Kejriwal's Big Opportunity In 20 MLA-Controversy

Published: January 25, 2018 11:51 IST
James Madison, regarded as the father of the United States Constitution, wrote over 200 years ago, "Wherever there is interest and power to do wrong, wrong will generally be done." Events over the last ten days in India have certainly borne out the truth of this pronouncement. Institutions whose independence have been under sustained attacked during the tenure of the current regime look to have finally buckled and are close to collapse. No rules or conventions or laws seem sacrosanct in the face of a governing philosophy intent on bulldozing anyone or anything to get its way, no matter the collateral damage. And now we are greeted with the news that there will be a "Rashtriya Raksha Mahayagya" (Vedic prayer for national strength) in the vicinity of the Red Fort. We await with trepidation what great idea the ruling party will concoct next to distract from a sluggish economy, persistent rural distress and employment generation that is visible only to the Prime Minister.

It all started on January 12 when we witnessed the unprecedented sight of four senior Supreme Court Justices feeling that they were left with no option but to hold a press conference in order to voice their worries about the way the Chief Justice was administering the court roster. If four of the five most senior judges in the land are having to ask us to gain justice, instead of the other way around, you can understand how backwards everything has become in India today.

Our jangled nerves were just recovering from the Supreme Court drama when precisely one week later, the honourable Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Achal Kumar Joti on his last full working day in office decided to disqualify 20 MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party without a hearing on the main matter of whether their aborted tenure as parliamentary secretaries constituted an office of profit. We also learnt that incoming Chief Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat, who had recused himself from the case last year, had mysteriously changed his mind at some point since and added his signature to the order. Then, yesterday, we hear from Rawat himself in a combative interview on taking over as Chief Election Commissioner that the AAP MLAs did not get a hearing because they apparently had not asked for one. Apart from being an assertion without factual basis, as AAP's Raghav Chadha convincingly explained in the party's presser responding to the Chief Election Commissioner, it goes completely against the tenets of natural justice. Most neutral experts on electoral law from former Lok Sabha Secretary General PDT Achary to at least one Chief Election Commissioner and a long list of jurists have written over the last couple of days criticising various aspects of the Election Commission's hasty order; they were particularly unanimous in castigating the Election Commission for reaching a decision to disqualify sitting MLAs without holding a single hearing on the main matter. This is probably why the new Chief Election Commissioner felt the need to clarify his position on the subject in the interview, but only succeeded in further weakening the Election Commission's stand.

It's abundantly clear that the Election Commission did not follow the minimum requirements of due process in reaching its decision, and from the tenor of the new Chief Election Commissioner's interview, it seems the decision was likely driven by a combination of spite and vengeance as well. The Election Commission only reflects the latest instalment in the Modi Government's three-year campaign of repression against the AAP government that has involved everything from overturning dozens of cabinet decisions, using the bureaucracy in opposition to AAP ministers, arresting MLAs on flimsy charges, trying to evict AAP from its party headquarters, issuing income tax notices like parking tickets, filing innumerable defamation cases against AAP leaders, and so many raids by the CBI that I think even AAP has lost count. In regard to the Office of Profit matter, it should also be remembered that when an attempt was made last summer to break away a segment of AAP MLAs in the wake of the party's poor MCD election results, one of the carrots allegedly being offered to the MLAs at the time was a clean chit from the Election Commission if they defected.

The disqualification is an understandably difficult experience for the MLAs and the voters of their constituencies, more than a quarter of Delhi's 70 seats, who find themselves suddenly unrepresented. But for AAP, it could very well become a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to break out from the strait-jacket it has found itself since the Punjab election loss a year ago. In Delhi, the electoral ground situation at present is not ideal for the BJP with the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring team causing mass sealing of shops across the city and the BJP-led MCDs getting squarely blamed for the situation, with shops across the city closing their shutters for a day yesterday in protest. Chief Minister Kejriwal has demanded that the Modi government issue an ordinance to end the sealing drive that has caused such harassment to the city's trader community. All this while the ravages of the GST fiasco are ongoing and the Modi Government continues to liberalise FDI in retail. The BJP is increasingly alienating its core vote in Delhi.

In addition, AAP has received support on the disqualification issue from just about every segment of the opposition except for Congress, who as usual find themselves twinned on this issue with the BJP in Delhi thanks to their resident genius Ajay Maken. After three years in governance, the last year of which has seen the party largely concentrate on governance despite the continued provocations from the central government and its Lieutenant Governor, this is an opportunity for AAP to use the by-elections, if or when they happen, to renew its mandate and relaunch itself in the national electoral spotlight at a very important point in a year that will culminate with a general election. Arvind Kejriwal has responded to the Election Commission in a low-key and mature manner that has been appreciated by many opposition leaders who have been wary of AAP's volatility in the past.

The polity of a nation never stays out of balance for very long before it begins to self-correct. Behind the scenes, there is now hectic urgency amongst opposition parties to unite in a new formation to take on the Modi-Shah electoral machine in 2019. This builds from a growing consensus amongst the opposition that though Rahul Gandhi showed great improvement in Gujarat, he is far from ready to lead a coalition, and a more experienced alternative is the need of the hour. The name of veteran BJP leader Yashwant Sinha is increasingly being taken as an appropriate choice, especially because of the extraordinary fortitude he has displayed in continuing to effectively and relentlessly critique the Modi Government in the face of immense pressure to back down. The coming days will see these efforts become public with interesting alliances emanating and you should not be surprised to see AAP right in the thick of things.

(Krishan Partap Singh is a novelist and a member of the Aam Aadmi Party.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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