Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party supremo, is a past master in skulduggery. His penchant for melodrama and theatrics is well-known by now. Though there is no taint on him of being personally corrupt, he has no qualms about adopting the most unethical of means to gain power and then to retain it.
His attempt to paint Prime Minister Narendra Modi black for his own (Kejriwal’s) acts of omission and commission in appointing 21 parliamentary secretaries circumventing the provision in the Constitution providing for a 10 per cent ceiling on legislators holding ministerial berths is typical of his style of politics.
Conscious that this backdoor violation could be construed as a case of bestowing an ‘office of profit’ on the legislators and thereby violating the Constitution, the wily politician is making a big hue and cry that he and his party are being witch-hunted and that the man behind ‘hounding’ him is none other than Modi. He is complaining on the ground that many other states are doing the same but he is being singled out for action. Many would have believed him but for the fact that by repeatedly crying ‘wolf’ the AAP kingpin has exposed himself thoroughly and today his credibility is at a low ebb.
Clearly, the intention in rewarding some with posts of parliamentary secretaries was to pacify those who could not be given ministerial berths due to a ceiling on total number of these. Article 239AA of the Indian Constitution states that only 10 per cent of the total number of members in the Legislative Assembly could be appointed ministers. Given that Delhi Assembly has 70 members, Kejriwal can at best appoint only six ministers (excluding him).
With senior leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav having been expelled from AAP, breaking away or poaching by rival parties was well on the cards for a section of others. Kejriwal therefore thought of this way to keep the legislators in check. But to now project that he had done no wrong and those who are challenging him are being inspired by Modi is dishonest and not supported by any evidence. It is indeed a patently clever ruse.
He publicly told Modi in a typical theatrical fashion: “Your fight is with me, so beat me if you wish, take revenge on me but don’t let the people of Delhi suffer… Don’t try to stop the good work being done in Delhi.” This was hypocrisy at its worst.
Outrageously, the burden of Kejriwal’s song was to highlight the “selfless, passionate work” that his 21 MLAs are apparently doing which, he claimed, Modi wants to desperately stop because he is “scared” of him and insecure about the “good work” that Delhi government is doing.
Now that the cat is out of the bag Kejriwal sees merit in playing his familiar game of Modi-baiting to convince the opposition of how tenacious and outspoken a fighter he is.
There are clear precedents of two High Courts (Bombay HC and Himachal Pradesh HC) quashing such appointments of parliamentary secretaries — in Goa and Himachal Pradesh — as violative of the Constitution. The courts have ruled that these secretaries were de facto ministers even if not ministers de jure. In two other states — Punjab and Haryana — the matter is before the high court.
With the President refusing to give assent to an amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997 seeking to give “retrospective” exemption to the parliamentary secretaries from disqualification provisions, the Delhi matter now lies with the Election Commission which will take a final decision.
Where does the Prime Minister figure in all of this? That only Kejriwal can answer. The sanctity of the President’s action in refusing assent to the bill has been seen with tinted glasses.
Indeed, Kejriwal is adept at deceit and deception. Be it during the CBI raid on his principal secretary’s office, during the suicide of a farmer at an AAP rally or even when he expelled Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav from the party, Kejriwal has painted himself as a poor victim who is being unfairly hounded by vested interests.
What then is Kejriwal’s game after all? He is building himself up as the opposition’s answer to Modi in the next Lok Sabha elections. By taking on Modi on sundry issues he is projecting himself as the only credible alternative to Modi whom he opposes at every step.
The Punjab assembly elections are being seen as a dress rehearsal for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. By doing well there, Kejriwal hopes to emerge as a consensus opposition contender for prime ministership. But all this sounds too simplistic in the cloak and dagger politics of today in India.
There is no mistaking the fact that Kejriwal has a lot of ground to cover and too much ambition could land him in deep trouble. Other contenders for the coveted office are waiting to pounce on him if he moves another step.
The general elections are still a long way off. Closer to those there will be fresh fireworks. But for now it is clear that Kejriwal will use every stratagem to achieve his purpose. More than the BJP it is the Congress that needs to watch out because wherever it is weak the Aam Aadmi Party would seek to grab the second spot.