AAP earns BJP ‘D team’ tag
Friends and foes have roasted Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party following the appointment of solicitor-general Tushar Mehta and four other police-recommended lawyers as special public prosecutors in the cases relating to the Delhi riots of February.
Delhi government standing counsel Rahul Mehra on Friday told Delhi High Court that state home minister Satyendar Jain had approved the appointments of Mehta, additional solicitors-general Maninder Acharya and Aman Lekhi (husband of BJP parliamentarian Meenakshi Lekhi), the Centre’s senior standing counsel Amit Mahajan, and Rajat Nair.
Critics have underlined many of these lawyers’ proximity to the ruling establishment at the Centre — Mehta had actually prevented certain BJP politicians being booked in riot cases — and scoffed at earlier claims that the AAP government was being forced against its will to appoint Mehta.
“AAP = BJP is official now,” Congress leader Ajay Maken tweeted. “Uploaded Delhi HC orders at two places have clearly mentioned Kejriwal Govt Minister approval of Tushar Mehta and Aman Lekhi (husband of @M_Lekhi) to represent in Delhi HC in Delhi riots case! Saiyaan bhaye kotwal, ab darr kahe ka (Why fear when the sheriff is your beloved).”
“Delhi aap govt is shameless d team of bjp,” sociologist Nandini Sundar tweeted.
The controversy comes at a time chief minister Arvind Kejriwal — once among the staunchest critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ideology — is being increasingly seen as adopting positions close to the BJP’s.
Kejriwal had reinvented himself as a benevolent Hindu leader ahead of the February Assembly polls, reciting the Hanuman Chalisa on TV and steering clear of the protests against the new citizenship regime. His government had largely remained a bystander during the February riots that killed 53. When the lockdown threw lakhs of day labourers out of work, not once did Kejriwal attack the Centre.
In February, however, the AAP had demanded the arrest of BJP politician Kapil Mishra, who had delivered a provocative speech just before the rioting began. Mehta, representing the police during the riots, had successfully argued against the filing of FIRs against Mishra and other BJP leaders, who have not been booked till date.
The subject of the appointment of the riot prosecutors came up while the high court was hearing a habeas corpus plea moved by the brother of feminist student activist Gulfisha Fatima.
Fatima as been in jail since April for a sit-in against the new citizenship matrix in Delhi on February 22. She has since been charged also with acts of terrorism and incitement of the riots. Several other student activists are in custody on similar charges.
The high court had recorded the lack of clarity on who would represent the police in the habeas corpus case — the Delhi government or the Centre, to whom the police report. To this the police said that prosecutors had already been selected for the riot cases, and they would represent the force in this case too.
Earlier, some media outlets had quoted Delhi government sources as saying that lieutenant governor Anil Baijal was pressuring the state administration to approve the police’s selection of prosecutors. Home minister Jain had indeed rejected the police’s panel last month and sought a new one, setting off a tussle with Baijal over his powers.But in the court on Friday, Mehra, the Delhi government’s standing counsel, said Jain had approved all the appointments on May 28.
AAP renegade and Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav has taken a dig at the earlier news reports that claimed Baijal had forced the Kejriwal government’s hand.
“The HC order conclusively nails the lie of @ArvindKejriwal govt that appointment of Tushar Mehta was made against its will,” he tweeted.
“Read: Delhi Govt asserts that its right to appoint counsel, says Satender Jain has issued these orders, centre accepts it, court thanks both for cooperating.”
The Telegraph has so far received no response to queries sent to an aide to the chief minister via WhatsApp on whether the Delhi government agreed with the choice of prosecutors and, if yes, whether the police had made any changes to the original panel suggested in April.Silence from the AAP leadership has prompted soul-searching by its friends.
Author Krishan Pratap Singh tweeted: “Let snr AAP leadership publicly & officially confirm the govt & party position about the appointment of public prosecutors, like they used to do multiple times a day. Sources whispering to the media (are) not to be taken seriously, no matter the headlines they are apt to generate.”
Many of the AAP’s friends were already aghast when Kejriwal, after his February re-election, sanctioned the prosecution of CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar and other JNU ex-students on sedition charges.
This despite his own government’s probe having found no evidence of the accused chanting provocative slogans in 2016, as alleged, and instead saying the purported video evidence against them had been doctored.