Preordained Nemesis of a Serving Chief Minister

It was a shocking news nationally and internationally to hear that the serving Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials on 21 March 2024. This unfortunate event appears to be preordained that he had received as many as nine summons for questioning from the ED during last several months in connection with his suspected role and involvement in the much-touted Delhi Liquor Scam, but he not only willfully defied all such calls but also preferred to throw a barrage of allegations on the investigation agencies. It appears that anticipating his arrest, he knocked the doors of the Delhi High Court for seeking immunity against the probable arrest but the court refused to grant him any relief after perusing incriminating evidences against him collected by the ED so far. In fact, the court not only refused any relief but also made observation as to what barred the investigating agency to arrest him instead of issuing summons after summons. Following the court verdict, the ED immediately geared up to take action to put Mr. Kejriwal under arrest for further questioning.

What is Delhi Liquor Scam!

The Delhi Liquor Scam has turned out to be a vicious scandal involving corrupt practices to benefit a political party, certain public and private individuals and companies. As one of the innovations, the ruling Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Delhi had introduced a new Excise Policy in the year 2021-22 that introduced and allowed private firms and entrepreneurs to operate into the retail liquor which was otherwise run through the government-controlled shops. When the policy was unraveled by the Delhi government, it was touted as a significant reform in the excise and retail liquor sector which inter alia aimed at boosting the revenue collection by about Rs 9,500 crores annually. The policy actually sought to focus on moving out the retail sector, paving the entry of the large private sector and firms. The said policy draft was approved by a group of ministers of the Delhi government and accepted by the government in March 2021.

Interesting part of the current Delhi government set is that Chief Minister Kejriwal does not hold charge of any ministry/department. In other words, while he cannot be held directly accountable for any omissions or acts of misdemeanor and/or misappropriation but can still supervise and direct all or any ministry/department working under the Delhi government. The then Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia held the portfolio of the Excise department, who presented the Excise Policy on behalf of the government in 2021. The salient feature of the policy inter alia included the government’s intent to lose its grip over the retail MRP on distribution and sale of liquor, open it for the private players to enter the field of liquor business, including a leveraged licensing and certificates of authority to the newly opened private shops and retailers. For this, the area of Delhi was divided into thirty-two zones, each zone to eight to ten wards with each having a maximum of twenty-seven outlets, thus in effect having two to three liquor vendors in each municipal ward.

The Delhi government also claimed that the implementation of the new Liquor Policy would eliminate the liquor mafia, enhance consumer experiences at the new outlets and augment revenue collection many folds much needed for various welfare schemes undertaken by the government. Reportedly, the private sector liquor shops were also permitted to offer discounts on MRP for the ease of business and attracting customers besides keeping the provision of business open until 3.00 AM. When the bill was submitted to the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, he approved with the condition that the new liquor vendors in non-confirmed areas could be opened only after the permission obtained from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. However soon after the implementation of the policy, complaints and allegations of favoritism, kickbacks and corruption at the highest level in government surfaced with the strong criticism from the opposition parties, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and Congress on the forefront of such allegations.

Some of the details of the aforesaid allegations and facts as also subsequently unraveled by the Enforcement Directorate are as follows. The Excise Policy was in departure from norms in most other Indian states allowing only private shops to do business with professed aim of stopping black marketing, increase revenue and improve the customer experience with licensees offering unlimited discounts. Allegations were made that the government sold the licenses in exchange for money, the new policy contradicted the extant excise rules and norms and businessmen were willfully and arbitrarily given exemptions of heavy sums. Few videos and a clip of sting operation was also released showing a father of one FI accused, instances of unauthorized collection of money, large scale corruption and bribery by the officials. The allegations inter alia indicated that the state heavily suffered owing to the middlemen and mafias in the government in the new scheme.

