Kejriwal will survive sorry saga to clinch victory again
Mr Clean-turned-apologist politician still has what it takes to surprise his foes
Delhi's drawing rooms these days are filled with schadenfreude over a string of apologies that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has decided to make lately, in order to end the nearly 20 lawsuits he was facing from India's holier-than-cow politicians. It has left his supporters shell-shocked, most of all with the apology that started it all, to the previous finance minister of the Akali Dal government in Punjab, Bikram Singh Majithia.
Kejriwal wasn't the first to apologise to Majithia. An established and well-respected Chandigarh-based newspaper did so last November; it had published articles alleging Majithia's involvement in the narcotics trade in Punjab. During the Akali rule that ended in February 2017, this seemed to be an open secret in Punjab, which has faced India's worst drug addiction crisis (people speak of Punjab's "lost generation"). Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had crusaded against the drug mafia and was tipped to win the Punjab assembly election; the Congress party won instead, and many suspect behind-the-scenes collusion between the BJP-Akalis and the Congress, which united in their hatred of Kejriwal.
The Delhi CM, hoping to reduce the load of lawsuits on his shoulders so as to focus on the 2019 parliamentary election, swallowed his pride and apologised. It angered and saddened his followers, particularly the AAP's Punjab unit, whose co-presidents Bhagwant Mann and Aman Arora resigned. The unit itself, which has 20 MLAs in the state assembly, verged on breaking off from the parent party but Kejriwal managed to explain himself to them and keep things intact. For now.
Days after his apology to Majithia, he also apologised to Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and to Amit Sibal, the son of former Union minister Kapil Sibal of the Congress. Though Gadkari is the most competent and independent-minded in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's otherwise anemic council of ministers, he often finds himself dogged by rumours of corruption, which inevitably turn out to be false. This means that though he is a creative and hard-working administrator, he is also a naive politician who gets outmanoeuvred by political competition - he was dislodged from the BJP presidentship due to corruption allegations later proven false.
Kejriwal had listed Gadkari in India's most corrupt back in 2014; this week, he regretted doing so and the case was withdrawn. Kejriwal had also accused Amit Sibal with conflict of interest for legally representing a telecom company while his father was telecommunications minister; here too he expressed regrets. Prima facie, he had no need to do so. But the AAP says Kejriwal has about 20 such cases spread over 30 courts that he has little time or resources to fight.
Contrast this with a recent defamation case dismissed in court - the one by BJP president Amit Shah's son, Jay Amit Shah against the news portal thewire.in, which had reported on how the younger Shah's companies had seen overnight success and increased their profits 16,000 times over within a year. Since Modi and Shah have run on the platform of eradicating corruption and of themselves being immune to graft, this was an embarrassing story, to say the least; so the Shahs attempted to smother the story by slapping a lawsuit. (It is now a commonplace to file defamation suits for Rs100 crore, or one billion rupees.) The court, however, agreed that all the website did was present facts to the reader, and it ruled that no defamation was involved, thereby throwing out the suit. Additionally, the story went viral due to the lawsuit.
In this case, the news portal had not backed down from a legal fight. It even publicised its readiness to rumble, and its seriousness was in contrast to Jay Amit Shah, who did not show up for the first hearing of the lawsuit he himself filed, forcing an adjournment.
Additionally, thewire.in received help from public-minded lawyers like Prashant Bhushan - who, incidentally, was thrown out of the AAP by Kejriwal.
Maybe the Delhi CM should have stuck it out, at least in the case of Amit Sibal and Majithia, if not Gadkari. The question uppermost on everyone's minds now is this: will Kejriwal apologise to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, whom he accused of turning a blind eye to corruption when the latter was head of the Delhi District Cricket Association? Even the Supreme Court has been exasperated by the alleged corruption in the DDCA.
Kirti Azad, member of Parliament for Bharatiya Janata Party, repeatedly attacks Jaitley for letting things run amok. But more than the merits of the case is how politically loaded it is: a politician whom the BJP hates more than it hates Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, versus a politician whom Modi relies heavily upon in his lacklustre council of ministers. Perhaps Kejriwal is saving his powder for this big fight.
Whatever he does with Jaitley, Kejriwal is losing goodwill among his well-wishers over this stream of apologies. His record in Delhi with regard to education and health is the best in India. As things currently stand, Delhiites will give him a ringing endorsement in the next election, even if he is now endlessly ridiculed by its chattering classes.
Aditya Sinha is a senior journalist based in Delhi