Is PMO meddling with Arvind Kejriwal's govt?

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 09, 2017 10:31 hrs
Is PMO meddling with Arvind Kejriwal's govt?

A cover story by The Frontline on the Prime Minister’s Office interference with the Delhi government has raised some uncomfortable issues for the Modi government. Ever since the Arvind Kejriwal government came to power in 2015, the turf war between the Central government and AAP has been widely reported. There have been constant allegations by Arvind Kejriwal that the Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung has been interfering in the functioning of the government. The Outlook reported that a legal battle ended in favour of the former –

Division bench of Chief Justice G. Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath of the Delhi High Court concluded that the LG is the administrative head—the real boss. Farcical it may seem, but the chief minister can exercise his authority only in case of a notable exception—to appoint special public prosecutors.

Earlier, Rajendra Kumar, secretary of the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was also accused of corruption by the CBI. Recently, Kumar said that he was being pressured by the CBI to implicate Kejriwal which he refused to do. Manish Sisodia directly blamed it on BJP –

Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah are hell bent on murder of democracy in the country. They let loose the CBI on their political opponents

The Lieutenant Governor finally resigned in December but the Frontline article also points out to the manner in which he resigned as proof of the governor’s proximity to the PMO -

According to senior officials, Jung had not sent his resignation letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) or the President’s Secretariat, institutions to which the LG reports, but to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The next morning, around 11 a.m., Jung walked into the PMO and had an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking with a few reporters after the meeting, Jung said that twice in the past he had offered to resign, but Modi had asked him to continue as LG.

Many in AAP felt that he operated at the behest of the Centre. Ashutosh, a journalist – turned AAP member wrote in NDTV that he was an assassin of democracy.

He formed a deadly team with Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi. It did not take us long to guess that both were out to please their master living at India's most famous address, 7 Race Course Road. Slowly but surely, a plot was unearthed. The Government in Delhi was the target. A supari was given to first discredit the government and then unseat it. I had never imagined that in India, para-military forces could be brazenly used to capture the building of the Anti-Corruption Bureau. It was a coup whose mastermind was the Prime Minister's Office.

Another important revelation has been an email by Hindustan Times editor Sishir Gupta to BJP President Amit Shah listing various violations by the AAP government. The email dated 28th March 2015, the full text of which is available here, talks about issues such as the transfer of files relating to land, law and order to the Chief Minister’s office before being sent to the LG, a circular requiring that all files seen by the LG to also be seen by the CMO, and other such issues. Gupta has been accused of spying for the BJP.

The email was drafted in such a manner that it did not seek a response from the BJP president or the PMO but only passed on information. Interestingly, a story by the Executive Editor was published on the front page of the April 1 New Delhi edition of HT with a headline suggesting that Kejriwal was exceeding his jurisdiction: “On collision course: Delhi CM Kejriwal steps on LG Jung’s toes”. It reported only the first “example of violation” and did not mention the others and steered clear of the details mentioned in the email about political issues.

Gupta has defended himself saying that he was merely seeking comments on an article he was working on, but did not get a reply. However, the article goes on to point out that an RTI query with the Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that the government did in fact ask the LG to look into the matter.

PMO’s top official, Nripendra Misra, called Anant Kumar Singh, Additional Secretary (CS) in the Home Ministry, to his office and sought a “factual report” on the email in less than five days. Marked urgent, his single-page record of the meeting and subsequent notes by MHA bureaucrats on it as follow-ups revealed the importance given to the issue in the North Block office.

This article in The Wire provides some background on Gupta.

Hindustan Times is the largest circulating newspaper in the capital. Gupta, who became its executive editor in 2015, was one of three names unsuccessfully floated by persons close to the Modi government last year for the politically crucial job of Press Trust of India editor. In April 2015, he and the Hindustan Times editor at the time landed the Indian media’s first interview with Narendra Modi as prime minister. The next day, Gupta tweeted a photograph of himself and Modi, writing: “Leader & i. Gave my books… to PM Modi yday b4 the HT interview.” That tweet, along with his entire Twitter account, has since been deleted.

ScoopWhoop also provided other instances which mar Gupta’s reputation as an objective journalist. These include links to an arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari as well as his appointment to the executive council of the Institute of Mass Communication.

The Hindustan Times has merely said that the accusations against Gupta are a mischaracterisation of his reportage and that prior to the email; he had spoken to Amit Shah and the Prime Minister’s office to seek their comments and was asked to send an outline of the story – the contents of the email.

This defence, according to The News Laundry says, is highly unconvincing –

On Page 7 -- the city page of the paper -- HT has carried a report by an HT Correspondent on HT’s statement on the whole issue. It would have been easier for the paper to have issued a clarification by the editor on Page 1. But no. The report states that HT denies allegations levelled by Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, without giving much weight to Frontline’s story.

With Anil Baijal being appointed as the new LG, it is unlikely that these conflicts might be resolved. The Business Standard reported that Baijal is very experienced with more than three decades in the service, and has even served as Home Secretary under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

That Baijal is an old hand in Delhi bureaucratic and political circles, and knows the rule book and the ins and outs like the back of his hand, should give the AAP leadership sleepless nights.

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