It's an all-out war between activist-politician Arvind Kejriwal and Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid. In the face of unrelenting attack from Mr Kejriwal, who is demanding his ouster and arrest over an alleged scam in his NGO, Mr Khurshid has hit back, saying "he has nothing to hide," and he will not "give in to blackmailers."
"It's not Kejriwal or any political opponent I need to worry about...Third rate people in India are doing third rate things... All this is being done as they want to launch their own party and they want to take over the country...We will fight tooth and nail, won't give into these blackmailers," the Union Minister said in London. Mr Khurshid returned today, and is scheduled to hold a press conference at around 3 pm where he is likely to counter the charges levelled by Mr Kejriwal, who continued his protest today at central Delhi's Parliament Street.
"Our charges are based on an inquiry conducted by the Akhilesh Yadav government...and the fact that they have not responded to a showcause notice, clearly shows they are guilty," Mr Kejriwal told NDTV today.
The raging war of words is centred around a controversy over alleged financial malpractices in the Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust - headed by Mr Khurshid and run by his wife Louise - that is meant to help people with special needs in his home state of Uttar Pradesh. The allegations that were aired recently in a sting carried by a Hindi news channel claimed that the NGO forged signatures of government officials to attest that the funds were being used as intended. Mr Kejriwal has been gunning for the Law Minister's head ever since.
His "remove Khurshid" call found new vigour yesterday after a draft report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pointed out several irregularities in the utilisation of Central grants given to the trust. The draft report, accessed by NDTV, says that in 2009-10, a Central grant of Rs. 71.5 lakh - meant for distributing aid and appliances to differently-abled people in 17 districts of Uttar Pradesh - wasn't fully utilised, with the trust giving out wrong information. The draft also suspects fraud in the accounts of Mr Khurshid's trust. (Read)
Emboldened by the contents of the report, Mr Kejriwal, on Saturday, said, "The distribution had to be done in 17 districts...The district officers in 10 districts sent reports saying the signatures were forged, in some instances the posts were made up... A showcause notice was sent to Louise Khurshid on june 3, 2011 which says out of the 17 districts, in the case of 10 districts the documents have been found to be forged."
The Khurshids, though, have stoutly denied all allegations. "We have pictures of the officials who said no camps were held...will show them tomorrow," the Law Minister said on Saturday.
Earlier, his wife, who is in the eye of the storm for being at the helm as the alleged scam played out at the NGO, told NDTV, "I do not believe any signatures have been forged... Khurshid seems to have been made a victim of conspiracy... Why should Salman resign, what has he done wrong?" (Watch)
She also dared Mr Kejriwal to visit the camps run by her NGO to prove the alleged bunglings. "Arvind Kejriwal is an ambulance chaser...he is making all sorts of allegations...Does Kejriwal know what our trust does since 1986?...Let Kejriwal face the beneficiaries of our camps in 17 district," she said, adding, "Kejriwal would want anyone walking on the street to resign if that person didn't agree with him."
The Khurshids have also found some much-needed support from the government which jumped to its minister's defence. "It is easy for people to stand up and make charges but there has to be much more to it than just sitting down on a strike, sitting and saying either he resigns or we will continue to sit. I think that's not looking at the way the governments function in a democracy...there is a rule of law, there will be a clarification given by Mr.Khurshid...Louise Khurshid has given some clarification but the Law Minister will speak for himself. I mean you don't resign or ask for the resignation just like that...that doesn't happen, how can a government run," Ambika Soni, Information and Broadcasting Minister said.
The Opposition, meanwhile, seized the opportunity to corner a government, already besieged with a string of scams. "It's an open-and-shut case...when the Law Minister gives forged certificates, he has no moral authority, he has to resign," Prakash Javadekar, BJP Spokesperson, said.
The volley of allegations and counter-allegations came on a day when Mr Kejriwal, along with several of his supporters, staged a sit-in at Parliament Street, demanding that Mr Khushid either resign or be fired. "We need to have non-corrupt ministers, unlike Salman Khurshid," Mr Kejriwal said. "We demand that Khurshid be arrested immediately and be dismissed from the government. If he remains in the council of ministers, he will destroy all the evidence that is available against him and his family, apart from coercing government officials to toe his line," Mr Kejriwal added.
The politician-activist was released on Saturday after spending a night in a makeshift jail in Bawana near Delhi along with his supporters. He had been detained by the police on Friday afternoon for leading a march to the Prime Minister's residence along with a group of people, including the differently-abled.