Consequently, the much-touted reforms soon ran into big trouble with the Economic Offences Wing of the Delhi Police and the Lieutenant Governor himself taking cognizance of the allegations of the large-scale irregularities and corruption. Citing the report of one of the Delhi’s top bureaucrats, the Lieutenant Governor recommended a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Separately, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) too launched an investigation into the alleged economic offences and corrupt practices in implementation of the Policy and award of liquor licenses by the Delhi government, which categorically made allegations of money laundering and identified a liquor lobby dubbed as the “South Group” that allegedly paid at least Rs 100 crore in kickbacks to the ruling Aam Admi Party, part of which was allegedly appropriated in the last Goa Assembly election campaign through one of the arrested businessmen. The then Deputy Chief Minster Manish Sisodia was accused of bending rules and providing undue benefits to the liquor vend licensees. He was arrested by the ED in February 2023 and ever since his petitions for bail have even been rejected by the Supreme Court of India suggesting that enough incriminating evidences do exist against him for his involvement and active role in the stated scam. The new Excise policy was withdrawn by the Delhi government after about two months of Sisodia’s arrest.

As the gamut of the ED and CBI investigation increased with more revelations, the ED arrested yet another key leader and member of parliament Sanjay Singh for his role in money laundering related to the Delhi Liquor Scam on 4 October 2023 and has not been granted bail till now. When his name surfaced linking his role in money laundering, he had been repeatedly challenging the ED to arrest him in an endeavor to prove to public that he was innocent, and the agency was out to frame him. Earlier, he was suspended from the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) for “unruly conduct” in tearing documents, breaking mics and heckling the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. As the scope of investigation widened, the ED recently also arrested K Kavitha, daughter of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao on 15 March 2024 for her incriminating role of intermediary between the South Liquor Lobby and Aam Admi Party leaders, now sent to the judicial custody on 26 March in Tihar Jail, Delhi.

While seeking the remand of Mr. Kejriwal in court for questioning in custody, the ED officials presented evidences collected by them so far and clearly stated that the available evidence suggests that he is the kingpin of the Delhi Liquor Scam. Ever since the special PMLA Court Delhi has granted an initial remand of Mr. Kejriwal for six day which was again extended by another four days on 28 March 2024. On their part, the AAP and Mr. Kejriwal have repeatedly dismissed all charges, maintaining that the ED and CBI have found nothing against them during numerous raids and house search, and that the enforcement agencies are acting against them on false charges at the instance of the ruling BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi because they are afraid of the challenge posed by their party and want to destroy it by putting all leaders in jail on fabricated charges. The party spokesmen say there is nothing like “Liquor Scam”; however, they have no answers as to why accused leaders like former Deputy CM Manish Sisodia and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh have not been granted bail even by the Supreme Court so far.

Arrest of A Serving Chief Minister

When the CBI conducted raids on the Deputy CM Sisodia’s residence on 20 August 2022 to determine the truth behind a series of allegations made against the Delhi government about the liquor scam, both the Dy CM and CM dared the investigation agency crying foul and vendetta politics against them and the latter even tweeted, "We welcome the CBI and support any type of investigation". Among many other things, the ED investigation says that K Kavitha along with other associates conspired with the top leaders of the AAP, including CM Arvind Kejriwal and former Dy CM Manish Sisodia for extracting favors in the Delhi Excise policy-formulation and its implementation. In lieu, she was involved in payment of Rs 100 crore to the leaders of the AAP. In this process, a continuous stream of illegal funds in the form of kickbacks from the wholesalers was generated for the AAP through the acts of conspiracy and corruption.

