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KEJRI QUITS
Exit with outburst at Ambani

New Delhi, Feb. 14: Arvind Kejriwal this evening exited by the same window through which he made an astounding entry into power politics less than three months ago — the victor in December playing the martyr on Valentine’s Day.

The big question that was swirling around the Delhi chief minister’s resignation was whether he bailed himself out through the window to keep his reputation intact or was pushed out as he alleged.

Kejriwal pinned the blame on a nexus between the Congress and the BJP because he dared to pursue corruption charges against Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian who presides over the biggest private industrial empire in the country.

Kejriwal’s critics suggested that the chief minister forced a showdown by tabling an anti-corruption bill that did not have the approval of the lieutenant governor and ensured that the Congress and the BJP had little option but to vote against the introduction of the legislation.

The immediate reaction among “the common man” in Delhi appeared to be largely in favour of Kejriwal — the ace on which the Aam Aadmi Party leader has staked his gamble. But some people did express a sense of betrayal.

Kejriwal concentrated his firepower on one issue with which he hopes to counter charges that, unable to fulfil unrealistic pre-poll promises, he was running away from governance and looking for any excuse to jump the ship — a perception that had set in ever since he launched a dharna that achieved little.

Jaise hi humne Mukesh Ambani par haath rakha Congress aur Bhajpa mil gaye… Hamari sarkar istifa deti hai. Lokpal ke liye sau baar mukhyamantri ki kursi kurban karne ke liye taiyaar hoon,” (The moment we put our hand on Mukesh Ambani, the Congress and the BJP closed ranks…. Our government is resigning. For Lokpal’s sake, I am ready to sacrifice the chief minister’s chair 100 times),” Kejriwal told cheering supporters outside the AAP headquarters.

He did not forget to reach out to a national audience and pledge the supreme sacrifice. “Desh ke liye jaan deni padi to jaan dene ke liye taiyaar hoon (If I have to sacrifice my life for the nation, I am ready to do so),” he roared over the loudspeaker in what many felt was a precursor to the campaign for the Lok Sabha polls.

The official trigger for the resignation was the defeat of the move to introduce the Jan Lokpal bill. As many as 42 members, including BJP and Congress MLAs, voted against and 27 voted for its introduction in the 70-member House.

The Speaker had read out the advice of lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung against tabling the bill since it was not in accordance with procedures.

Opinion differs sharply on whether the cabinet should have taken the lieutenant governor’s permission before tabling it. Some senior lawyers and at least one former Speaker said the state cabinet should have secured the lieutenant governor’s approval but others said there was no such provision recorded anywhere.

Jung cited two rules in his letter, including “Section 22 (3) of the government of NCT of Delhi Act, that said the bill, being a ‘financial bill’ is to be sent to the lieutenant governor’s recommendation”. But there was no consensus whether the Jan Lokpal bill is a financial bill or not.

A retired official familiar with parliamentary procedures said Kejriwal should have sent the bill to Jung, and if the lieutenant governor had rejected it, the chief minister could have made it into an issue. But Kejriwal’s point-blank refusal to send the bill to the lieutenant governor has strengthened suspicions that he was looking for an exit route, the former official said.

Opinion was also divided on whether the failure of a bill at the introduction stage itself was reason enough to resign. A former Speaker said the resignation was justified since the defeat suggested that the Kejriwal government had been reduced to a minority.

But others pointed out that Kejriwal got two financial bills passed in the Assembly after the defeat of the Lokpal bill. Had it been mandatory for him to resign after the defeat of the Lokpal bill, the government should not have passed the two financial bills that deal with power and water relief — issues that should stand him in good stead when fresh elections are called.

Addressing the Assembly after the vote, the chief minister dropped a loud hint that his resignation was imminent and “sacrifice” would be the future theme. “This appears to be our last session. I will consider myself fortunate if I have to sacrifice the chief minister’s post 1,000 times and my life to eradicate corruption,” he said.

AAP insiders said they were expecting the resignation. So too AAP volunteers who converged near the party headquarters. Kejriwal announced the resignation at the party office, not in the Assembly.

Another clue to the significance of the day was visible in the Assembly: Kejriwal’s parents, his wife and son attended part of the session today.

AAP insiders said party strategists felt that the cry of a BJP-Congress gang-up against the anti-corruption bill and for Ambani would provide the additional ballast for the Lok Sabha elections which Kejriwal is also expected to contest.

“They feared that with limited powers, ‘if he can take on Mukesh Ambani, what will he do if he is armed by the Lokpal bill’?” Kejriwal told his supporters at the party office, drawing roars of “keep fighting, Arvind”.

“Ambani is the person who runs the country. He has said that the Congress is my shop. Last 10 years, he manipulated the Congress government and for the last one year he is funding Narendra Modi,” Kejriwal said.

The relentless sloganeering at the party office seemed to pitch Kejriwal against Narendra Modi: “Abhi to Sheila haari hai, ab Modi ki baari hai” (Sheila has been defeated and now it is Modi’s turn).”

Why not Rahul Gandhi? “He is already defeated”, said Anmol Pawar, a student.

THE 49-DAY LEGACY OF ARVIND KEJRIWAL