Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s reputation as an anti-corruption crusader came under extreme stress on Sunday as a bribery scandal broke in the Aam Aadmi Party. A day after he was sacked from the state cabinet, Kapil Mishra alleged that Kejriwal had taken a bribe of Rs 2 crores from Health Minister Satyendra Jain.
Mishra also claimed that Jain had told him that he had sealed a Rs 50-crore land deal in favour of one of Kejriwal’s relatives. Mishra said his decision to confront the Delhi chief minister about the scam cost him his job.
After AAP swept the Delhi Assembly polls in 2015, Mishra was entrusted with the crucial water ministry. One of Kejriwal’s key promises during the polls was to solve the Capital’s water shortage. But when the party was decimated by the Bharatiya Janata Party in municipal elections at the end of April, the mediaspeculated that Kejriwal had identified AAP’s failure fulfil its promise about water as one of the major factors contributing to its defeat.
Another factor that contributed to Mishra’s removal was his public support for AAP leader Kumar Vishwas
when the latter criticised the party’s leadership last week for allowing MLAs to air allegations that he was undermining the government. AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan had accused Vishwas of helping the BJP poach party legislators. After the controversy broke, Kejriwal personally pacified Vishwas, a popular face of the AAP, and suspended Amanatullah from the party.
On Sunday, Vishwas backed Kejriwal and said even the chief minister’s worst enemies would not believe that he would take bribes.
It is not unusual for politicians to jump boats when they begin to realise that the party they are attached to might be flailing.
After the high of 2015, when AAP won an overwhelming 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly, the party was projected as the next big challenge for the BJP. Kejriwal was also looking to expand beyond the borders of the Capital and spent a considerable time in Pubjab campaigning for state elections there in Feburary.
But despite spirited efforts, AAP failed to win Punjab. This struck a blow to party morale given the high expectations Kejriwal drummed up ahead of the polls.
However, the greater disappointment came in the form of the drubbing the municipal elections in Delhi last month. Despite being the ruling party in Delhi, AAP was not able to stop the BJP juggernaut, whose cadres were boosted by the massive win in the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh in March. The BJP won 184 seats in the municipalities to AAP’s 47.
The controversy relating to Kumar Vishwas emerged almost immediately after the municipal polls. Vishwas publicly asked the party to introspect about the results.
Against this backdrop, questions are bound to be asked about the veracity of the allegations made about Kejriwal by one of his own former ministers.
The fact that the allegation came from a person involved at the highest levels of decision making in the state government makes the establishment of an independent investigation a necessity. It is only by subjecting himself to such an investigation that the Delhi chief minister can attempt to clear his name.
A corruption scandal is far more devastating for AAP than for the Congress or the BJP. After all, Kejriwal’s political platform was constructed on the foundations of social activist Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement under the India Against Corruption banner. Unlike the BJP, whose politics is driven by Hindutva, AAP has no clear-cut ideology to fall back on. Probity in public life is its only selling point, but this has now come under threat due to the allegation of bribery against Kejriwal.
However, even as the BJP must demand an investigation into the allegations of corruption against Kejriwal, it should not lose sight of its own track record when it comes to launching investigations into graft charges.
On November 22, 2014, the Income Tax department raided the premises of Sahara India Group. Recovered during this raid was a tranche of documents that contained several notes which suggested that bribes running into crores of rupees were given to some of the top politicians of the BJP between October and November 2013. Among the names in this file are Narendra Modi, who was the Gujarat chief minister at that time. Other names caught included Chatthisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh of the BJP.
However, despite the serious nature of these allegations, the Centre has failed to investigate the matter. After the Supreme Court refused to order an investigation into the charges earlier this year, the matter was given a silent burial.
If the BJP wants Arvind Kejriwal to resign on moral ground based on the allegations of a former minister, it should also launch an investigation into the Sahara diaries. There cannot be double standards in public life.
Corrections and clarifications: This article has been edited to correct Kapil Mishra’s name.