Kejriwal quits over Jan Lokpal bill; sets stage for national role (Roundup)

New Delhi, Feb 14: Forty-nine days after he took charge of a minority Delhi government, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Friday resigned following a tumultuous day in the assembly where combined Congress and BJP legislators “defeated” his AAP’s attempts to introduce its signal Jan Lokpal bill aimed to curb corruption in high places.

After resigning from his post, Kejriwal, 45, mounted a scathing attack on the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accusing them of playing into the hands of industrialist Mukesh Ambani, against whom the Aam Aadmi Party government had filed a criminal case two days ago over a gas pricing row.

Speaking from a window on the first floor of the party’s office, he said the BJP and the Congress joined hands “when we tried to introduce the Jan Lokpal bill”.

“This had never happened in the history of India,” Kejriwal said to hundreds of supporters who braved the steady winter rain to hear him, wearing the trademark AAP caps and holding up a “broom” – the party symbol.

“They knew that if this bill becomes law, then more than half of them will go to jail… So Kejriwal had to be removed.”

Later, in a brief letter to Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung, Kejriwal said: “The council of ministers met this evening and decided to tender its resignation. The council also recommends dissolution of Delhi assembly and immediate conduct of elections of the Delhi legislative assembly.”

The day witnessed high drama right from morning after Jung wrote to assembly Speaker M.S. Dhir, saying that the Jan Lokpal bill should not be tabled as he has not approved it.

Both Congress and BJP leaders waved Jung’s letter and created a ruckus, demanding a discussion on it.

Amid the din, Kejriwal introduced the bill. But aggressive Congress and BJP leaders became strange bedfellows to force Dhir to go for voting.

The result saw 42 members voted against the introduction of the bill, while only 27 MLAs – all AAP mbers, including expelled member Vinod Kumar Binny – voted for it. Delhi assembly has a total strength of 70.

As it became apparent that the Congress, BJP, Janata Dal-United legislator Shoaib Iqbal and lone Independent Rambeer Shokeen would not allow the bill’s introduction, Kejriwal and his senior cabinet colleague Manish Sisodia presented an appropriation bill that would empower the government to access funds for expenditure.

Kejriwal then stood up to speak, giving enough indication he was going to resign when he said that this “seems like our last (assembly) session”. He said it was more important to “fight corruption than to run a government”.

“Today, they did not let the Jan Lokpal bill to be introduced. It has been defeated,” declared a defiant Kejriwal, pointing at the opposition.

“We have come here to save the country. If we have to give up the chief minister’s post for the sake of the country, we will do it not a hundred times but a thousand times,” he said.

But much before the house could be adjourned, messages went out to AAP members to meet at its party headquarters at Hanuman Road.

When the four-day session ended in just two days, Kejriwal left for the party office. It was here that he announced his resignation.

The government’ decision to pass the bill had become contentious over the past week with the Jung holding that the union government’s nod is needed for introducing the bill – an issue on which opinion is divided among legal and constitutional experts.

But the AAP government was firm and had decided to push the bill, which was its poll promise.

On Feb 9, Kejriwal had threatened to resign if the bill was not allowed to be passed.

It was an action-packed 49-day stint for the AAP government, which received both bouquets and brickbats for its actions and utterances in its brief and maiden stint in power in a politically-charged journey that began with its formation in November 2012.

The party was able to deliver some of its biggest poll promises, including cheap water, power, an anti-corruption helpline, audit of power companies and acting on suspected corruption cases, including against former chief minister Sheila Dikshit and Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries and India’s richest man.

But the indiscretions of one of Kejriwal’s ministers – Law Minister Somnath Bharti who went after African residents on suspicion of them being part of a drug-and-sex racket, and his nightlong blockade of the centre of the capital, days before the Republic Day Parade, got the party a lot of flak and adverse media attention.

Political analysts expect Kejriwal and his AAP to make a strong bid for a substantial parliamentary presence in order to be a player in the post-election scenario in three months’ time.

IANS