Opinion | Is It The Beginning Of The End For AAP Government In Delhi?

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Was the Delhi High Court's rejection of Arvind Kejriwal's petition challenging the legality of his arrest the beginning of the end of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the capital? The rejection was followed by the resignation of Kejriwal's colleague in the cabinet, Rajkumar Anand. Anand is not a high-profile leader. Neither is he a heavyweight member of the party.

But this clearly indicates that all is not well in the party and there is serious murmur within about how it has been run in the last few years. I am not speculating that many more resignations are expected, though that cannot be ruled out either. It may also not be improbable that Anand has resigned due to the pressures of the investigating agencies. Attacking opposition governments and parties using these agencies is no longer a secret; in fact, it has become a norm now. 

AAP Is Extremely Vulnerable

Several attempts have been made to target the AAP since the resignation of the Kejriwal government in 2014. A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader was caught on camera offering Rs 4 crore to an AAP MLA then. In Kejariwal's second stint as chief minister, when Kapil Mishra, a minister was sacked, a serious attempt was made to lure a large section of MLAs to dislodge the government. However, due to a timely intervention, those attempts did not work. But the AAP is extremely vulnerable today.

This is the first time that the AAP is operating in an environment where Kejriwal is not available 24/7. Though he has not resigned as CM and continues to be the national convener of the party, his manoeuvring capacity is extremely limited. The party is basically trying to swim without his 'life guard' services. And this is happening for the first time since the AAP's inception. 

Left Rudderless

The AAP is heavily centralised around Kejriwal. No member, office-bearer, MLA, MP or minister is free to take decisions without consulting the top boss. There is no party structure. The functioning of the AAP so far can best be described as a 'programmed robot' that will act or do as per the programmed software. Kejriwal's arrest has crippled AAP. Nonetheless, the party has shown remarkable capacity to fight back. One of the reasons is that Kejriwal anticipated much in advance that sooner or later, he would be arrested, and accordingly prepared a blueprint to deal with the crisis. He had also delegated responsibilities to leaders who would deal with the situation in his absence. And he continues to give instructions from jail. 

The saving grace is that Sanjay Singh is out on bail after spending six months in jail. He is third in the party's pecking order after Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia. A street fighter, he is highly political and has a close relationship with party cadre and leaders. His release has certainly given a new lease of life to the beleaguered party. 

Constitutional Morality

However, Kejriwal's insistence that he will run the government from jail can prove to be the undoing of not only the government but also of the party in the long run. Ideally, before going to jail, he should have handed over the baton to his most trusted aide. Unlike Lalu Yadav, Jayalalithaa and Hemant Soren, he did not choose his successor. 

Kejriwal's action might not, technically, violate the Constitution as it is silent on the issue of whether a chief minister can run the government from jail. But his action does not follow constitutional morality and disrespects basic ethos. Kejriwal is known to defy the established path, and that is also the reason for his spectacular success. But this time, he seems to have erred in his judgment, and that might cost him and the party dearly. 

It is true that the Delhi High Court has rejected three petitions seeking to prevent him from continuing to be chief minister. The court has also declined to entertain the request. Asserting that a remedy is available within the executive branch, it refrained from overstepping into others' jurisdiction. Sooner or later, the central government will have to take a decision. As of now, for all practical purposes, Kejriwal, as chief minister, is 'incapacitated'. 

Two Routes To Take

When a leader assumes office as chief minister, he/she is expected to fulfil duties accordingly. If the individual is unable to do so, the continuation in office should be scrutinised. In such exceptional circumstances, two institutions can intervene. 

The first option is that the party can convene a meeting of its legislature to select a new leader. The Lieutenant-Governor or the Governor, as applicable, should be informed, and the new cabinet should be installed, replacing the incumbent. In the current case, it is unlikely that the AAP will do something like that. The whole party is solidly behind Kejriwal.

In this scenario, the L-G of Delhi can take the initiative. He can do two things. First, he can send a report to the central government that there is a breakdown of constitutional machinery in Delhi and the President's rule should be imposed. I am against the imposition of the President's rule anywhere in the country if there is a duly elected government. But Delhi is an exception. In the national capital, there is a duly elected government, but neither the chief minister nor his party has shown an inclination to adhere to constitutional morality. 

Second, the L-G can send a message to the Delhi assembly through the speaker, advising that since the leader of the house is incapacitated and can't discharge his duties as chief minister, the house is duty-bound to elect a new leader; and, if the house chooses to ignore his advice, he can ask the central government to impose President's rule. 

Going Against Tradition

It is a mistake to assume that the Constitution is only a written document. It is a living organism and evolves with traditions and conventions. As per constitutional tradition, a chief minister, once accused of corruption charges, resigns if jail becomes imminent. If Kejriwal and his party do not want to follow the constitutional tradition, the L-G can't wait for eternity for him to resign. If he does that, then it means both the functionaries - the chief minister and the L-G -  run the risk of not following the constitutional morality in letter and spirit.

In my opinion, the central government will have to step in sooner than later. The world is watching. It may like to wait for the Supreme Court's verdict, which is scheduled to hear the case today. Either way, the AAP government is staring at a big crisis. 

(Ashutosh is the author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and co-founder of SatyaHindi.com)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.