As the law came down on Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti and some from his own party endorsed calls for action against him, the top brass of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) decided to stand by him.
Emerging from a meeting of party leaders, Yogendra Yadav told reporters that there were three issues before them: whether Bharti’s actions violated procedure, whether his remarks smacked of racism, whether he misbehaved with women. And based on “evidence so far”, he said the answer was in the negative on all three counts.
Yadav said a judicial probe was already underway. “If the probe finds him guilty on any count, we will take suitable action.”
On January 16, Bharti led a raid on an alleged drug-and-prostitution ring in Khirki Extension in south Delhi after receiving “complaints from residents”. Flagging down a police van, Bharti stopped four Ugandan women and took them to AIIMS and forced them to give urine samples for a drug test. The women have since recorded statements before the police. Bharti also quarrelled with police who, citing lack of a warrant, refused to conduct a search on a house he suspected was a den of vice.
On Thursday, hours before the AAP leaders went into a huddle, a court in Saket sought a reply from the DCP (South) within two days on the status of the inquiry into the midnight raid by Bharti and his men. The directions came four hours after the SHO of the Malviya Nagar police station told the court that they were conducting an inquiry into complaints of several Ugandan woman that they had been assaulted by men, allegedly led by Bharti.
The Delhi Commission for Women too has summoned Bharti to depose before it on Friday. Sources in the DCW said that if he did not turn up, then it will take up the matter with Lt Governor Jung.
AAP leaders including Yogendra Yadav, Sanjay Singh, Gopal Rai, Manish Sisodia and Bharti met at the party’s Hanuman Road office in central Delhi.
The meeting was called just hours after Kejriwal met Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung. Earlier in the day, Congress and BJP leaders had met Jung and Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi to demand Bharti’s arrest. “If the SHOs have been asked to go on leave pending inquiry, so should Bharti,” Delhi Congress leader Arvinder Singh Lovely said.
This was evident after the Law Minister skipped a crucial meeting on the draft Delhi Lokayukta Bill, which is likely to be given approval by the state cabinet on Friday. The Bill modelled on the AAP’s model Jan Lokpal Bill is likely to be tabled in the Assembly early February.
A senior AAP leader said, “While the AAP meeting in Hanuman Road will primarily revolve around the Jan Lokpal and the LS elections, Somnath Bharti’s conduct will also be discussed, which is why he was called.” The leader said that Kejriwal’s defensive stand on Bharti did not have many takers in the AAP. The CM had staged a two-day protest outside Rail Bhawan, demanding action against police officers, including one who refused to give in to Bharti’s demands on the night of January 16.
According to sources in the party, the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) had already agreed that Bharti had used “unparliamentary language” against Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley. Bharti has also been asked to watch his language in public.