Arvind Kejriwal
Arvind Kejriwal looks unfazed and exudes a fair degree of confidence while claiming that he has been sending replies to summons sent by the ED. | File photo

Arvind Kejriwal | ED is calling, but so is election

Kejriwal claims ED summons are designed to prevent him from campaigning for Lok Sabha polls, even as party weighs options of running govt with CM jail

Can a chief minister helming a state or a Union Territory (UT) be interrogated and possibly arrested by a Central government agency? Throw this question to lawmen or laymen and the stock answer is "hardly", or "quite unlikely". It is so because, in the past, a serving chief minister has rarely gone to prison. Yet, it is now a real possibility in the case of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Kejriwal has repeatedly been summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Ministry of Finance, for interrogation in the Delhi excise policy scam and yet he never turned up before the probe agency.

Instead, he looks unfazed and exudes a fair degree of confidence while claiming that he has been sending replies to ED summons. He says he sought his lawyers’ advice and found the ED subpoenas to be “illegal”, and that they never specified whether he was being called as a witness or accused.

This is how the stalemate continues both ED and Kejriwal appear to be buying time, maybe for their own reasons.

Another ED summon likely

So far, the ED has sent summons to Kejriwal thrice and may well shoot a fourth one even as this account of the unseemly tussle between Kejriwal and ED is being written. The Chief Minister, too, has been dragging the issue and, as another summon is expected to be on the way, he has decided to move to Gujarat on Saturday (January 6), to kick off the AAP’s campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Earlier, he had ignored one of the calls made by the ED for an appearance and gone to Punjab for quite a few days for his year-end round of meditation of sorts, called Vipassana.

Those in the know say Kejriwal’s defiance is currently being ignored as bringing him too soon before the ED sleuths without weighing all possibilities or repercussions could well spoil the public mood when it is getting fixed to the opening of the grand temple at Ayodhya. This is how CM-ED stalemate is viewed by observers as it drags on and on.

'Bid to derail campaign'

Kejriwal insists the probe into the excise scam is now two years old and the summons have been slapped on him to rob him of a chance to campaign for his party in the parliamentary polls. He adds that ED is after him even though he had faced the CBI about eight months ago. He claims that no money has been found in the wake of what is called a scam though two of his top colleagues Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh – have been put behind bars.

The CM has deliberated upon his possible course of action in case of his arrest with his party peers, including AAP MLAs. Party insiders say AAP has gone for a survey of Delhi residents to sense the public mood – on whether Kejriwal should resign in the eventuality of his arrest or remain defiant and run the Delhi government from jail. The survey is said to be currently on, with an overwhelming majority of people reportedly saying he should never think of quitting his rightfully earned post.

‘Will fight in people’s court’

The old party hats say that all the issues, including the excise scam, would land up in the court of the electorate with the declaration of poll schedule by the Election Commission. AAP plans to contest the Lok Sabha polls mainly in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat, besides elsewhere, depending on the seat allocated to it under the INDIA bloc of which it is a constituent.

As for the constitutional crisis that can be precipitated in the case of the CM’s arrest, AAP insiders say that from the legal point of view, there could be no bar on Kejriwal's continuation as CM from jail; and since Lok Sabha elections will follow soon it will be battled out in the people’s court.

Kejriwal’s fate uncertain

Per law, government servants or officers face suspension within 24 hours of their arrest, while elected representatives are disqualified on their being convicted and sentenced to two years or more in jail.

Lalu Prasad had resigned as Bihar Chief Minister in July 1997 and his wife Rabri Devi took over the reins when an arrest warrant in the fodder scam was issued by a court against him. The late J Jayalalitha was arrested following her conviction in a corruption case in 2014. She was then the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Other former CMs who have been arrested in the past include Jagannath Mishra, Madhu Koda, BS Yeddyurappa and Om Prakash Chautala – all of them were not holding office at the time of their arrest.

Yet, the fate of Kejriwal has also become uncertain due to his long and lingering seesaw with the law – whether or not the case holds merit.

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