19 AAP MLAs & the Curious Case of the State & Political Vendetta
Acquittal of 19 Delhi MLAs belonging to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), by the fast track court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Samar Vishal in the last five months, should serve as a wake-up call for all those who are believers in political battles being fought under frivolous charges, manipulation, and legally unsustainable allegations.
Political Vendetta & Incarceration
With the exception of Sandeep Kumar, accused of rape, and Jitender Tomar, facing charges of forging his college and law degrees, the cases against most of the Delhi ruling party’s MLAs appear to be politically driven. Take the case of the Delhi Police. Investigations conducted by a leading newspaper showed that Narela tehsil’s MLA Sharad Chauhan, accused of abetting the suicide of a woman AAP volunteer, was based upon misinterpretation of words, when the name of the accused (Chauhan) was reportedly not mentioned by the deceased in her dying declaration.
The Delhi Police has filed a case against Chief Minister Kejriwal, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, and eleven AAP MLAs on a range of charges such under Section 186 (obstructing a public servant), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant for doing his duty), 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant to discharge his duties), 504 (insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), 506(ii), 120B (criminal conspiracy), 109 (punishment of abetment, if the act abetted is committed in consequence and where no express is made for its punishment), 114 (abettor present when offence is committed), 149 (unlawful assembly), 34 (common intention) and 36 (effect caused partly by act and partly by omission).
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Skirmishes between Politicians & Bureaucracy
It may be recalled that two AAP MLAs, Amanullah Khan and Prakash Jarwal were arrested and later released on bail. The chief minister was interrogated by the Delhi Police on 18 May. Naming Kejriwal and Sisodia six months later, seems a political thought.
The skirmishes between politicians and bureaucracy may be unfortunate but not a new phenomenon. From the legendary Biju Patnaik to Sanjay Gandhi to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, there have been many cases of politicians losing their cool.
As the result, these controversies died their own death instead of the state police going ahead, slapping every section of the Indian panel on grounds of obstructing a public servant, voluntarily causing hurt, voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant for doing his duty, punishment for wrongful confinement, assault or criminal force to deter public servants to discharge his duties, insult with intent to provoke breach of peace, criminal conspiracy, punishment of abetment (if the act abetted is committed in consequence and where no express is made for its punishment), when the abettor is present when the offence is committed, and unlawful assembly.
When ‘Mob Rule’ Prevails
In my long years of political reporting, I have relished recounting how in 1991, the then Orissa Chief Minister Biju Patnaik, had called upon the people to thrash any official they found uncooperative. To Biju’s horror, an unemployed youth slapped the Kalinga Sandh (The Bull of Kalinga) when the Chief Minister was on his way to the Secretariat, reminding him of his own call to allow the public to take the law into their own hands. Biju struck back, holding the youth by the hair, giving him three big slaps in return. The Chief minister later gave him a cash reward of Rs 300 for “obeying” his call.
Following the slapping incidents that became frequent all over Orissa then, Biju revised his earlier call and asked the public to first send him a telegram, seeking the chief minister’s permission before beating up “erring” officials.
In January this year, Shivraj Singh Chouhan had slapped a man, namely, his own security guard, at a road show at Sardarpur in Dhar district. The uncharacteristic show of belligerence by someone who is considered ‘Mr Cool’ in state politics was not enough, as Chouhan went on justifying his aggression on grounds that the guard, Kuldeep Gujar, was constantly obstructing him from intermingling with the masses.
Political Vendetta during the Emergency
The issue of political vendetta was played out both by Indira Gandhi and her rivals, with disastrous results. As Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, during the Emergency, did not spare anyone — ranging from Gandhian freedom fighter and noted industrialist Ramkrishna Bajaj, to the family of P N Haksar, to her own cousin Nayantara Sahgal. Ramkrishna Bajaj had found himself at the receiving end of Sanjay Gandhi’s ambitions. The Gandhian who loved to describe himself as ‘Gandhi’s coolie’, was constantly harassed throughout the twenty-one month-long Emergency, during which Sanjay and his team, consisting of Vidya Charan Shukla, Om Mehta and Ambika Soni, tried to wrest control of the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra, an apolitical youth training and development centre in the heart of Delhi.
Ramkrishna, never a man to take quick offence, sought help from Indira, with whom he had enjoyed a childhood friendship, and from Mohammad Yunus, but the harassment did not end. Ramkrishna realized slowly that his harassment was a deliberate policy to browbeat the Bajajs into submission.
I have mentioned in 24, Akbar Road (Hachette 2012) how Nayantara was not arrested during the Emergency, but on one occasion, her sister was allegedly told by a close associate of Mrs Gandhi and the then West Bengal Chief Minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, that she could be ‘picked up under MISA’ at any time. MISA, or the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, was dreaded by everyone during the Emergency.
Former Chief Minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, to whom a daughter was born during that time, named her Misa Bharti after that draconian law.
In New Delhi’s Connaught Place, there is a textile shop called Pandit Brothers, whose eighty-year-old owner was the uncle of P N Haksar, Indira Gandhi’s Former Principal Secretary. It is believed that Haksar had suggested to Indira Gandhi that she dissociate herself from Sanjay’s activities. It may have been just a coincidence, but during the Emergency, Haksar’s uncle had to spend a day in police custody. The reason? Apparently, the towels and napkins at his shop did not carry individual price tags, though the bundles did.
Soon after her expulsion and dramatic exit from Parliament, Indira Gandhi was arrested and taken to Tihar Jail, where she was put in a barrack of her own – in the same cell complex that George Fernandes had occupied during the Emergency. In May 1978, Sanjay Gandhi was jailed for a month. In 1979, he was jailed six times, and spent five weeks in the jails of Delhi, Dehradun and Bareilly. In a criminal case relating to the disappearance of the film Kissa Kursi Ka, Sanjay Gandhi was sentenced to two years. He had to opt for bail, and the case slowly slid into obscurity thanks to a series of witnesses turning hostile.
The Indira Gandhi-led Congress was back in power in January 1980, with 353 Lok Sabha seats. Many believe that the politics of vendetta, unleashed by the Morarji Desai government, had greatly helped Indira bounce back to power.
(Rasheed Kidwai is author of ‘24, Akbar Road, Ballot’ and ‘Sonia: a Biography’. He is a Visiting Fellow at the ORF. He tweets at @rasheedkidwai. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)