Najeeb Jung on Arvind Kejriwal In conversation with Karan Thapar

This piece reflects a conversation between media and TV personality Karan Thapar and Dr. Najeeb Jung, former civil servant, former Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia and the former Lt Governor of Delhi. Reproduced here with permission of Najeeb Jung.

Karan Thapar: First, the late-night dramatic arrest of the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. So let me ask you a simple question to start with. How do you respond to his arrest late last night?

Najeeb Jung: Well, Karan, actually, looking back over the last 2/3, weeks this was anticipated. I was personally astonished that the ED had been delaying so much because Mr. Kejriwal was avoiding the summons. And I for one am clear in my mind that any person, whatever position he or she may have, cannot avoid summons of an investigating agency. So, this action was inevitable. Let me be clear, I am here not commenting on the charges against him at all.

Karan Thapar: In other words, you’re saying he got nine summons, he ignored all nine. He refused to go. And you are surprised he wasn’t arrested earlier?

Najeeb Jung: Yes. I was very surprised at this delay by the ED. If there is clear evidence against anyone, be it the Chief Minister of Delhi, then action could have been taken. However, I also think it was the arrest of Ms. Kavitha which really gave them the basic information because I think they want to confront her with him to tie up the loose ends, if any.

Karan Thapar: Let’s come to that. Arvind Kejriwal has been arrested on reported charges of corruption and money laundering. And as you said, it’s reported that K. Kavitha has allegedly told the Enforcement Director that she received the bribe to be of a hundred crores. Does that sound like the Chief Minister you knew from 2014 until December, 2016?

Najeeb Jung: Personally, I think Arvind Kejriwal has always been a clean man in his personal life. I do not think that he was ever personally dishonest, but it’s been what eight years since I resigned. Things may have changed. There may be political compulsions, I really don’t know, but the man I knew was certainly not dishonest, not personally dishonest. He had many other aberrations in his personality, but this was not one of them.

Karan Thapar: Now, Aatishi who is effectively the deputy Chief minister, has said that Kejriwal will not resign and continue to function as chief minister, even from Tihar jail. As a former lieutenant governor, how do you first of all respond to that? And secondly, can the Chief Minister of Delhi function from a jail?

Najeeb Jung: I find this a joke. She can’t be serious. I don’t know if this is even constitutionally possible, but practically speaking, it’s absolutely impossible for any chief minister to function from jail. Numerous files are going to him for approvals etc. There are secretaries going to him. There are cabinet meetings to be held, and above all, there are citizens of Delhi that need to see their Chief Minister. So, you can’t have special arrangements in jail for X, Y, Z. There is no precedent of this kind, I think anywhere in the world. So, if Mr. Kejriwal wants to be treated specially, he’s creating a constitutional crisis. I don’t know the game. Does he want President’s rule? If he doesn’t resign, does he want to be dismissed by the LG? And frankly speaking I dont think its constitutionally possible or morally ethical and I do not think it is practical at all.

Karan Thapar: In other words, you are saying that this claim that he will function from jail as chief minister is bravado, and you are also saying it runs the risk of President’s rule being declared and Mr. Kejriwal being dismissed by the governor?

Najeeb Jung: Yes. I think the statement is quite nonsensical. I think they’re aware of the risks, and perhaps this is election time. They may be prepared to take the risk. The party comes out heroically, Arvind stays in jail, and they take all the advantages of him being a martyr.

Karan Thapar: Now, Mr. Jung, you had your own run-ins with Kejriwal during the period when you were the LG of Dehi and he was chief minister of the city, but those run-ins were over what I would call extension of authority, not corruption, not any form of illegality. So, let me ask, what was your opinion of Arvind Kejriwal as chief minister during the period when he worked under you?

Najeeb Jung: Arvind was Chief Minister twice in my period. The first time for 49 days, and the other being from 2015 to end of 2016. It was a period when he was exercising unnecessary muscle. I think that he had much to learn. There was great excitement in his party and him, and they were refusing, and I use the word refusing to abide by constitutional laws and the way the rules are to be followed. I had to tell him several times that what cannot be done cannot be done. But more than that I think he was heading for trouble because of the way he treated his civil servants. The home secretary was abused, the secretary GAD was locked out of his room, a lady chief secretary was called corrupt in a public meeting.

