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Aw, what a fuss about 1 extra bedroom!

Arvind defends choice of houses

The official accommodation allotted to Arvind Kejriwal in New Delhi. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Jan. 3: Most Aam Aadmi Party ministers today arrived at the Assembly in official cars and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was set to move into a 10-bedroom residence, the perks drawing attention because of the party’s vow to “finish VIP culture”.

The use of the facilities — Kejriwal and his team are entitled to them — less than a week into power raised eyebrows on a day AAP legislator M.S. Dhir was elected Speaker.

This followed an election, a first in the Delhi Assembly, in which Dhir defeated the BJP’s Jagadish Mukhi. The Congress, JD(U) and an Independent backed Dhir, making it the AAP’s second Assembly triumph after it won the trust vote yesterday.

Thirty-seven members backed Dhir, while Mukhi got the votes of the 31 BJP members and the lone MLA from ally Akali Dal. The House has 70 members, including the pro-tem Speaker who did not vote.

But attention outside remained focused on the AAP leaders’ use of power perks because they had made such a big deal initially about being aam aadmis, with Kejriwal even refusing security.

Most of the six AAP ministers arrived at the Assembly in government cars. Kejriwal came in his own Maruti but faced questions over the accommodation he is set to move into in Lutyens Delhi. Second-in-command and education minister Manish Sisodia has also been assigned a government house in east Delhi.

Last Saturday, chief minister Kejriwal had travelled in a Metro train on way to his swearing-in at the Ramlila Maidan.

Over the next few days, his colleagues followed his example. On Monday, women and child development minister Rakhi Birla arrived at her office in an auto. Her colleague and law minister Somnath Bharti had taken the Metro to the new Assembly’s first sitting.

“There is a weird VIP culture prevalent here. We need to eradicate it from Delhi and the entire nation,” Kejriwal had declared in the House a few days ago.

Education minister Manish Sisodia leaves Delhi Assembly in his official car on Friday. Picture by Yasir Iqbal

But his ministers have not seen any reason to refuse Innovas with VIP numbers — the number of transport minister Saurabh Bharadwaj’s SUV is DL3CEB0001. Delhi government sources said many of the vehicles were those used by Congress ministers in the three-term Sheila Dikshit government.

In the Assembly, BJP members raised the allotment of the 10-bedroom duplex accommodation to Kejriwal even before the Speaker’s election had taken place.

Speaking outside later, the chief minister argued he was “merely upgrading” to a five-bedroom home from his four-bedroom flat. “I am only going to live in one of the flats. The adjacent flat will be used as an office. Which means that I can start working early in the morning,” he said.

Kejriwal didn’t say he was also “upgrading” from Kaushambi in Ghaziabad to the VIP enclave in New Delhi.

The AAP leader said comparisons should be made with the bungalow where former chief minister Sheila Dikshit lived. While Dikshit’s home had eight rooms in all, it had a sprawling lawn and porta cabins serving as an office wing.

But given his aam aadmi refrain, Kejriwal might have looked at the example of Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee or her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, neither of whom moved into government accommodation after assuming office.

Colleague Sisodia echoed his boss, saying the AAP had never claimed it opposed the use of official accommodation or cars.

“Arvind is not going to live in a six-acre bungalow. It is an ordinary house, whether government or private; how does it matter?” Sisodia asked.

On the ministers’ use of official cars, Sisodia said the problem was beacons, not vehicles. “We are against the VIP culture of using red beacons. A car, government or private, does not matter.”

Sisodia has been allotted a three-bedroom flat in Mayur Vihar in east Delhi. His own house is only a few kilometres away. He did not clarify whether he would be using it as his office or residence.

Rakhi Birla, the minister who hogged the auto limelight, said today her “official car is only being used for official work”.

“I will reach my office on my own but when I’m going for official work, then just like everyone else I will use the official car,” she said.

While AAP leaders were left explaining their actions outside the Assembly, it was smooth sailing inside in the Speaker’s election.

But Mukhi, the BJP contender, rued that it took a vote to finalise the choice.

“The norm is that the Speaker is a consensus candidate. The dialogue to build the consensus has to be initiated by the ruling party. Since the ruling party single-handedly decided to field its candidate, we had no option but to fight an election.”

duplex democracy

Delhi police commissioner B.S. Bassi refused comment on Friday when asked whether “tenfold” expenses were being incurred to keep chief minister Arvind Kejriwal safe since he had refused to take security cover. “Under security, there are many aspects, security agency, threat perceptions security. We have information about the threat perception of Arvind Kejriwal. We have the information about what police have to do and we are aware of what the person (Kejriwal) has demanded. Keeping in mind these points, we are doing whatever is required. “We don’t do anything unnecessarily in the police department. We call it optimisation. It will be wrong to speculate on the matter. Whatever is required in this regard is being done and will be continued.”