According to reports, the ED has so far conducted nearly 250 raids across the location in Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, and other places and arrested over a dozen accused including key ministers, MP/legislatures and other government and private officials. According to reports, the agency has also discovered illegal assets worth over 128 crores as proceeds of the economic offence across the country and attached it vide their provisional orders in January and July 2023. Further, while denying bail to Manish Sisodia in October 2023, the apex court reportedly noted that a money trail of Rs 338 crore had already been tentatively established in the case. For the last many months, the ED had issued as many as nine notices to the Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal to appear before the agency to answer their questions. However, Mr Kejriwal either simply ignored or dismissed the summons citing them as illegal and unsustainable notices. While examining the plea of Mr Kejriwal against the probable arrest, the 2-judges bench of Delhi High Court refused to grant any relief and observed, after perusal of evidences produced by the ED, as to why the agency had not arrested Kejriwal and instead issued back-to-back summons. Following the court ruling, the ED immediately arrested him from his official residence at the late evening on 21 March after some initial questioning.

This time, Kejriwal had moved the court following his refusal to appear before the ED in the wake of the latter’s ninth summon served in the liquor policy scam case. Kejriwal refused to appear citing various excuses and sought protection against the possible arrent which was not granted by the court after perusing the file produced by the ED officials containing evidences against him. While Mr. Kejriwal is under remand in the custody of ED until 1st April 2024, there is a fair probability that he will continue to be retained in the judicial custody at least for the next few days or weeks, he has already created an unprecedented situation before law by refusing to resign from his government post. From his own overtures and the statements of the AAP spokespersons, it appears that he is inclined to run his government from jail. As the Indian Constitution and existing laws are silent about this extra-ordinary situation, it is yet to be seen how the government shall be run by the Chief Minister in Jail with several restrictions applicable to a prisoner as per the Jail Manual.

Global Reaction over Kejriwal Arrest

The next parliamentary elections for the Lok Sabha are due in India during April-May 2024. The AAP is an alliance partner of a joint forum of over two dozen opposition parties including the Congress and Left parties known as Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) – an opportunist bonding of several parties with conflicting interests in various states. So first and foremost, reaction opposing Kejriwal’s arrest has come from this alliance. While leaders of almost all opposition parties have criticized ED’s action ting it as ruling BJP’s vendetta politics, the Congress party actually created a furor over the arrest of Kejriwal in the liquor scam. Soon after the arrest, the Congress key leader Rahul Gandhi defended Kejriwal with a sharp attack on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In a tweet in Hindi, he cited the latter as a scared dictator who wants to create a dead democracy by capturing all the institutions including media, breaking up political parties, extorting money from companies and freezing the account of the main opposition party (Congress), and as if it was not enough for the “devilish power”, so now the arrest of the elected chief ministers has become a common thing; I.N.D.I. Alliance will give a befitting reply to this.

The aforesaid U-turn is significant because the Congress party vehemently opposed the ruling AAP in Delhi and accused the Delhi government of orchestrating the liquor policy scam until the last year. The Delhi Congress president Chaudhary Anil Kumar had filed a case on 3 June 2022 with the Delhi Police about the Delhi liquor scam against Aam Aadmi Party led Delhi Government. A tweet on the official X handle of the All India Professionals’ Congress (AIPC) said, “This is the complaint letter handed over to the Delhi Police by DPCC President Anil Chaudhary and other senior Delhi Congress leaders. Kejriwal’s fraudulent liquor policy must be reversed immediately!” They alleged that although the Excise Policy contained several checks and balances against monopolies and cartels, but several shell companies violating the terms and conditions have been able to get licenses in collusion with high level officers and ministers ignoring mandatory conditions during the tendering process and license distribution. Accordingly, the party had then sought thorough investigation into what it called a multi-crore scam.

