On Wednesday afternoon, the Delhi Secretariat had started to function normally again. People could be seen walking in and out of the offices. There was no indication of the violence that had occured in one of the lounges the day before, when a mob assaulted Imran Hussain, a minister in the Aam Aadmi Party-led government, his assistant personal secretary Himanshu Singh and Ashish Khetan, senior AAP leader and vice-chairperson of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi.
While the staff in the secretariat were having discussions in low whispers, none of them was willing to talk about to reporters about what they had seen. The assault took place hours after Delhi Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash alleged that he had been manhandled by some MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party at a meeting in Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence in Flagstaff Road in Delhi’s Civil Lines late on Monday night, in Kejriwal’s presence.
Prakash, who belongs to the 1986 batch, told Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal and Delhi Police that he had been called to Kejriwal’s residence to discuss issues pertaining to government advertisements for television to mark Aam Aadmi Party’s three years of governance in Delhi. But the Aam Aadmi Party told the media that the meeting was about the city’s public distribution system and why some beneficiaries were not receiving their food entitlements.
With this, the cracks between the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi and the bureaucrats who work with them have widened. This faultline has come to public attention several times since the party came to power in Delhi for the second time in February 2015, as the Aam Aadmi Party government has accused state bureaucrats of working at the behest of the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre.
But never before has an IAS officer accused the party’s ministers or MLAs of physical assault. Also unprecedented is the response of other bureacrats. On Wednesday, associations of bureaucrats from across the country have issued statements criticising the Delhi government, leading the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to seek a report on the matter from Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal. On Wednesday, Baijal told the Centre that the incident reflected breakdown between bureaucrats and the political leadership in Delhi.
“Such an incident was not unexpected,” said a senior IAS officer who was posted in Delhi till last year. “Differences in opinions have often existed between bureaucrats and the ruling governments. But that does not justify hooliganism, which many ministers and MLAs associated with the current government in Delhi have stooped down to on several occasions in the past.”
Expressions of solidarity
By Wednesday evening, the Central Indian Administrative Service Association, the central association of Indian Forest Services, the Federation of Railway Officers Association and IAS associations of at least nine states and three Union territories had issued press statements condemning the alleged incident and seeking immediate action against the perpetrators. The Central Indian Police Service Association also expressed solidarity with Prakash.
In a joint press statement issued on Tuesday, the Central IAS Association, the association of Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service and the cadre of Delhi Administrative Subordinate Services said that the incident was a “functional crisis” that amounted to a “breakdown of governance”. The associations organised a meeting on Wednesday and later issued a statement saying that officers who are members of the three associations would only communicate through formal written channels, which means that the secretariat would function without any meetings unless the matter is resolved.
Meanwhile, senior leaders in the party also said that so far they have no plans to engage in any dialogues with the IAS associations.
On Wednesday evening, Prakash himself had been scheduled to attend a meeting of the Questions and Reference Committee of the Delhi Assembly along with two other junior officers, but neither of the three went for it. Aam Aadmi Party Delhi’s spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said that Prakash’s absence at the committee meeting seemed to be related to the statement issued by the IAS association.
The police have registered a case in connection with the assault on Prakash, while another has been registered in connection with the assault on Hussain, Singh and Khetan. The police have arrested two AAP MLAs – Prakash Jarwal and Amanatullah Khan – in the first case. They were produced before a court, which turned down the police’s plea for two days’ remand for the two.
But none of the people who assaulted the Aam Aadmi Party officials had been identified by Wednesday. The suspects are believed to be junior officials and staff employed in the Delhi secretariat. On Wednesday, the police also questioned Kejriwal’s Advisor V K Jain, who was named by Prakash as the person who had called him for Monday night’s meeting.
On Wednesday morning, senior Aam Aadmi Party leaders told the media that Prakash’s allegations were false. They claimed that the two MLAs, Jarwal and Khan, were being targeted for their Dalit and Muslim identities by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre that controls the Delhi Police. But those claims seemed to fall flat when Prakash’s medico-legal case report was published in the media. It said that the doctors had found swellings behind both his ears, cheek bones and bruises on his lower lip, suggesting that he had been physically assaulted. The Aam Aadmi Party reacted by tweeting the medico-legal case report pertaining to minister Imran Hussain’s assistant personal secretary Himanshu Singh and some of their MLAs questioned the delay on part of Prakash in going for the medical check up.
This incident comes close on the heels of the disqualification of 20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs for holding offices of profit, which received the President’s assent last month. The party then took the matter to the Delhi High Court, which refused to stay the Election Commission’s orders, even though it has restrained the commission from announcing bye-polls until the court arrives at a decision. However, senior leaders of the Delhi BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Delhi Congress said they do not see any connection between these incidents.
While senior AAP officials Sanjay Singh and Ashutosh claimed that the incident was an attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party to destabilise the government in Delhi, Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari has asked for the resignation of the chief minister. “The Kejriwal government’s Ministers and MLAs, by creating an atmosphere of anarchy in Delhi, are encouraging urban-naxalism in the capital and insulting Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the father of Indian Constitution,” he said.
The Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee also came out in support of Prakash and condemned the incident.