‘Kejriwal model’ a cocktail of big-ticket money and high-decibel publicity, with a dash of Hindutva politics

Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP spends hundreds of crores on publicity with nothing to show on ground, even as party supremo has firmly embraced politics of soft Hindutva to fulfil grand political ambitions

Arvind Kejriwal (File photo)
Arvind Kejriwal (File photo)

Rahul Gul

Whether Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann was inebriated or not when he visited a place of worship on April 14 as alleged in certain quarters is unlikely to ever be established one way or the other, but he certainly seems to be drunk on hubris, as is the political outfit that he represents.

Indeed, ever since it managed to gain a majority in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, the Aam Aadmi Party – which sprang from a so-called ‘anti-corruption movement’ and touts itself as a ‘party with a difference’ – has acted in a manner which betrays a sort of lust for ‘power’ it had been deprived of in Delhi, besides an embarrassing degree of callowness.

Nothing demonstrated this more starkly than a meeting held by AAP supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal on April 11 with Punjab Chief Secretary Anirudh Tewari, the Power Secretary, Chairman, PSPCL and other senior officials of the state government even while Mann was conspicuous by his absence.

The meeting seemed to be a precursor to the Punjab government’s decision announced on April 16 that electricity bills in the state below a certain consumption limit will be waived off, in conformity with the party’s trademark politics of giving freebies to the masses.

AAP’s Punjab spokesperson Malwinder Kang tried to justify the meeting by remarking, “People come from far and wide to see the Kejriwal model of governance.”

Bhagwant Mann, on his part, reacting to a vicious attack by the Opposition which said the development vindicated those who predicted that Punjab will be run through ‘remote control’ from Delhi, gave it an even more curious spin.

"I had sent them for training. The same officers had gone to Gujarat and for training they had gone to Tamil Nadu. If we have to send them to Israel for Punjab's benefit, I will send them there too," he told reporters, adding, “In coming days, I will send my officers to Delhi, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu."

Why would senior IAS officers need to visit Delhi “to see the Kejriwal model of governance” or for “training”? Such justifications border on the ludicrous. And even if a decision needed to be taken on freebies for the people of Punjab, why did senior officers need to travel all the way to Delhi for a physical meeting with the Delhi CM, especially in an era of video conferences? Any which way, Kejriwal has no locus standi in the matter in the administrative scheme of things concerning Punjab.

Indeed, it is clear as daylight that Kejriwal was indulging in Durbar style of governance, getting an ego rush from the subservience and servility undoubtedly exhibited by such senior IAS officers of Punjab cadre in his presence, in stark contrast to those serving in the national capital where the Centre-appointed Lieutenant General’s writ runs.

This brings to mind developments that transpired on February 19, 2018, when the then Chief Secretary of Delhi Anshu Prakash was summoned to Kejriwal’s official bungalow for a midnight meeting to discuss the release of advertisements, during the course of which he was allegedly assaulted by the Delhi CM, his deputy Manish Sisodia and their acolytes.

Kejriwal and Sisodia, who were among those arraigned in a criminal case lodged by Delhi Police, were acquitted by a trial court in August 2021 which framed charges only against two AAP MLAs, Amanatullah Khan and Prakash Jarwal, present in the meeting.

Anshu Prakash challenged the order in November, 2021, contending in his revision plea before the sessions court, “The trial court failed to appreciate that the midnight meeting was very unusual and there was no emergency which warranted it”. He argued that it was also not disclosed that the 11 MLAs would also be present there and that it was a ‘pre-planned conspiracy’ hatched at the behest of Kejriwal and Sisodia.

“The trial court failed to appreciate that the Complainant/Revisionist had earned the ire of the CM and his party MLAs since he could not get or give the requisite certifications required for release of TV advertisements,” he said, adding that the meeting was held only to compel him to release the advertisements by acting contrary to SC guidelines.

“Kejriwal and Sisodia were the kingpins of the conspiracy…The meeting was specifically kept in a drawing room of the CM, where there were no CCTV cameras and not in the designated meeting room with CCTV cameras,” his counsel said in court during the last hearing held in the case in March, 2022.

The alleged assault on the Chief Secretary, it may be recalled, had led to a bitter tussle between the AAP-led Delhi government and the bureaucracy, with the latter deciding to boycott all meetings convened by Kejriwal and his Cabinet ministers. The three associations of officers of the IAS, DANICS and DSSS had passed a resolution at a meeting held on February 20, 2018, saying that they would only maintain written communication with AAP ministers.

Over time, some sort of working arrangement has been made, but nobody is under any illusion about the fact that senior IAS officers serving in Delhi govt could hardly have got over the unprecedented developments, considering the sense of fraternity known to be shared by members of the elite service.