Later a video of the senior Congress leader Ajay Maken surfaced on the social media in 2023 explaining the illegalities of the AAP ruled Delhi government in the implementation of the liquor policy, wherein it was claimed that at least a bribe of Rs 100 crore was taken besides also alleging that the AAP and Kejriwal made six percent kickbacks on sale of liquor and used it against the Congress party during the Goa assembly elections. Till some time back, the Congress leaders were taking credit for highlighting the malpractices and corruption in the alleged liquor scam but now the party has taken U-turn with an election alliance forged with the AAP and other places. Now, the I.N.D.I. Alliance has proposed a rally to protest against the arrest of Kejriwal scheduled on 31 March in the Ram Lila Maidan, New Delhi. According to reports, at least thirteen opposition parties have confirmed participation in the rally and some of the prominent faces include Wayanad MP and de facto leader Rahul Gandhi and the official party chief Mallikarjun Kharge from the Congress, Sharad Pawar of NCP, Akhilesh Yadav of Samahwadi Party, Uddhav Thakre of Shiv Sena (UBT), Tejaswi Yadav of RJD, Sitaram Yechury of CPM, and many others.

This author has already pointed out the bias of the Western media and democracies many times against the developing countries, and more particularly India which is fast emerging as a strong nation among the leading countries of the world. One feel nauseating after constantly watching their lopsided approach on any social or political development and undue interference with unsolicited remarks even without bothering to check full facts. The arrest of Kejriwal was not an exception with umpteen reports almost simultaneously published by the various media outlets in the US, UK and other countries. As many readers would already be aware how some American publications have already gained a certain level of notoriety in that they even purportedly engage journalists willing to write against the Narendra Modi government and the majority Hindu community in India.

Ordinarily, a democratic country has no business or onus to interfere or comment on the democratic and judicial processes of another democracy and independent country but within hours of CM Kejriwal’s arrest, the US publication the Washington Post published a report with the headline suggesting that the current crackdown on Kejriwal was actually part of the “crackdown” on the Indian opposition, which constituted a pre-poll umbrella alliance christened as I.N.D.I.A. Another sister US publication the New York Times wrote that the BJP was putting rival of Modi at a “disadvantage before a pivotal general election in April”, citing certain critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The most ironical part of their vicious stories was that none of them bothered even to check basic facts of the case such as why Kejriwal’s key deputy and confidante leaders like Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh have been in jail for long without getting any relief or bail even from the Supreme Court of India in the same liquor scam.

Some other well known media groups are not far behind. For instance, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) too special care to focus on the Indian opposition parties outlook that Kejriwal’s detention symbolizes a decay of democracy in the world’s largest democracy ahead of the parliamentary elections from 19 April to 01 June 2024. Another intermittent critic of the Modi government, the Financial Times largely missed in their report even the basic fact that the arrest of Mr. Kejriwal is on account of an economic offence thereby raising an issue of credibility of their own nomenclature and understanding of finance. Al Jazeera, a prominent Arabian news outlet from Doha, Qatar and also a perennial critic of the Modi government, published a report under the headline “Dead democracy: Will Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest unite India’s opposition?” suggesting that the arrest of top opposition leader ahead of election has sparked new accusations against Prime Minister Modi of trying to crush democracy.

What is common in almost all such published reports as if Arvind Kejriwal is a top opposition leader of great influence among masses with a potential to substitute Narendra Modi, and his arrest is an effort to crush opposition in a declining democracy. Incidentally, none of them have bothered to include the complete background of the case and the fact that Mr Kejriwal has been constantly ignoring summons of the investigating agency for months and the High Court in Delhi refused to grant him any relief in view of the evidences against him in the possession of the ED. Also, the media has been trying to project as if Kejriwal’s party is posing a major challenge to the Prime Minister Modi led BJP in the ensuing elections. On the contrary, the fact is the AAP is in contest with the BJP only in seven Delhi Lok Sabha seats, all of which were won by the latter during the last parliamentary elections in 2019. The only other state where the AAP has significant presence is Punjab, where the Congress and Akali Dal are other influential parties and the BJP does not have much stake.

