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Arvind sets power terms, gets rivals’ goat
Cong sniffs escape ploy

New Delhi, Dec. 14: Arvind Kejriwal today set the Congress and the BJP a raft of conditions if his Aam Aadmi Party has to form the government in Delhi, and said the final decision would be taken in the “people’s court” within 10 days.

The unprecedented setting of terms to political rivals, and Kejriwal’s insistence they answer each of his 18 questions without prevarication, prompted Congress and BJP sources to accuse him of “arrogance”, “self-righteousness” and ignorance of how Indian democracy works.

Congress spokespersons also suggested the move was a ploy by the greenhorn AAP to dodge the responsibility of forming a government. However, the Congress’s man in charge of Delhi affairs, Shakeel Ahmed, said he would send the party’s reply to Kejriwal in a couple of days. The BJP stayed non-committal.

Kejriwal’s move is the first by any party towards forming the government in Delhi after the polls threw up a hung 70-member Assembly, with the BJP alliance leading with 32 seats and the AAP second at 28. So far, both groups had said they preferred fresh polls to forming a minority government.

Today, Kejriwal met Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung and sought 10 days’ time. He then wrote to Sonia Gandhi and BJP chief Rajnath Singh, asking if they were ready to provide “unconditional support and full cooperation” on a set of 18 issues.

“Please give your view on every issue and don’t speak in a roundabout way like ‘ideologically we are with you’, etc,” said the letter, its tone leaving many in the Congress and the BJP seething.

“After the replies are received,” Kejriwal told reporters, “we shall ask the people of Delhi whether they want the Aam Aadmi Party to form the government.”

Party sources said they might call a public meeting at the Ramlila Maidan, the venue of a fast by Anna Hazare, and use the public address system to seek the crowd’s response.

If no party stakes claim by December 18, five years from the day the previous Assembly was formed, President’s rule will come into effect and the House will be put under suspended animation.

This is almost certain to happen since Kejriwal has sought 10 days. But whenever any party claims a majority after December 18, the rules say it can be given a chance to form the government.

Kejriwal said Jung had told him “we can write to him whenever we are ready to form the government”.

‘Mix-up’ charge

Congress and BJP leaders poured scorn on Kejriwal’s move to grab the moral high ground. BJP spokesperson Balbir Punj cautioned the AAP against thinking it was the country’s “bhagya vidhata (arbiter of destiny)” but said his party would play the role of a “constructive Opposition”.

Delhi Congress leaders Harun Yusuf and Arvinder Singh Lovely, who were ministers in the Sheila Dikshit government, accused Kejriwal of having confused the domains of the executive and the legislature.

They said it was ridiculous to send governance-related questions to a party (the Congress) that had only promised “outside support” to enable the AAP to govern Delhi according to its own agenda and programmes.

“What they are saying has no relevance to the support to them, as their 18 issues are part of the executive (domain) where the legislature does not interfere. Kejriwal should understand that if he wants to bring the power tariff down, he can do so; if they want a probe against corruption, they can do that. They don’t have to ask the Assembly,” Lovely said.

“A government has to be competent enough to arrange funds for all these things. If they feel they can’t arrange (the funds), they should not do it. But we won’t be arranging funds for their plans.”

‘Running away’

Lovely and Yusuf also accused Kejriwal of using the questionnaire as an escape hatch.

“The Congress has extended support so the AAP can form the government as they got the mandate. The AAP has sent the long list only to avoid the responsibility,” Yusuf said.

“He has garnered votes by misleading people. I would ask the youth, who have supported them, (to) demand that the party form the government and fulfil its promises.”

Some independent observers too said Kejriwal seemed to be lobbing the ball into his rivals’ courts so he could later slam the “established parties”. They felt this could be his way of getting back at the Congress for putting him in a spot by offering unconditional support.

An AAP leader’s comment seemed to lend credence to the view. “It’s very likely that neither the Congress nor the BJP would give a point-by-point reply to all the 18 issues,” he said.

“Then we can call the people to the Ramlila Maidan and ask them if they have faith in the Congress’s commitment to giving us unconditional support. The most likely response would be a big ‘No’.”