Midnight Drama at Kejriwal’s Residence

Tukoji R. Pandit

The Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal seems to have become synonymous with controversies—most of them unnecessary and avoidable. Take the latest one which is about an assault on the chief secretary, Anshu Prakash, when he was in a meeting—around midnight– with Aam Admi Party MLAs in the presence of the chief minister at the latter’s residence.

That the chief secretary was physically attacked by two AAP MLAs is disputed by the party. Media reports about a medical report that confirms bruises and swelling on the bureaucrat’s face does establish that he was beaten; the question is by whom. In the meanwhile, two AAP MLAs have been arrested following a police complaint about the attack.

The very first thing that strikes one as odd—and unnecessary—is the timing of the meeting. It clearly was held late at night.

There are two versions behind calling the meeting. According to one story, the meeting was called by the chief minister to discuss matters relating to problems with ration cards and how it affected the poor who could not utilise the public distribution facility. The second version is that the meeting was called to discuss why an advertisement approved by the AAP government has been held up.

The two versions make no mention of any ‘agenda’ fixed for the meeting or else there would not have been conflicting versions about why it took place. It does appear that the meeting was called rather hurriedly and primarily to enable the party MLAs to grill the chief secretary, a bureaucrat (who is ‘appointed’ not ‘elected’ to a post), rather than the chief minister they had elected and who is answerable to them.

It is no secret that Kejriwal likes to function in an ‘unconventional’ manner. Till very recently he held no portfolio while retaining the post of chief minister when the normal practice for the chief ministers is to retain a large number of portfolios. He is often accused of being theatrical in attracting attention to problems. He thinks he can force the Central government to accept his demands by this method. His style of speaking bluntly in public betrays lack of sophistication.

These tactics may work when used against political peers or rivals. But bureaucracy is different. Bureaucracy in India may be said to be ‘spineless’ but the ‘Babus’ will not bend before threats and insults hurled by an executive head who is subservient to the federal government.

Kejriwal ought to have realised by now that as a chief minister he cannot be perennially playing the role of ‘angry man’ of politics.  There has to be some real good reason to summon the chief secretary at short notice and at a late hour. Besides, you don’t expect the top bureaucrat to be subjected to probing or inquisition by MLAs despite the aura that surrounds elected representatives.

Assuming that the meeting was called to discuss both the issues—ration cards and blockage of government ads, both the issues are, no doubt, important in their own way, but by no stretch of imagination can they be called pressing issues requiring search for solution at a midnight rendezvous.

Official meetings rarely take place at a late hour. It happens only when there has been some tragedy like an earthquake or a big fire that do not permit any delay in providing help or relief and putting the rescue work on a war footing.

Whatever the issue with ration cards—bungling or whatever—the problem could very well have been discussed during ‘normal’ hours. Even if the chief secretary was required to issue a corrective order it would not have been executed well after the day’s work starts.

The reported anger with the chief secretary over the delay in the publication of the Delhi administration’s advertisement in the media—the government and the private media—looks misplaced. First of all, this is not a matter that needed to be taken up late at night even if the chief minister was not free during the day.

From media reports it emerges that the delay was caused by certain claims and phrases in the Delhi advertisement, which had not been backed up by relevant statistics and facts. Some media reports pointed out that the Delhi government ad spoke of achievements of the Delhi government without supplementing the claim with figures. Pertinent to point out in this context that  in the last few years, the central and state governments have been regularly releasing huge ads about their ‘achievements’—all accompanied by facts and figures even when some of them may have been disputed by critics.

Discussing ads at an ‘emergency’ late night meeting is bizarre, especially if it requires the presence of the highest official of a state (or union territory). But it is interesting that the raging controversy about that meeting at Kejriwal’s official residence hardly refers to why it was called; all the attention now is on the attack on the chief secretary and the arrest of two AAP MLAs.

Expectedly, the issue has been taken up by the two political rivals of the Aam Admi Party in Delhi -the Congress and the BJP. The Congress demands an apology from the chief minister; the BJP wants the Delhi government dismissed.

Dismissing the Delhi government will help AAP portray as the victim of a ‘conspiracy’ against it and, thereby, it can be cashed for seeking public support.

Irrespective of whether or not the AAP government is dismissed, the more worrying thing for the ruling party in Delhi is the anger it has spread among the entire bureaucracy in Delhi. It will aggravate the problem of ‘governance’ in which AAP has been found wanting.

AAP will do well f it pays attention to the fact that its unending warfare with Modi is not winning it the sympathy that it imagines. By and large the middle class disapproves of the continuous battle that AAP has been waging against the BJP-led central government; the poor remain the backbone of AAP support.  The potential of the middle class influencing decisions taken by the poor cannot be underestimated. Syndicate Features


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