The shrill response of the Aam Aadmi Party leadership to the arrests of Rajendra Kumar, principal secretary to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Tarun Sharma, deputy secretary to the CM and three other officials by the CBI is unbecoming of a party that rose to power on its promise of a principled fight against corruption. The CBI has alleged that these officials are involved in a Rs 50-crore scam that unfolded since 2006. It is for the courts to decide the merit of the cases, but the AAP’s response almost suggests a distrust in due process. It has been quick to see a political conspiracy and has claimed that the case has been foisted on the officials by a Centre acting out of hostility towards the AAP government in Delhi. A conspiratorial narrative starring Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Delhi Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and others and a plot in which Kejriwal is the chief target and victim has been constructed by the AAP leadership. The transfers of 11 bureaucrats from the Delhi government to the Andamans has also been brought into this story by the AAP to shore up its allegation of an elaborate plan by the Centre to discredit Kejriwal. Parties, no doubt, scheme to trip up rivals, and certainly, relations between the Centre and Delhi government have not been cordial. However, the AAP’s theatrical grumbling about political rivals, its constant invocation of conspiracies and conflating of issues do not help its own case.
This episode frames a deeper problem: The AAP appears to have made an incomplete transition from movement to government, its leadership still tends to blur the lines between party and government. This is troubling, particularly at a time when the party is also in campaign mode in Punjab and Goa. The tone and rhetoric deployed by politicians in the electoral campaign often ill-suits leaders in office who are expected to respect the primacy of due process and express disagreement or difference of opinion while abiding by institutional constraints. The CBI is the country’s foremost investigative agency and it does not behove a government to loosely accuse it of political motives. In this particular case, admittedly, questions have been raised by the court about the CBI’s conduct and that is something the CBI must respond to. Surely, the government too can raise its concerns in court.
The AAP cannot claim immunity from due process for its officials or legislators. Cases need to be fought in courts, not by displays of public anger or the venting of outrage on the street. By leaning towards the latter response, the AAP does disservice to its role and responsibility as a party of government.