Neither is there any doubt that the Delhi Lieutenant General, a representative of the Centre who directly reports to it, holds the real authority as far as issue-based decision-making is concerned, controlling postings and transfers through the services department which reports to him.

What is equally disconcerting is news emanating from Punjab which indicates that over a month after the new government assumed command, a sort of musical chairs game is on with respect to postings and transfers of officers in the state. While it is, of course, not a secret that any new regime likes to carry out a reshuffle of IAS and IPS officers holding key posts, with certain individuals emerging as the favoured ones, transfer orders being issued by the new AAP government in Punjab betray influential interests at play.

A case in point is that of a 2004 batch IPS officer Gurpreet Bhullar, one of the richest officers in the country, officially holding assets worth over Rs 152 crore. On April 7, Bhullar, posted as Ludhiana Police Commissioner, was transferred as Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in the so-called Anti Gangster Task Force (AGTF), a newly-formed police wing touted to take on big ticket criminals.

Less than a week later, on April 15, he was moved out of AGTF, getting an administratively coveted post of a Range DIG in Rupnagar. His name was one among 17-odd IPS officers reshuffled around the state by the order.

Then, just a day later, on April 16, a special order was issued just to modify those issued the previous day, stating that Bhullar would remain posted as DIG AGTF while holding additional charge as DIG, Rupnagar Range!

Meanwhile, AAP politicians seem to be just as eager to make the best of the opportunity they have been presented with after unexpectedly forming a government in Punjab. As per media reports, Punjab Transport Department last week wrote to the Finance Department to release Rs 18 crore immediately to facilitate purchase of Toyota Fortuner SUVs, each worth Rs 45-50 lakh, for the official use of the new Cabinet ministers and Innova Crysta SUVs worth Rs 26-30 lakh each, for MLAs.

As per the report, except for two new Cabinet ministers who got to use Toyota Fortuner SUVs, Innova Crysta SUVs of 2016-2021 vintage had been put at the disposal of the other eight, who then demanded allocation of new Toyota Fortuner SUVs. When the MLAs heard of this move, they demanded being given Innova Crysta SUVs!

The report quoted unnamed Transport Department officials as saying that only top variants of both vehicles would likely be purchased and that more expenditure on the vehicles was expected in the way of frills.

Mann has, predictably, denied any such move being made by his government.

If true, such ostentatiousness when Punjab is saddled with a debt of Rs 3 lakh crore is certainly jarring.

Myth about ‘Kejriwal model of governance’

The AAP-led Delhi government boasts of having done tremendously well in domains under its control, even while bemoaning its lack of control over subjects such as law and order and land. It has tried to amplify such claims through a high-decibel media campaign, spending hundreds of crores on advertisements and publicity.

According to the response to an RTI query in 2021, the Kejriwal govt has spent around Rs 805 crore on advertisements since coming into power in 2015, of which Rs 293 crore were spent during the pandemic in 2020-21. Congress leader Ajay Maken alleged in April, 2021 that it had spent Rs 822 crore on advertisements and publicity in just two years.

Incidentally, this trend has begun in Punjab too, starting with Rs 2.61 crore spent by the state government to hold a AAP roadshow in Amritsar following its victory. Bhagwant Mann’s grand swearing-in ceremony cost over Rs 2 crore, with as many as four helipads being constructed to facilitate the arrival of AAP’s leaders to attend it in Khatkar Kalan village, incorrectly termed as Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s birthplace.

As for the ‘education model’ with regard to which the Delhi govt makes tall claims, statistics compiled on the basis of information pertaining to the number of govt and aided schools posted on the website of its Planning Department revealed that only 13 such new schools have been set up over seven years since AAP came into power.

As per the data, the number of Delhi govt run and aided schools up to 2014-15 was 1218, which stood at 1231 in 2020-21.

On March 26, when Delhi govt’s budget was presented, Kejriwal boasted that 20 lakh new jobs would be created over the next 5 years, even as a response to an RTI query furnished by Delhi Govt’s Directorate of Employment in April, 2021 surfaced on social media, which revealed that while the Directorate had received 15,34,384 job applications, only 440 individuals had been given Delhi govt jobs in five years from 2015 onwards.

Delhi Jal Board is an important wing of the Delhi govt, currently chaired by Satyendra Jain, with Kejriwal’s blue-eyed boy Raghav Chadha holding the position of vice chairman till he was nominated to Rajya Sabha last month. Kejriwal’s free water scheme, under which consumers are not obliged to pay for consuming water up to 20,000 liters in a month, played an important role in his party assuming power in Delhi.

