Anti-corruption crusader to corruption accused: Delhi liquor ‘scam’ casts shadow on Arvind Kejriwal’s credentials

The Aam Aadmi Party captured the nation’s imagination and came to power in the national capital in the subsequent elections, with the aim of fighting corruption.

Anti-corruption crusader to corruption accused: Delhi liquor 'scam' casts shadow on Arvind Kejriwal's credentials
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal

One of India’s most high-profile politicians, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who built his career as an anti-corruption crusader, appeared before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on April 16 over alleged corruption in Delhi’s now-scrapped liquor sales policy.

Kejriwal, who was grilled for nearly nine hours, was summoned as a witness in the case in which former Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia was arrested on February 26 for alleged corruption.

Kejriwal claimed that the federal agency asked him 56 questions regarding the case. He stated that the alleged liquor scam is fake, “AAP is kattar imaandaar (most honest) party. They want to finish AAP but the nation’s people are with us,” he said.

“The CBI asked me a total of 56 questions. Everything is fake. The case is fake. I am convinced they don’t have anything on us, not a single piece of evidence,” Kejriwal told reporters after reaching home from the CBI headquarters near central Delhi’s Lodhi Road.

Sources in the CBI said they have discovered fresh evidence and have grounds to question the Chief Minister now. Kejriwal may be summoned again by the agency, if required, for further clarifications.

Earlier, in a video message released on Sunday morning, Kejriwal said, “They (CBI) have called me today and I will definitely go. They are very powerful, they can send anyone to jail. If BJP has ordered CBI to arrest me, then CBI will obviously follow their instructions.”

This is the first instance in recent memory where a sitting Chief Minister has been summoned by the federal agency in an investigation.

Telangana’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi MLC and CM KCR’s daughter K Kavitha has already been questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the case. The ED claims that the policy caused a Rs 2,800 crore loss to the government.

Kejriwal’s party continues to dismiss the charges as “vendetta” and efforts by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to target one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most vocal critics.

It has been alleged that the “highest levels” of Kejriwal’s government is involved in the scam. A part of the alleged Rs 100 crore kickback generated in the scrapped Delhi excise policy was used in the AAP campaign in the 2022 Goa assembly election, the ED has claimed in its charge sheet.

Last August, Anna Hazare, who had gained prominence as an anti-corruption crusader about a decade ago – wrote a two-page letter to the Delhi chief minister reminding him of the Lokpal movement.

Referring to the controversy, Anna Hazare said that he did not expect “such a policy from the Delhi government”, underscoring that the Aam Aadmi Party was born out of a huge movement. “It seems that people are stuck in the vicious circle of money and power.”

“After becoming the chief minister, you have forgotten about the Lokpal and Lokayukta, which were at the centre of the anti-corruption movement. In the assembly, you have not even once tried to bring in place a strong Lokayukta. Now your government has brought in a policy which will ruin lives, and affect women too,” the 85-year-old activist wrote in a sharply-worded letter.

“This shows that your words are different from your actions,” he said. The new excise policy, Anna Hazare claimed, can encourage corruption by allowing of opening of shops across the city.

However, ahead of the Punjab elections, Kejriwal claimed that corruption has been eradicated altogether from Delhi. Arvind Kejriwal said, “It’s been 75 years since we have gained independence but we still have to pay bribes. All parties have indulged in corruption. Aam Aadmi Party is the first party to run an honest government.”

“Just like we eradicated corruption in Delhi, we will end it in Punjab as well,” he asserted.

Following the victory of the AAP at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections, the Delhi CM told the newly elected councillors that they should refrain from corrupt practices at all costs.

However, when it came to Sisodia, Kejriwal dropped his anti-corruption stance and resorted to blaming institutions.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Ajay Maken has asked his party not to “support” and “show any sympathy” to Kejriwal, a day after Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge dialled Kejriwal and discussed the need for opposition unity to face the BJP in the national election next year.

“I believe that individuals like Kejriwal and his associates who face serious corruption charges should not be shown any sympathy or support. The allegations of Liquorgate and Gheegate must be thoroughly investigated and those found guilty should be punished,” Maken said in a statement, referring to the liquor policy case and an alleged code word – “15 gm ghee” for Rs 15 crore in cash – used by jailed conman Sukesh Chandrashekar in his communication with politicians and middlemen.

“It is important for all political leaders, including those from the Indian National Congress (INC), to recognize that the money gained through corrupt means by Kejriwal has been used against the Congress Party in several states, including Punjab, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Delhi,” Maken said.

“Kejriwal founded the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2013 with the aim of fighting corruption, following the Anna Hazare movement… Since 2015, Kejriwal and his party have failed to push for a stronger Lokpal bill. Instead, they have become known for their protests, marches, and counter-allegations only seeking more power. Now that CBI or Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned Kejriwal, a stronger Lokpal bill instead could have investigated the Gheegate allegations,” Maken said.

“In conclusion, I appeal to capable advocates and senior working committee members, now steering committee members, to please refrain from representing Kejriwal or his government in court. While it is within their professional realm to represent anyone, doing so for Kejriwal’s government and associates sends the wrong message to our cadres and confuses them. It ultimately benefits the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by dividing Congress party votes,” Maken said, requesting lawyers in the Congress not to help Kejriwal fight any legal case.

After Sisodia’s arrest, Maken had said that the AAP was using “corruption money” to weaken the Congress.

Congress leader Alka Lamba also said that the ED and the CBI have been “misused” so much that even when there may be legitimate grounds for their actions, suspicions and fears are natural.

Lamba further alleged that the AAP and Kejriwal “promote” corruption in Delhi and Punjab, and defend their “corrupt leaders”.

Get live Share Market updates and latest India News and business news on Financial Express. Download Financial Express App for latest business news.

First published on: 17-04-2023 at 18:21 IST