Editorial: Delhi’s Constitutional Conundrum

Editorial: Delhi’s Constitutional Conundrum

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Sunday, March 31, 2024, 07:10 PM IST
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If there is one thing Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is good at, it is to stay in the news — for right or wrong reasons. Ten days after his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in an alleged case of corruption in the liquor scam, Kejriwal has ensured that he dominates the headlines with his so-called “directives” to his ministerial colleagues. Of course, these are banal gimmicks for the AAP leaders to peddle and are meant to generate sympathy for the beleaguered leader. From the indifferent reaction to his arrest and the subsequent events, it seems the national capital isn’t unduly concerned with the arrest. A series of alleged scams and an ingrained habit to blame others for the acts of omission and commission of the AAP government had already taken the sheen off the former anti-corruption champion. Now he finds himself at the centre of a corruption scam. Aside from the liquor excise scam in which he and a couple of former ministerial colleagues are in prison, quite a few other charges are in the public domain. Besides, the manner in which rules were flouted to divert over Rs 50 crore from government account for a luxury home for the Chief Minister is now being investigated. Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption lieutenant is embroiled in various unsavoury controversies. However, it is his refusal to follow the well-set precedent about a chief minister resigning immediately after arrest or before arrest which is a matter of serious concern. From J Jayalalitha to Lalu Prasad Yadav and more recently Hemant Soren, all were careful to quit before being arrested in corruption-related cases. But the anti-corruption AAP messiah clings to the CM’s post, asserting that he would run the government from jail. A more ridiculous position was hard to imagine. Even if the Constitution is silent on the matter — the founding fathers may not have visualised the likes of Kejriwal in constitutional posts — common sense leaves no one in doubt that it will be a travesty of the Constitution. The simple option for Kejriwal is to nominate his successor till he is absolved in the corruption case. Even if he was paranoid not to nurture a second line of leadership, his own instinct may be to name his wife as chief minister. He should not hesitate. Lalu Yadav named his wife Rabri Devi as his successor when he went to jail in the fodder scam. Kejriwal can anoint his wife Sunita a former IRS officer, to head the Delhi government till after his acquittal in the liquor excise scam. As it is, his wife has been reading out messages from Kejriwal, allegedly smuggled out from prison, with big photographs of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh opportunistically hung in the background. The business of government in the national capital cannot remain in limbo indefinitely even as Kejriwal goes through exploring legal remedies for his release. Given that the other accused in the case have been denied bail despite being in prison for several months, it is hard to see how the courts can make an exception in Kejriwal’s case. Therefore, the only alternative before the AAP is to replace Kejriwal as CM.

On its part, the central government should not hurry to impose President’s rule. Lt Governor Vinai Saxena has said that the government cannot be run from jail. But he should avoid the temptation to try and run it from the LG House. Let the AAP legislature party decide its next course of action. The LG can write to the Speaker of the Delhi Assembly asking it to elect a new leader. That is one option that he must explore even if the Speaker declines to act on his direction. The other option is to seek a judicial remedy. Given how the higher judiciary is willing to foray into hitherto strictly executive and parliamentary matters, resolving the constitutional crisis should be par for the course. Directing the AAP MLAs to elect a new leader at the pain of Presidents’ rule would be okay to avoid a mockery of the Constitution. Otherwise the only option is to allow Kejriwal to make a mockery of the Constitution and persist with the untenable situation in the Capital for as long as he wants. In no case should the Lt Governor of Delhi take the initiative to impose President’s rule. Leave it to 62 AAP MLAs out of 70 in the Delhi Assembly to find the way out of a prickly situation of their own making.

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