In 2019, a Bureau of Indian Standards report concluded on the basis of samples tested all over the country that Delhi’s water is the worst among 21 big cities, with samples failing in 19 out of 28 parameters. Even samples taken from the residence of the then Consumer Affairs Minister, late Ram Vilas Paswan, had failed to meet the norms!

The Yamuna river, meanwhile, remains polluted to the core despite crores spent on cleansing it.

But what’s perhaps of the biggest concern is the fact that allegations of corruption against Kejriwal and his ministers keep mounting.

Environmentalists fighting to keep the Ridge area free of encroachments and animal welfare activists taking on multi-crore illegal pet trade and cruelty towards animals etc complain that everyone from top to bottom is ‘on the take’, thwarting all their efforts over the years.

The condition of even arterial roads under the PWD is pathetic at many places in the city, and huge swathes remain bereft of streetlights even as the Delhi govt continues to partner with Anil Ambani in BSES several years after the alliance began, with many calling for a relook at the arrangement.

Allegations have been made of ministers and officials being on the payroll of the thriving liquor mafia in the national capital, with Sisodia being accused of acting as its ‘kingpin’.

Earlier this month, on April 6, the Enforcement Directorate attached properties worth Rs 4.81 crore belonging to companies allegedly linked to Cabinet minister Satyender Jain and his relatives. The ED case is based on a 2017 FIR lodged against him by the CBI under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

It did not help the AAP’s image that it nominated Ashok Kumar Mittal of the Jalandhar-based Lovely group and Ludhiana-based industrialist Sanjiv Arora to the Rajya Sabha last month. Like in the case of Delhi, from where the party had sent businessman Sushil Gupta and chartered accountant ND Gupta to the Rajya Sabha, the nomination of ‘moneybags’ has given rise to allegations that these are linked to AAP's funding.

The public image of Arvind Kejriwal as a squeaky-clean politician who eschews ‘VIP culture’ in all forms and shapes, which he assiduously tried to cultivate through a fawning media in the early years of his rise, has, of course, long vanished after he embraced such a ‘culture’ to the hilt. He now comes across as a seasoned politician who likes the spoils of office, so to say.

In the latest such instance, opposition leaders have alleged that he has availed of the services of 82 commandos of Punjab Police to ‘secure’ him and his family. This is reportedly in addition to 80-odd Delhi Police personnel already deployed for his security. Though ADGP (Security), Punjab Police, AK Pandey denied any such move in a comment made to The Tribune, this may simply have been a strategic retreat in the face of the controversy.

Following AAP’s unlikely victory in Punjab, he has grown more ambitious than ever, setting eyes on Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh which next go for Assembly elections. It’s a different matter that his party’s units in the two states have reportedly merged with the Congress and BJP respectively.

With AAP having no particular ideology to lean on to woo voters, Kejriwal has, for the time being, taken a leaf from Bhagwant Mann by flaunting portraits of Dr BR Ambedkar and Shaheed Bhagat Singh – the latter donning a yellow ‘basanti’ turban which historians say he never once wore in his lifetime – pinned on the wall behind him when he faces the camera.

What is alarming, however, is that he continues to peddle politics of soft Hindutva which he first actively indulged in during his second term as Delhi CM, which became pronounced during the run up to 2020 Delhi Assembly polls.

Delhi govt’s decision to sponsor devotees embarking on teertha yatra stood out in particular, considering that the Constitution ordains that the State must not be seen aligning with any particular religion.

In November, 2021, speaking at an event organized by a media group, Kejriwal said that the “Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was following ‘true Hindutva’ as it wants to unite 130 crore people of the country and take the nation on the path of development”.

“I want to ask, is it a sin to celebrate Diwali nicely, visit Ayodhya for darshan of Ram ji?” he said.

Over the last two years, he has maintained a deafening silence on issues such as the Delhi riots, the twin assaults on JNU students by right wing elements, the Hijab controversy, razing down of properties owned by Muslims in MP etc.

In contrast, he swiftly took to Twitter on April 16 when a Shobha Yatra being undertaken on Hunuman Jayanti in northwest Delhi allegedly came under attack, warning that “the guilty won’t be spared”.

Kejriwal also stands out as the only leader of a non-NDA party to be careful not to be seen standing up to the Modi govt. The latest such instance was his failure to endorse a joint statement released on April 16 by 13 leaders of opposition parties, which included three chief ministers, which spoke against recent incidents of communal violence and hate speech in the country and called out the silence of PM Narendra Modi and his government as testimony that mobs were enjoying official patronage.

Indeed, civil society members are apprehensive that going by his conduct and political ambitions, Kejriwal may well take over the role of actively practicing majoritarian politics from present-day saffron leaders just for the sake of garnering votes in the years to come.

(Views are personal)

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Published: 18 Apr 2022, 5:00 PM