Arvind Kejriwal, fast losing the perception battle, needs to realise governance is serious business

For once, Arvind Kejriwal is silent. The Delhi chief minister, who otherwise has an opinion on almost everything under the sun, has nothing to say when quizzed about the controversies surrounding him, his Aam Aadmi Party, or the government he heads in Delhi. Unfortunately for him, however, his silence is not golden.

On two issues specifically, Kejriwal's response is still awaited. Firstly, Delhi Lt Governor Anil Baijal had ordered the state government to recover Rs 97 crore from the Aam Aadmi Party for advertisements issued, which were found to be in violation of a Supreme Court directive. And secondly, sanctioning crores of rupees as fees to lawyer Ram Jethmalani for defending him in a defamation case filed him by senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, without the approval of the LG.

He's been caught splurging public money for acts of self-aggrandisement, and doesn't have anything to say in his defence.

Till 11 March, when results of Assembly elections in five states were declared, AAP had been hoping to capture power in Punjab and Goa. Kejriwal was riding high, his advertisements were seen on news channels, and his boastful claims of turning Delhi into a paradise for residents was the talk of the town.

File image of Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

File image of Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

A month, however, is a long time in politics. Despondence has replaced buoyancy in the AAP camp. Kejriwal's penchant to be in the headlines has landed him in host of controversies, with varying financial, legal and political implications.

His latest decision — which involves paying Jethmalani Rs 3.42 crore using taxpayers' money (Rs 1 crore as a retainer, and Rs 2.42 crore for 11 appearances) — has come as a rude jolt to people.

Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, Manish Sisodia, wrote an official note saying "This file need not be sent to the LG for his approval. Instead it should be sent to the concerned administrative department, and the GAD (general administrative department), which should give its compliance at the earliest, preferably within a day".

This is a clear indication that the AAP government suspected Baijal wouldn't clear the file and they were suspicious that if the file went through multiple layers for a prolonged period of time, the matter could get leaked in public and raise uncomfortable heat and dust for the party. The file was ultimately cleared as desired with lightening speed by Sisodia.

This clearly didn't go down well in the public perception. Why should people pay for a highly personalised political battle Kejriwal sought to fight against Jaitley? Now that the controversy has started to hurt Kejriwal and AAP, Jethmalani has said he will not be charging any fee, but it's not yet clear if he would withdraw the Rs 3.42 crore bill that he had earlier raised. And even if he does decide to do it for free, the issue is unlikely to go off public minds anytime soon.

The issue would hurt Kejriwal especially because he entered politics claiming public probity and integrity as his hallmark, and promising to provide voters with an alternative. But he has been proven to be just like the other politicians he claimed to be different from. The so-called moral halo he initially had is now gone.

Kejriwal may be silent, but his deputy Manish Sisodia is doing the talking for him. But Sisodia's logic on why taxpayers' money was used to fund Jethmalani's bill is unconvincing to say the least. Sisodia's argument was that Kejriwal's supposedly libelous statements against Jaitley were made to save cricket and to stop corruption in the sport. As it is, the Delhi government had nothing to do with the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association (DDCA). But the pre-meditated inquiry did not have the requisite sanction, and the committee, though named by the Kejriwal government, could not be constituted.

Sisodia said those named in the investigation (Arun Jaitley) had filed a case against Kejriwal with regards to the case, and therefore, it must be the Delhi government which should pay for the services of a top notch lawyer to defend Arvind Kejriwal the chief minister, not Kejriwal the person, or Kejriwal the chief of Aam Aadmi Party. He almost suggested that the Delhi government, and in turn the people of the state, were duty bound to pay to defend Kejriwal in a defamation case just because he happens to the chief minister.

His other argument was that the controversy had been timed to divert attention away from the EVM scam, where the BJP had been badly exposed, that they won the Uttar Pradesh election without a real mandate. It's a bizarre argument, considering the Election Commission has already trashed the AAP's theory and told the party to introspect and look within following losses in Assembly polls.

Kejriwal, Sisodia and rest of their party colleagues conveniently forgot that it was same EVMs which delivered them outstanding results in the Delhi Assembly election of February 2015, when the party won 67 out of 70 seats. Even then, it was the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. Moreover, it wasn't the BJP which won in Punjab, but the Congress.

Kejriwal latched on to Mayawati's lame excuse of EVM tampering, but these baseless allegations are not helping his or his party's image.

There is then the issue of having to pay Rs 97 crore from the Aam Aadmi Party's coffers for ads issued by the state government. This too is likely to trouble the party in the days and weeks to come.

As matters stands today, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal would initiate a process of recovery of close to Rs 100 crore from Aam Admi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, to be paid to the Delhi government, headed by Arvind Kejriwal. By doing so, Kejriwal would prima facie be admitting that he committed an act of severe impropriety as chief minister; that he diverted taxpayers' money, which should otherwise have been spent on public welfare measures, to promote the political interests of the party he leads.

It must be clear to Kejriwal and his party colleagues that they need to treat governance as serious business.

Updated Date: Apr 04, 2017 20:10 PM

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