And even DANICS officers of the Delhi Secretariat went on a one day strike. That is pretty unprecedented in the country. So, it was all excitement. It was a sense of new found power. It was, I think, a level of immaturity. But he seems to have outgrown that. You said my run-ins were on constitutional matters. Yes. We had to form, as you remember, the Shunglu Committee where some 4,000 files were sent to Mr. Shunglu, the former CAG. And he found, I think my memory is not very good; some 400-odd files where he saw the Constitution had not been followed. That left us in a very piquant situation on how to remedy actions that had been taken because actually the rules and constitution had not been followed and actions taken on incorrect orders.

Karan Thapar: But you’re saying that in those early years, the first year and a half of his chief ministership, he was often immature, you use that word yourself?

Najeeb Jung: Yes. He was extremely excitable, and he could have done with a higher level of maturity.

Karan Thapar: Now, if you had been the Lt. Governor of Delhi today, would you have given permission for Kejriwal, a sitting Chief Minister, to be investigated and ultimately arrested for alleged corruption and money laundering? Or might you have thought twice authorized before doing so?

Najeeb Jung: I don’t know the level of charges really. I don’t know the level of his involvement. I don’t even know if legally the Enforcement Directorate is expected to take permission from the Lt. Governor. But I do know that in the present circumstances this morning, I would have asked the Chief Secretary to go seek permission from the Enforcement Director and meet the Chief Minister and ask him to put in his papers.

Karan Thapar: You would’ve sent the Chief Secretary as a special emissary to meet the Chief Minister this morning in Tihar jail and ask him specifically to put in his papers. In other words, you would’ve sent a polite request saying, enough is enough now, you must resign.

Najeeb Jung: Actually, it is the duty of the Chief Secretary to do so. There’s no need for the Lieutenant Governor to be advising him. The Chief Secretary should be well aware of the rules. He should know he is the Secretary to the Cabinet, and he should know that the Cabinet cannot function from jail.

Karan Thapar: Okay. Are you concerned about the functioning and efficacy of the Delhi government whilst Arvind Kejriwal is in jail? And I’m talking about both situations, either that implausible situation where he continues to function as Chief Minister from jail, or a situation where he resigns and someone replaces him. In either event, whilst Arvind Kejriwal is in jail, are you concerned about the functioning and efficacy of the Dehi government? And I ask because most people would say that he’s both the government and the party in himself. How will either fare without him?

Najeeb Jung: Yes, I think that the government would be very hard pressed to be effective. They are having seminal problems with the civil service who as it is, don’t cooperate with them. And with Arvind missing from, shall I say, the battlefield, the party will suffer. Governance would certainly suffer. I think it is extremely implausible that he will, he will continue as Chief Minister. Aatishi is a very bright person. She is from St. Stephens College, is a Rhodes Scholar. She speaks the right language, but I don’t think that the party cadres would really follow either her, or Saurabh Bhardhwaj, or for that matter, Mr. Bharti.

Karan Thapar: But you’re also saying that with Arvind Kejriwal in jail for the foreseeable future, and we have no idea how long he’ll stay there. You are beginning to see the Delhi administration under the AAP government slowly, steadily unravelling.

Najeeb Jung: Yes. Actually, what would happen is that the Lt Governor would play a much more important role or much more active role, shall I say?

Karan Thapar: Finally, as a former Lt. Governor, are you able to assess what will be the impact of last night’s dramatic arrest on Kejriwal’s popularity in Delhi?

Najeeb Jung: It’s a very difficult question to really answer. Kejriwal is an exceptionally clever political animal. When he resigned after 49 days there was one year of President’s rule but he came back with 67 seats, and he repeated that with 63 seats in the next five years. So, my own assessment, if you were to ask me, is that it would be politically beneficial for him to stay in jail and fight the election from there. That gets him the sympathy, that makes him a martyr. To go to the Supreme Court or to the High Court today, and for the bail to be rejected doesn’t seem so nice. By the way, if he is released and comes out, this episode will be forgotten by the 25th of May when Delhi goes to polls. So, martyrdom beckons and if he stays in jail, then Arvind is capable of projecting a new Kejriwal, the Kejriwal that we had seen in the India Against Corruption movement, a man with a Gandhian image, shall we say.

Karan Thapar: In other words, you’re saying to get the full benefit of being jail, to get the full benefit of the sympathy that would arouse in people, he needs to be in jail, right? Till voting happens in Delhi, which is not till the 25th of May.

Najeeb Jung: Yes, I think if the Supreme Court or the High Court denies him bail, then he is in it for a long time.

Karan Thapar: And that can be of benefit to him politically, even if personally it might be extremely discomforting.

Najeeb Jung: It’ll be beneficial. I think in the immediate election. it’ll be extremely difficult for him to manage jail life, if he is there for 7, 8, 10 months. I don’t think his health is very good. And jail can be extremely tough.

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