Ambitious Kejriwal Assumes He is Punjab CM Too

It is believed that Arvind Kejriwal, a ‘Chatur Bania’ (Amit Shah’s verdict on Mahatma Gandhi) if ever there was one, is a man of high ambitions. He has set his sights on becoming the prime minister of the country very soon. He is frustrated and unhappy at being chief minister of a ‘half state’ where he has to depend on Centre’s green signal to implement many major policy decisions, particularly the ones that bring votes.

Just weeks after his Aam Admi Party had stunned everyone with a spectacular victory in Punjab—a ‘full state’—he has angered and shocked many by appearing to act like the de facto chief minister of the border state.

What appeared to many as a clear indication of Kejriwal’s intention to ‘rule’ Punjab was his summoning a meeting with top Punjab officials, including the chief secretary, in Delhi. The meeting in Delhi was called to discuss the issues relating to promises made by AAP in its manifesto to the people of Punjab. Kejriwal presided over, pretending that he was meeting Delhi officials.

It was easier to make alluring promises before the polls but Kejriwal and, of course, the actual chief minister of Punjab now know better that fulfilling the assurances of freebies, including free electricity, is going to be very tough. Punjab finances are in a precarious state. A large part of the revenue is consumed by routine expenditures like salary bills and debt servicing.

There is little scope for offering all the freebies without adding to the problems of the state. And failure to fulfill the aspirations of the people will quickly undo the popularity of ‘Jhadu’ (the symbol of the AAP). The main Opposition parties in the state, the Congress and the Siromani Akali Dal and even the BJP must be pleased at the dilemma of the Aam Admi Party.       

The Delhi meeting was in clear violation of the rules and can land the officials—apart from the AAP government in Punjab– in attendance in trouble on grounds of ‘indiscipline’. It will be interesting to watch how the Centre reacts to the meeting—whether it is willing to take ‘disciplinary’action against the Punjab officials. 

Rules and protocol do not permit the chief minister of a state to summon chief secretary and other bureaucrats of another state for a meeting. Interestingly, had the meeting been held in Chandigarh without the presence of Bhagwant Mann, it would have been presided over by the Punjab chief secretary, not Kejriwal. As chief minister of a union territory, Kejriwal is placed well below the chief secretary of a ‘full state’ in the order of precedence.

Kejriwal perhaps took the meeting in Delhi to avoid facing that embarrassment, but it is more likely that the purpose of violating the rules and protocol for such a meeting was another reminder to Mann as to who will call the shots in his administration. Mann obviously knows that or else he would have been attended the meeting and presided over it.

Many tend to believe that Kejriwal has little faith in the capabilities of Mann and his team which, in turn, raises the question about adequate talent in Punjab AAP. If that is untrue, Mann surely deserves to be given full freedom to act without Kerjiwal breathing down his neck all the time.      

A little before the last Punjab assembly polls, an allegation made by a one-time close aide of his was that Kejriwal was very keen to become chief minister of Punjab—even if Punjab was to become ‘Khalistan’. Of course, it was vehemently denied and not many were willing to believe it.

Almost from the time he launched Aam Admi Party–allegedly disapproved by Anna Hazare who led the India Against Corruption movement that provided a big platform to him– Kejriwal, a Haryanvi, has been taking interest in Punjab affairs. Sometimes he found himself on a sticky wicket when he had to take a public stand on disputes between Punjab and Haryana—on Chandigarh and sharing river waters. He tried to extricate himself by making some ambiguous statements, as if to keep his options open.

He has his eyes on Haryana also, not so much because he is a ‘son of the soil’ but because it fits into his plans to present AAP as a pan-India party. After Punjab, he faces an uphill task in reaching out to the people of Haryana. So far he has been seen as being close to politics in Punjab, not Haryana.

His critics in Punjab are asking him to resign as chief minister of Delhi and seek election to Punjab assembly if he wants to be both the de facto and de jure chief minister of Punjab. That he will never do because that will have a negative impact on the prospects of his party in Haryana.      

The controversy over his ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘illegal’ meeting with Punjab bureaucrats happened while a political storm was already brewing in Punjab with stories—true or untrue– of how Kejriwal has been undermining the position of Bhagwant Mann, the man he had helped become the chief minister of the state. In fact, it used to be said by rivals of AAP that if the party came to power, Kejriwal would ‘remote control’ it from Delhi.

It may be an exaggerated and misleading fear created by his rivals, but Kejriwal has done little to scotch the rumours. He not only wanted to be seen as the ‘boss’ of Mann, once a popular comedian, but also started to do things that lent strength to the ‘remote’ rumours.

He had an AAP leader, no doubt a young and capable one, elected to the Rajya Sabha from Punjab. The corridors of power in Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, were bussing with stories of how Mann awaits clearance from Delhi (Kejriwal) for even transfer and appointment of officials.

Mann declared war on corruption that was in line with the AAP reputation as born out of anti-corruption movement but it is already in danger of ending as a political stunt. Mann set off the Chandigarh controversy, demanding that the union territory be handed over to Punjab. Kejriwal would not have liked Chandigarh issue to be raked up. But he will not be unduly worried over it. The Punjab-Haryana disputes periodically flare up but soon ebb away without raising a real storm.

—by Atul Cowshish