Fallout of SC order: Delhi CM’s office further marginalised

A very telling comment on the order was made by a well-known cartoonist of a leading daily saying that how could one get bail in a corruption case without going to the laundry.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal acknowledges supporters outside his residence after the Supreme Court (SC) granted him interim bail in a money laundering case, amid the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, in New Delhi, Friday, May 10, 2024.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal acknowledges supporters outside his residence after the Supreme Court (SC) granted him interim bail in a money laundering case, amid the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, in New Delhi, Friday, May 10, 2024. Photo | PTI

The Supreme Court order granting interim bail to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on the Akshay Tritya (as festival of prosperity) day in a corruption case would have an unusual fallout. The experts have talked on the macro issues like with it would increase the stranglehold of criminals in politics or conversely stop a government from turning dictatorial in imprisoning its opponents in times of the elections.

A very telling comment on the order was made by a well-known cartoonist of a leading daily saying that how could one get bail in a corruption case without going to the laundry. The euphemism of laundry, or the washing machine, has been used increasingly in the recent times for the BJP, the ruling party at the centre, for admitting opposition leaders with corruption and other criminal charges and clearing them of these charges.

At the micro level, that is governance of Delhi, the order would have some short term immediate impact but a much greater impact in the long term. The Supreme Court while granting interim bail has barred Kejriwal from visiting his office or the Delhi Secretariat and signing official files unless absolutely necessary for obtaining the L-G’s approval.

In the short run, this order could help holding of the Mayoral polls in the national capital on an early date. Towards the end of the last month, the Raj Niwas had ordered postponing of the election of the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor, stating that the appointment of a presiding officer could not be made for the polls in the absence of inputs from the chief minister, who was lodged in Tihar Jail in connection with a money laundering-linked excise policy case.

Observers say that Lieutenant Governor Vinai K Saxena took refuge in official jugglery to avoid a certain defeat for the BJP candidates, which the ruling party wanted to avoid as the campaign for the Lok Sabha polls was peaking in the national Capital.

Now that Kejriwal is out on the bail, he can definitely provide the required ‘inputs’ to the Lieutenant Governor to hold elections. However, it’s unlikely that the CM’s inputs would help holding the Mayoral polls before the Lok Sabha polling day in Delhi. Nevertheless, it would certainly stop the Raj Niwas from indefinitely postponing the elections.

Moving away from such immediate issues, it’s the effect, in the long run, which this ruling of the Supreme Court would have is the matter of interest for those who study closely the governance model of the National Capital territory of Delhi. In the past decade that we have had the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the national capital, its functioning may well have acquired the sobriquet of a government which proposes but the system disposes.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal acknowledges supporters outside his residence after the Supreme Court (SC) granted him interim bail in a money laundering case, amid the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, in New Delhi, Friday, May 10, 2024.
The K factor

Kejriwal is probably the only chief minister in the history of the nation, not only to have remained ‘in office’ despite being in jail but also to remain in office without a personal staff. Delhi in the past 10 years has witnessed, an unprecedented scenario where the ministers belittle the efforts of their officers, who in turn come up with ‘official rebuttal’.

Such situations are a fit case for study in the realm of public administration. The recent Supreme Court order may have added some more layers of confusion in the administration of the national Capital. In the governance of the country, rule of law dominates. This situation is guaranteed under the Constitution with the judiciary being the overseer for the rule of law.

The latest order from Supreme Court may have its interpretation both ways, whether the Lieutenant Governor needs CM’s inputs or the CM’s inputs are mandatory. One may agree or not, in political brinkmanship Arvind Kejriwal may have scored heavily over the ruling BJP, however, in the bargain the office of the Chief Minister of Delhi may have got still more marginalized.

Sidharth Mishra

Author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice

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