This Western media outrage and biased reporting has not gone unnoticed this time by the Indian government. This coverage by the American and British news agencies about the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal has been reported and met with a lot of criticism by several Indian news channels and well-meaning people. While talking to the new agency Sputnik India, a senior advisor in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in India described the Washington Post and New York Times as the “mouthpieces” of the State Department and Pentagon over their biased coverage of India and that problem with publications of the western media organizations such as The New York Times and Washington Post is that they aren't reporting a story, they are reporting their bias. There is no cure to that. It is a well-known fact that they have even engaged columnists/reporters of Indian origin willing to write such stories at hefty payments.

Strangely enough in the instant case, a few Western countries such as Germany and the US too invited controversy with their officials making unwarranted remarks on the arrest of the Delhi CM Kejriwal without verifying full facts of the case. Initially, it was Germany when a German foreign ministry spokesperson expressed concern hoping for a fair treatment in Arvind Kejriwal’s arrent. After a while, a spokesperson of the US State Department was found saying that they were closely monitoring the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and encourage “a fair, transparent, and timely legal process.” Both the instances were treated as a blatant transgression of the diplomatic norms and the Indian External Ministry promptly summoned senior diplomats of both the countries with demarche to stop forthwith the blatant interference in the internal matters of India. India’s foreign ministry further added that the country’s legal processes are based on an independent judiciary which is committed to objective and timely outcomes. Hence casting any aspersions on that was unwarranted.

The Nemesis was Preordained!

It may be relevant to briefly point out here some of the factual words and deeds, activities and associated paradoxes in Mr. Arvind Kejriwal’s public life during the last nearly one decade since he joined active politics as this would assist readers to make their own opinion on his current nemesis. Hailing from Bhivani in the state of Haryana, Kejriwal received a degree in mechanical engineering from the IIT, Kharagpur, joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1995 and resigned from the service in February 2006 as Joint Commissioner of Income Tax. In the same year, he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in as activist campaigning against corruption in the government. Under the banner of the “India Against Corruption” with a veteran social activist Anna Hazare as figurehead, he remained active for a couple of years and then launched his own political party in the name of Aam Admi Party in 2012. In the initial years, his party received a massive public support in his campaign against the Congress governments in Delhi and Centre. Owning to his party’s people-oriented policies particularly in terms of freebies of electricity, water and transport sectors, he received a massive support to form 3 successive governments in Delhi.

The most paradoxical part is that his party leaders and he himself is under tremendous cloud of the same corruption against which he joined politics over a decade back. When Mr. Kejriwal joined politics, he vowed along with his key associate to pursue a simple, honest and transparent life away from the usual glare and glitter to serve the cause of public. On the contrary, controversies started from the very beginning involving Kejriwal and his key associates and confidante; in the process several other important members such as Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Shazia Ilmi, Ashutosh, Kapil Mishra, Anjali Damania, Kumar Biswas, Alka Lamba, and others either himself left or were ousted by Kejriwal from the party. Those like Manish Sisodia, Satyendra Kumar Jain, Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chadha, and some others, who actively supported Kejriwal are now either in jail for corruption or have invited other controversies which are likely to put them under trouble with law sooner or later. Some of the controversies directly impinging upon the conduct of Kejriwal during his political career are briefly enumerated here for the illustration sake:

