OPINION | Arvind Kejriwal's Apology: A Case of Political Strategy
This is a major climbdown by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader, who had made character assassination of rivals into a fine art of politics.
File photo of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Less than a month back, Kejriwal’s close aide Ashish Khetan wrote on Twitter, “In the middle of this banking sector mess & financial crisis, our country's finance minister @arunjaitley spends 3-4 hours in Delhi courts almost every second day, pursuing the multiple defamation cases he has filed against @ArvindKejriwal. What a pity.”
In the middle of this banking sector mess & financial crisis, our country's finance minister @arunjaitley spends 3-4 hours in Delhi courts almost every second day, pursuing the multiple defamation cases he has filed against @ArvindKejriwal. What a pity.— Ashish Khetan (@AashishKhetan) February 17, 2018
Now, there is also a buzz that Kejriwal may seek ‘pardon’ from Jaitley, with interlocutors working out modalities for the apology the Delhi CM would seek from the Finance Minister. Reading the tweet and the regret that has followed in Majithia case, it’s clear that Kejriwal is using apology as a matter of political strategy.
This is not the first time that he has apologised to a political opponent after levelling charges of corruption and later failing to produce evidence for the same. Last year, he apologised to a relative political goblin Avtar Singh Bhadana, the former Congress MP from Faridabad, who is now in BJP.
This is a major climbdown by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader, who had made character assassination of rivals into a fine art of politics. In the summer of 2014, Kejriwal had preferred incarceration in Tihar jail, after the defamation case filed by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, by refusing to sign on bail bonds which are accompanied by a surety amount of certain denomination.
Four years down the line, what has made Kejriwal go on an apology binge rather than stand by the charges levelled by him? Probably the realisation that the politics of hit-and-run doesn’t take one very far.
The more than dismal performance of AAP in state assembly polls throughout last year has made the activist-turned-politician realise that he should retrieve himself from the cesspool of his own creation before it’s too late.
The controversy which erupted last year when Kejriwal tried paying senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani’s fee from Delhi Government treasury, has firmly established that defamation cases will have to be fought by the chief minister in his personal capacity and the defamation amount be paid from his own pocket.
Given the long list of cases pending against him from his heydays of levelling charges against political rival’s left-right-and-centre, Kejriwal would need a chest full of cash to keep himself away from jail and subsequent political disqualification, as some of these cases are of criminal defamation.
Given the circumstances, Kejriwal may have decided, as his spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj put it, “to amicably sort out pending court cases on the advice of the party's legal team because the cases were taking a toll on the already strained resources of the party and individuals".
This brings us to the larger question — will the settlement of cases between the rival politicians undo the damage the shoot-and-scoot has done to our polity at large?
During last year’s Punjab assembly poll campaign, Kejriwal claimed that the Akali Dal government was patronising drug mafia and that Majithia was Punjab's drug lord whom he would "drag by his collar" to jail if AAP was voted to power.
AAP performed reasonably well in the polls which followed this vitriolic campaign. Today, through the apology, Kejriwal is saying that the allegations were “unfounded”. This is a big let-down for his party MLAs and workers in Punjab, who have to live among the people of Punjab and go back to them to seek mandate for another term. They have rightly termed the move as “surrender” and the situation “appalling”.
The biggest sufferer of AAP’s politics of character assassination has been the governance in Delhi. The alleged assault on the Chief Secretary by party MLAs at CM residence is the latest in the long list of cases which has gone to derail administration in Delhi in the past three years.
Falsehood has not only been used as a tool for politics but also government publicity by AAP leaders as some of the contents of the advertisements released by Delhi Government show. They never came clean when questioned on the advertisement which stated that they have put certain number of officials behind bars for alleged cases of corruption. Their claims of reforming education have similarly been challenged.
There is little likelihood of the AAP changing its campaign tune despite the apologies offered by its leader. They have only got wiser with these cases and would next time level charges in a manner that it doesn’t invite libel clauses.
The Arun Jaitley case is being monitored by the High Court, which has given the signal to fast track it in the trial court. Will the High Court accept closure in the matter if Kejriwal were to offer an apology? The judicial take on the issue would be of much interest.
(The writer is senior journalist and political commentator)
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