Arvind Kejriwal has failed the test of probity in public life, Ram Jethmalani's offer of help notwithstanding

On the auspicious day of Ram Navami, one nonagenarian Ram has vowed to fight for free for a 'poor' chief minister. It could have been a good Bollywood script. Sadly for Arvind Kejriwal, whose entire career is built around high-octane political theatrics, the reel world is dissolving into real.

File photo of Arvind Kejriwal. Getty images

File photo of Arvind Kejriwal. Getty images

Ram Jethmalani's belated offer to represent his 'poor client' Kejriwal pro bono in a 'dharm yudh' against Arun Jaitley could be a post facto attempt at damage control after dirt hit the roof. The move doesn't pass the basic smell test though.

The ace lawyer's personal animosity against Jaitley is well known. He may even make good on his promise and not charge Kejriwal a penny for his services.

However, that doesn't absolve the Delhi chief minister of his moral failings. His robe of rectitude in tatters, Emperor Kejriwal now stands in full frontal glory clothed in garbs of trickery and hypocrisy.

After trying every trick in book to force Delhi taxpayers into picking up the tab for his personal legal bill, attempting to bypass the lieutenant governor in doing so, Kejriwal has now relegated AAP into claiming that Jaitley's defamation case was not against 'Kejriwal the individual' but against an 'idea'.

One hopes Delhi citizens will find it reassuring that they voted for an 'idea' instead of an individual as a chief minister. This at least may explain why AAP felt the need to create a deputy chief minister for a Union territory and put him in chair while the original 'idea' went searching for greener pastures. After stinging electoral reverses in Goa and Punjab, the 'idea' is now back in Delhi, dipping into public funds either to spread his awesomeness through media advertisements or to meet Jethmalani's steep legal fees.

As per a report in Times of India, the Delhi government wasn't a party in the case that Jaitley had filed against Kejriwal and AAP leaders Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chadha and Deepak Bajpayee in 2015, claiming that these individuals made "false and defamatory" statements in the case involving the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), thereby harming his reputation.

The Union finance minister had sought Rs 10 crore in damages from the AAP leaders. What emerges from Delhi government's handling of the issue is that they were all along aware of the impropriety involved and did everything possible to conjure up an alibi for the blatantly questionable act of using public funds to meet Kejriwal's legal expenses in a case where the defendant was appearing in his personal capacity. This wasn't a dispute between the Centre and the state or the Union minister and the Delhi government.

In its report, Times of India quoted a legal analyst as saying that both parties (Jaitley and Kejriwal) were fighting the case in their personal capacities and if Kejriwal had wanted to turn it into a matter involving the Delhi CM, he should have invoked Section 80 of the Civil Procedure Code.

The trial, which is now in the cross-examination state, will commence on 20 May. Media reports indicate that Jethmalani's office raised a bill of Rs 1 crore as retainership fees on 1 December, 2016 and intimated the client (Kejriwal) that an additional Rs 22 lakh will be charged per appearance. Documents to this effect are available in public domain. BJP's Delhi unit spokesperson Tajinder Bagga has also posted a tweet with the purported papers. The bill stands at a whopping Rs 3.42 crore. The final figure may be up for substantial upward revision, not even taking into consideration the Rs 10 crore that Jaitley has demanded in damages should the case be settled in his favour.

Interestingly, Jethmalani's move declaring that he is ready to forego his fees came only after media highlighted the anomaly.

A Times of India report says Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia was especially keen that the file, which sought to clear the payment for Kejriwal's legal expenses through the exchequer, "need not be sent to the LG for his approval" and instead "should be sent to the concerned administrative department, the general administrative department (GAD) which should give its compliance at the earliest, 'preferably within a day'."

Quoting government notings, the report says the file was then cleared in the same day (21 December) and subsequently approved by minister in-charge of GAD Gopal Rai on 27 February.

The matter eventually reached Delhi LG Anil Baijal's office who has reportedly sought Additional Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar’s advice on whether Kejriwal's move to clear personal legal expenses through public funds involved illegality.

The AAP, feeling a major embarrassment and loss of face, has fallen back on its time-tested scoot-and-shoot strategy by launching ad hominem attacks on Arun Jaitley through social media. This is unlikely to cut much ice.

Whether or not Jethmalani fights pro bono isn't the point. Kejriwal is a habitual offender. He has been repeatedly accused of using public funds for self-promotion in contravention of Supreme Court guidelines. It recently invited censure from the Comptroller and Auditor General for spending Rs 29 crore in releasing advertisements outside Delhi.

A few days ago, Delhi LG directed AAP to settle the bill for ad spends from party coffers after it emerged that the Delhi government has spent Rs 97 crore in an ad blitzkrieg promoting Kejriwal ahead of MCD polls.

For a man who uses self-righteous indignation as the touchstone of politics, this moral turpitude robs Kejriwal of his very shtick and further reduces his standing in public life. It will be interesting to see how Kejriwal resurrects his political career.

Updated Date: Apr 04, 2017 18:09 PM

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