  1. As soon as Kejriwal became Chief Minister of Delhi after forming government in Delhi in 2015, he had a showdown and ugly war of words and acrimonious battle with Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung over their jurisdiction and governance of Delhi, particularly about the control of Delhi police and transfer/postings of senior officials, wherein he so often accused the latter of working in complicity with the Central government.
  2. Kejriwal government spent disproportionally huge amount of public money on advertisements and controversial television ads inviting criticism from media and public. For illustration, one such advertisement had a tagline “Woh pareshaan karte rahein, hum kaam karte rahein" (They kept on troubling us, we continued working). Yet another showed a housewife extremely satisfied and happy blessing “Arvind” and praying his safety from bad elements for her very low electricity bill.
  3. While working as Chief Minister, he organized dharna and demonstration against the Central government in Delhi to press his political party’s demands in the name of public welfare. On one occasion as Chief Minister, he addressed self as “anarchist” and a gave a call to Delhi people to join him on 10-days protest defying police order in the capital.
  4. On many occasions, allegations of nepotism and favoritism were made against Kejriwal. For instance, he appointed party leader Naveen Jaihind's wife Swati Maliwal as the chief of Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) inviting a major controversy for nepotism. Then the opposition parties criticized Kejriwal on many occasions for offering paid positions to people from his party in government.
  5. He had frequent conflicts with own party members and erstwhile trusted colleagues at times turning to an ugly spat. Consequently, many of them either voluntarily left the party or were expelled by Kejriwal.
  6. He challenged Shakuntala Gamlin's appointment as acting Chief secretary declaring it unconstitutional in May 2015 locking horns with Lieutenant Governor. She later made sensational disclosures how the office of Chief Minister tried to stop her, levelled false charges and casted aspersions on her integrity.
  7. The AAP government was rocked with the fake degree scandal involving a cabinet colleagues Jitender Singh Tomer and some legislatures with the Chief Minister found shielding them. The Delhi High Court passed order in 2020 cancelling his election that Tomer was indeed guilty of fake degree.
  8. He has often displayed a personality of an eccentric or ego-centric or ego-centric man using un-soliciting words and fake charges against his opponents including Prime Minister Modi, several other luminaries and Delhi Police at times leading to the contempt of court proceedings. Several defamation cases have been filed against him over a period, in which he had to tender unconditional apology. Some defamation cases leading to Kejriwal’s unconditional apology include the lawsuits by former BJP leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Bikram Majitha, former Revenue Minister of Punjab. Similarly, at occasions he and his government were found to deliberately incite and help agitating people/groups against the Central government, and then, in turn, blaming the Centre for spoiling the law and order of the national capital.
  9. In January 2014, Arvind Kejriwal released a list of most corrupt politicians that included over a dozen leaders across the whole political spectrum. Of this list, the BJP leader Nitin Gadkari filed a defamation suit against him and Kejriwal had to tender an unconditional apology to him for false allegation. Now the AAP itself has joined I.N.D.I. Alliance having many of his listed politicians, including Rahul Gandhi and Sharad Pawar, apparently, he no more considers corruption an issue.
  10. Kejriwal’s official residence has been known for generating hefty power bills. Sources disclosed in the past that the residence has over thirty installed air-conditioners besides several air coolers. In recent years, Kejriwal lavishly spent a huge amount misappropriating public money for the renovation and routine maintenance of his official bungalow in Delhi. The CBI is currently investigating Rs 52.71 crore thus spent on renovation of his house complex.
  11. Some of AAP ministers and lawmakers lavishing in jail for a considerably long time include the former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh in connection with the Delhi Liquor Scam and Satyendra Kumar Jain in a money laundering case. Although Kejriwal calls it a political vendetta, even the Supreme Court of India has not granted bail to them in view of the available evidence against them.

Concluding Note

From the foregoing account, this author feels that the current nemesis of the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was preordained the way he and members of his key team and confidante have been conducting for the years now. His over ambitious approach synergized with the unethical and amoral means was bound to land him in the trouble he is now. He perhaps did not learn lessons even from the fact that many of his erstwhile colleagues associated with the so-called “India Against Corruption” campaign either voluntarily deserted the Aam Admi Party or were willfully sidelined by him. His concept of liberal freebies for the basic amenities like electricity, water and travel for women, even including the already affluent class of the national capital, have been more of tools to attract voters but needed a lot of resources to sustain own party and its growing base. Needless to mention, they needed a lot of money to sustain all this, and they were bound to commit mistakes. Result, his most trustworthy deputies like Manish Sisodia, Sanjay Singh and Satyendra Kumar Jain are already languishing in jail for long without being granted bail by the judiciary and, now, Mr. Kejriwal has been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate for the same crime.


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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