Abraham Lincoln once said “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” These words might be playing out in a most unexpected manner for Aam Aadmi Party’s newly elected government in Delhi. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has his hands full, with one controversy after another rocking his precariously positioned regime.
The 2013 Delhi Legislative Assembly victory already seems to be a thing of the past. Both the Congress and the BJP were stunned by the show Arvind and Company put up. Though they won only 29.49 percent of the votes cast (compared to the BJP’s 33.07 percent), the first-past-the-post electoral system and a fractured mandate meant that Aam Aadmi Party could form a government with 28 seats from its own kitty and 8 from the Congress’.
Even ardent supporters would not have imagined such an outcome. The mood was suitably euphoric. Partisans in the media were speaking of a new dawn, nay a revolution. Any criticism could be brushed away as a case of sour grapes. But the danger lies in getting carried away by the hype and hoopla.
Some of the problems that cropped up can be dismissed either as those created by disgruntled elements within the organization or political opponents unhappy with its aggressive and independent style of functioning. A good example would be one of their MLAs – Vinod Kumar Binny who accused the Chief Minister of taking the party away from its stated position and falling short of the public’s expectations.
This might be explained away as the act of a person unhappy at being denied a Cabinet post and a Lok Sabha nomination. Criticism from the BJP directed at its post-poll tie-up with the Congress is also a case of political grandstanding. Both national parties have formed governments by allying with bitter rivals and formations at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum on umpteen occasions. Such criticism should be taken with a pinch of salt. There are far more pressing issues to be addressed.
There is need for introspection as well. One of these relates to the nature of politics being pursued by Arvind Kejriwal. Critics have termed it brash, intemperate and bordering on the anarchic. Others have expressed displeasure at his tendency to indulge in fasts and sit-ins at the drop of a hat. That he continues to do so even after forming the government in Delhi and taking oath as Chief Minister throws him open to allegations of administrative irresponsibility and political short-sightedness.
It is one thing to be agitating against a government bent on defending tainted ministers, unwilling to introduce strong anti-corruption legislation or falling short of providing adequate security to women in the national capital, and quite another to be in power and resort to protests in violation of prohibitory orders.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to sit in a dharna along with his ministers outside Rail Bhavan demanding action against officials of the Delhi Police has invited severe censure. He wanted action to be taken against 5 police officials who had not cooperated with the AAP cadre during a raid against African nationals allegedly involved in peddling drugs and human trafficking in South Delhi. The stunt invited stinging comments from friends and foes alike. While Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde appealed to the Chief Minister to maintain the dignity of his office, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman maintained that the Aam Aadmi Party was still in the activism mode.
The media, especially AAP’s well-wishers in television studios across the country, have scaled back the raucous support usually extended to every move made by Arvind Kejriwal. Questions are being raised. What will sting him most are comments by former Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde. Mr. Hegde had campaigned alongside him for India Against Corruption. A man known for his balanced views, the retired judge told the media that it was unlawful for a Chief Minister to protest outside Parliament and that it would set a wrong precedent.
The dilemma faced by the Aam Aadmi Party with regard to its political methodology comes alive when examined in light of other points raised by Justice Hegde. He criticised the choice of venue by the AAP leaders, especially in view of the upcoming Republic Day celebrations. The Delhi Chief Minister had absolved himself of any responsibility for disruptions caused on Rajpath. That the Republic Day Parade presents a formidable challenge for security forces and the administration did not register itself on the AAP radar.
The Chief Minister is not wrong in demanding the transfer of executive control of the Delhi Police from the Union Government to the state government. Similar demands were made by his predecessors- BJP’S Madan Lal Khurana and Congress’ Sheila Dikshit. Both came a cropper in face of the Centre’s denial, led by their own parties at that point of time. But the attempt to bring Delhi to a standstill smacks of political immaturity. As pointed out by Justice Hegde, such matters are to be settled through negotiations between the Union and State governments, in keeping with Constitutional guidelines.
The other demand with which the Chief Minister jumped into the fray was the transfer of police personnel whom he blamed for defying Ministerial orders. This was related to the episode where his Law Minister Somnath Bharti descended on a group of African women in a vigilante-style operation. Leading a group of men, he barged into a Khirki Extension, South Delhi house occupied by Ugandan and Nigerian nationals, on the basis of a complaint by some locals who suspected them of running a drug and prostitution racket.
According to Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Police erred by refusing to carry out the operation as directed by Mr. Bharti. The reason furnished by the Police for non-compliance was that they could not carry out a raid without a warrant. The stand taken by the Aam Aadmi Party is whimsical. As per the law, the police cannot carry out an enter-and-search operation without a warrant. These are measures put in place to safeguard the rights of citizens (as well as foreign nationals) and to prevent the police from indulging in an arbitrary exercise of power, which can very easily degenerate into harassment and political vendetta.
Some supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party have defended the actions of the Delhi Law Minister on the grounds that such operations have been carried out in the past without a warrant. What one needs to remember is that nobody is above the law. Something that members of the party have been crying from the rooftops ever since their agitations under the banner of India Against Corruption began. Defending such acts; worse still calling for the suspension of police officers refusing to comply with the unconstitutional demands of their Law Minister does not pass muster.
The foreign nationals who were at the receiving end of the vigilante operation have accused Mr. Bharti and his companions of having entered their residence by force, abusing them, forcibly transporting them to AIIMS and making them undergo medical tests and cavity searches. A FIR has been registered against ‘unknown persons’ for harassing and misbehaving with the four women in question. The Delhi Law Minister’s name does not appear in the report.
The episode has become a source of great embarrassment to the whole country; something that could have been avoided merely by sticking to the rulebook. All Mr. Bharti needed was to wait for a warrant to be issued. He did not. If there was a case for insubordination or worse still, collusion between the police and the accused foreigners, an enquiry could have been ordered. He chose not to. But the habit of indulging in public spectacles has done great damage to him, his government and state.
Just as nobody is above the law so also the law does not exist for selective application. Accusations of racism aside, what Delhi’s newly sworn-in Cabinet needs to keep in mind is that they were not voted into power to continue their street-fighting ways. The mandate was for a government that would solve the myriad problems faced by Delhi’s residents. Corruption continues to be a major problem for the country’s polity. But the way to stem it is to use constitutional methods and cleanse the system of undesirable elements. Setting the law aside will only end up damaging the Aam Aadmi Party’s chances of implementing what it had promised to the electorate.