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  Opinion   Columnists  24 Mar 2024  Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Kejriwal arrest: Will it help BJP get political advantage?

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Kejriwal arrest: Will it help BJP get political advantage?

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Mar 25, 2024, 12:03 am IST
Updated : Mar 25, 2024, 12:03 am IST

Modi Government's Influence in ED's Probe of AAP: Political Consequences Unfold

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being produced before the Rouse Avenue Court, in New Delhi, Friday, March 22, 2024. Kejriwal was arrested on Thursday by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the money laundering case linked to alleged irregularities in the scrapped Delhi excise policy 2021-22. (PTI Photo)
 Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being produced before the Rouse Avenue Court, in New Delhi, Friday, March 22, 2024. Kejriwal was arrested on Thursday by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the money laundering case linked to alleged irregularities in the scrapped Delhi excise policy 2021-22. (PTI Photo)

There are two stories involved in the alleged liquor scam of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the ruling party at Delhi. The first is the alleged Rs 100 crore payback that the AAP politicians, specifically deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, received while privatising the liquor vends in the National Capital Territory (NCT). The question is not about the economic wisdom of the decision. It is about the money made illegally in the transaction. The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is an arm of the Central Government, which in effect is the Narendra Modi government, has now indicated that Rs 45 crores of that Rs 100 crores was spent by the AAP in the Goa Assembly election campaign in 2022. The “illegal” money spent in the election gives it a political dimension. And that is where the Bharatiya Janata Party enters the game. It is in power at the Centre with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its head. This is the second and the more important story.

The BJP has established itself as the most aggressive political player in the country. It brooks no rivalry, no opposition. Members of the BJP are always on the lookout for the follies of its opponents.

The BJP members on the prowl may or may not be an organised cell, but they do seem to function like one, an intelligence cell or the dirty tricks department. Many of the political scandals that the BJP had raked up for decades, including from the times of liberal Atal Behari Vajpayee, have been the outcome of the BJP’s search teams. It is not difficult to guess that there were many disgruntled elements when the AAP government in Delhi wanted to change the rules in the liquor trade. And it can only be said that the BJP-led Modi government at the Centre grabbed them with vicious glee. The ED will not ever say that it got on to the story because of its political prompters.

The BJP had lost the Delhi Assembly electoral battle to the AAP twice, in 2015 and in 2020, and in decisive terms. In a House of 70, the AAP had won 67 and the BJP three seats in 2015, and in 2020, the AAP had won 62 seats and the BJP eight. It was ignominious defeat for a party that had been preening at its convincing victories in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Modi government had done everything it could to push chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP government from pillar to post when it came to governance.

The office of the lieutenant-governor of Delhi had been effectively used to trip up the Delhi government. The Supreme Court ruled that the lieutenant-governor could not obstruct an elected government, and that the Delhi government had control over the administrative services. The Narendra Modi government promptly brought an amendment to the law governing the National Capital Territory of Delhi Act in December 2023, restoring the powers of the L-G to control Delhi’s bureaucracy.

The BJP is sure to argue that the liquor scam is an open-and-shut case of the AAP’s descent into corruption and it had nothing to do with the bitter rivalry between the BJP and the AAP in Delhi and elsewhere. That the ED is pursuing the case on its own steam might be plausible. But that it has the support of the Narendra Modi government to do so with greater vigour is understandable too. The protestations of innocence by the BJP would sound hollow as well as hypocritical. The public is asked to believe that under the earlier Congress governments, all investigative agencies -- the Enforcement Directorate, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the income-tax department -- were all working at the behest of the then ruling party. The comment of the Supreme Court that the CBI was a “caged parrot” was parroted quite approvingly by the BJP then. It will be said that no Union Cabinet minister at present has direct access to the investigative agencies. Does Prime Minister Narendra Modi have a general oversight over the investigative agencies? Does Union home minister Amit Shah have an inkling of the cases that the agencies are chasing? Does Union law and justice minister Arjun Ram Meghwal get briefed by the attorney-general or the solicitor-general about the major cases?

The courts will decide the legal aspects of the cases brought by the ED against the AAP, against Mr Kejriwal and Mr Sisodia. And it may take a few years for the higher courts to turn down the lower courts’ verdicts of conviction. The ED has been under the Supreme Court’s scrutiny for its various acts of omission and commission. The court has refused to reconsider its October 2023 judgment that the ED cannot arrest people without giving reasons in writing for the arrest. The higher courts could have reined in the agencies over their cavalier ways. The courts have been slow.

But the political consequences will play out much faster, especially at election time. The BJP wants to clinch the political advantage, both in the Lok Sabha elections in April-May, and in the Delhi Assembly elections in February 2025. It hopes to pin down the AAP by keeping its leaders in prison as long as it can. The Modi government’s stand that the investigating agencies are acting on their own would not be credible enough. It is indeed the invisible hand behind the ED, CBI and others.

There is an ominous trend underlying the BJP’s game of fighting corruption. The Narendra Modi government is targeting the Opposition parties, from the Congress to the AAP to the Trinamul Congress and the DMK, and in the process it could eliminate the political Opposition as such. It does so in the name of corruption. The BJP will remain the lone lily-white political party with no trace of corruption, of course in its own eyes and that of its supporters. The BJP will argue that it is better to demolish the corrupt political edifice to build a new, clean system. That is how dictatorial regimes establish their corrupt reign. They will offer specious arguments that it takes a time to build a clean system. There will also be the argument that if there is single-party rule, there would be no competition and there would be no room for corruption. There are more ways than one to end democracy.

Tags: delhi liquor scam, enforcement directorate (ed), arvind kejriwal arrest