect the role of IAC — in which lies the genesis of Aam Admi Party — because many believed Kejriwal when he said that the movement's logical conclusion would be to launch a party which could cleanse the system from within instead of futile efforts from without.
On its website, where it asks the public to donate money "for fighting corruption", the AAP explains that it has entered politics because "despite the huge wave of public support in favour of a strong anti-corruption law, all political parties cheated the people of India and deliberately sabotaged the Janlokpal Bill. Since most political parties are corrupt, greedy and thick skinned, it's time to bring political power back into the people's hands… The system that has become very corrupt needs to be changed immediately. Our aim in entering politics is not to come to power; we have entered politics to change the current corrupt and self-serving system of politics forever…"
The irony is so stark that it pierces the skin and blinds the eyes. The same Arvind Kejriwal who once waxed eloquent on ridding corruption at every level of governance now shakes in righteous rage at the arrest of a government official who has been accused by the CBI of corruption. The same AAP, which at its birth promised to be a party with a difference, now gives the template response of every political party when faced with corruption in its ranks — political vendetta. It is tragic to note just how far the seed of AAP has fallen from the IAC tree.
The storm of furious protest launched by AAP at the CBI's arrest of Kejriwal's principal secretary Rajendra Kumar, deputy secretary Tarun Sharma and three others in connection with an alleged 50-crore government contract scam, is curious.
Though the first case against Kumar was registered in 2015, the allegations date back to 2007 when Kumar, according to the CBI, became involved in a series of shady deals while holding various positions in the Delhi government. Bribes worth at least Rs 3.3 crore was allegedly paid to different parties and the scam caused an overall loss of Rs 12 crore to the Delhi government.
Four contracts — including projects for Delhi Transport Limited when Rajender Kumar was its CMD, health department when Kumar was the health secretary, VAT department when Kumar was commissioner of trade and taxes and Delhi Jal Board when Kumar was secretary, urban development — were given to a private company called Endeavour Systems Pvt. Ltd (ESPL), said the CBI.
According to a report in Indian Express, investigators found that ESPL was allegedly a “front company” floated by Kumar in 2006, along with his “schoolmate” Ashok Kumar.
“While Ashok was a schoolmate, he was also an office superintendent in the education department when Rajendra Kumar was director there. Ashok Kumar’s friend Dinesh Gupta was a supplier of stationery to the Delhi government. Sandeep Kumar was a programmer who once worked for the Delhi education department. All these people, along with Rajendra Kumar, floated ESPL with Sandeep and Dinesh Gupta as directors in November 2006,” a senior CBI officer was quoted, as saying in the report.
Starting from Rajendra Kumar's appointing Sandeep Kumar as an IT consultant in violation of due process to tailoring a tender so that it is bagged by a specific vendor, the web of allegations is intriguing. What is even more intriguing is AAP's taking furious umbrage at the arrest of a government official whose alleged trysts with corruption started when AAP or Kejriwal were nowhere in picture.
Like the proverbial 'foreign hand' bogey which marked the last years of Indira Gandhi's tenure as PM, the AAP now sees the shadow of Modi and a conspiracy to 'destabilise its government' at every turn of the road and in every ticking of clock.
"The arrest of Kumar is part of a conspiracy to paralyse the Chief Minister's office and the AAP government. Prime Minister Modi has hatred towards AAP government and the arrest of two senior officials of Chief Minister's Office is part of the conspiracy," deputy CM of Delhi Manish Sisodia thundered at a media conference on Monday.
The CBI will obviously have to prove its case in court but the question is, what causes the AAP such a bad case of heartburn whenever CBI moves against Kumar? When the agency had raided Kumar's office in 2015 as part of its search of 14 locations, Kejriwal had called the Prime Minister “a coward and a psychopath”.
Does the animosity stem from the fact that Kumar, a 1989 batch IAS officer, was the batchmate of Arvind Kejrwal in IIT Kharagpur and the Delhi CM had handpicked him as the PS?
It would then point to the megalomania of the AAP chief who thinks that his personal connection automatically makes Rajendra Kumar immune to any penal action even if he commits a crime. This fits in well with the cult of Arvind Kejriwal as a larger-than-life figure who not only can do no wrong but lends incorruptibility to everyone within his proximity. In this avatar, Kejriwal is the judge, juror and executioner on all things related to corruption. He needs no legal process to pronounce anyone guilty, neither does he accept any move as legit if it isn't sanctioned by him.
The crusader has now come full circle in his fight against corruption. The system has subsumed the rebel.