Strange things without any rational basis can happen in a nation of 128 crore people. Now, Arvind Kejriwal is projected as an “honest and different politician” who fights evil. Only when the electronic media calm down will his real face emerge.
Consider how he got out of government service. While serving as a Joint Commissioner in the Revenue Department (Income Tax) under the Finance Ministry, he went on a sabbatical (paid leave) from November 1, 2000 to October 31, 2002, and went abroad. One condition for such leave is that the employee must serve continuously for at least three years after return, failing which he or she must pay back the salary he drew over two years with penalty.
There is a bond to be executed, with witnesses and guarantors. Mr. Kejriwal re-joined duty on November 1, 2002 but at once went on 18 months’ leave without pay: he did not serve continuously. He resigned in February 2006. As he had jumped bond, his resignation was not accepted.
The Income Tax Department sent him a notice in 2007 and again in 2008 asking him to pay up. Mr. Kejriwal, who was by then appearing on TV almost every day, expected the government to budge. He said the government could deduct the dues from his retirement benefits; as he had done no wrong, his dues must be waived. After sending a notice on August 5, the department sent another in September asking him to pay up before October 27, 2011 — failing which he would not be relieved and he would not get his retirement benefits.
Attachment of his property and criminal action could follow. Mr. Kejriwal termed it an attempt to create obstacles to his agitation against corruption. When he did not respond by October 27, the department asked his guarantors to pay. Mr. Kejriwal pleaded his friends should not be disturbed. When it became clear the government would initiate proceedings, he announced on October 30, 2011 that he would borrow from his friends and pay the dues of Rs.9.28 lakh. He wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on November 3, 2011 enclosing the cheque.
Certain things tend to be forgotten amid the din. An impression has been created that the Aam Aadmi Party enjoys the support of 2.2 crore Delhiites. It got only 29 per cent of the votes. That means 71 per cent of voters rejected it.
The AAP laid 18 conditions to get Congress support, some of them mere administrative actions like removing red beacons from vehicles. He said he had written to the BJP and the Congress on these, and once he got replies he would go to the people and ask them what to do. However, the Congress did not accept the conditions. Yet, the AAP formed the government with Congress support.
It is doubtful whether the schemes announced by AAP can be implemented. The Delhi government has a deficit of Rs.1,725 crore. After announcing a 50 per cent reduction in power tariff, he announced it was only under consideration. He had asked people not to pay power bills. Many did not, and faced power theft cases. If Mr. Kejriwal withdraws the cases that would be a bad precedent; no court will permit that. If he does not, his followers will feel victimised. While he promised 700 litres of water per capita, residents in many areas now beg for at least 20 litres. Only 68 per cent of households have piped water supply.
Mr. Kejriwal is known for his sensational announcements. During a first round of fasting action, he said he would expose corruption by 15 Union Ministers. In December 2013 he said he had proof to show five Ministers had Swiss bank accounts. He said in November 2012 the Central government had a list of 700 Indians who had stashed money in HSBC Bank in Geneva, and demanded that foreign banks give all the names to the government; he asked HSBC Bank’s staff members in India to resign.
The most popular of his stunts was restoring power connections severed for non-payment as he felt the tariff was high. As cameramen clicked away, with a pair of cutting pliers he connected the wires on June 27, 2013. Although it was an offence under the Electricity Act, the electricity authorities did not act fearing his TV-based backing. He chose to take law into his hands, sending a message that he did not believe in a democratic way of functioning. This is in tune with his other activities like offering dharna in front of the Prime Minister’s house, violating orders under Section 144.
What Mr. Kejriwal has done, has been done by so many other politicians. Prashant Bhushan of the AAP wanted a referendum held in Kashmir to determine people’s opinion on the presence of the Army. Mr. Kejriwal said it was Mr. Bhushan’s personal opinion but the consent of local citizens must be ascertained. But there is no difference between a referendum and getting people’s consent. On January 12, Mr. Bhushan said the police must be withdrawn from Naxalite-hit areas.
Mr. Kejriwal is yet another politician who has resorted to politics as his last refuge. I wonder if Meera Sanyal, V. Balakrishnan and Captain Gopinath have done their due diligence before joining the AAP.
(The writer is secretary of the Consumer Protection Council, Tamil Nadu, and is based in Tiruchirapalli.)
>>The correct email address of the author of the Open Page article, “Understanding Arvind Kejriwal” (Jan. 19, 2014) is: email@example.com