“It was well within the knowledge of the of the IO [Investigative Officer] that the accused Gulab Singh has been looking at the campaign work of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the coming election in Gujarat and that the rally as convened on 16.10.016. But, the police, for the reasons best known to them, rushed to Gujarat by flight and arrested the accused Gulab Singh from Gujarat.”
This was an observation made by Metropolitan Magistrate Kishore Kumar while sending AAP legislator Gulab Singh to 14 days of judicial custody. A day later, on October 19, he was granted bail.
On October 16, Gulab was arrested in relation to an extortion case on the basis of a statement given by co-accused people in the case. The complainant had not named the Matiala legislator in his complaint, yet the Delhi police claimed Gulab was the kingpin behind the extortion racket. The court also observed that, nowhere in the First Information Report (FIR) or during the investigation had the complainant alleged that money was given to Gulab.
Last year, on August 22, Metropolitan Magistrate Gomati Manocha observed, while granting bail to AAP MLA Commando Surinder Singh, that “it has been averred that this case is actuated by Political vendetta … Hence, the application seeking judicial custody of the accused persons hereby dismissed and the application of seeking bail of the accused Surinder Singh … are hereby allowed.” Commando had been arrested the previous day for passing casteist remarks about an NDMC employee and was booked under eight sections of the SC and the ST (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Of the numerous cases filed against 14 AAP MLAs since the party came to power in February 2015, only two have actually reached the trial stage and even when they did, they were discharged by the court. Everyone knows politics is dirty business, and AAP’s major platform was to ‘clean up Indian politics’. Of late, however, the most prominent arrests have been of AAP members. Party chief and Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal couldn’t resist taking a dig at the trend.
In over half of the complaints against the AAP members, the police were either pulled up by the court or the complaints seemed weak.
Consider Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan’s case. Khan was first arrested on July 24, on charges of threatening a woman with rape and murder. Khan was booked under the Indian Penal code’s sections 308, 506, 509 and 195A. Four days later, he was granted bail by the court. Why? Because it seems the complainant hadn’t made any allegations against Khan.
“The complainant has nowhere alleged that it was the accused that made any threatening calls to her,” said Additional Sessions Judge Raj Kumar Tripathi. The court took the police to task, saying that there was no material on record to suggest that Khan had threatened or called the complainant to “withdraw the case or change her statement”.
This begs a simple question: if there is “no material on record” to implicate him, why was Khan picked as the accused?
On September 21, Khan was arrested for the second time in three months. A case of demanding dowry was registered against him and his brother by his sister-in-law. He was granted bail the next day. Again the court observed that prima facie, it appeared that the charge of domestic violence was baseless against Khan as there was “no evidence for any demand of dowry or regarding mental / physical cruelty perpetrated by him on the complainant.” He was most recently booked on the October 25 for assault.
The trend of picking up AAP members as possible accused only to have the court turn around and ask “But Why?” dates back to Jitendra Singh Tomar in June 2015, which prompted AAP member Ashutosh to ask:
Akhilesh Tripathi, the MLA from Model Town, was arrested on November 26, 2015, for seeking multiple exemptions in a 2013 case of rioting. He and four others were chargesheeted by the police on charges of rioting, armed with a deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, criminal intimidation and for obstructing a public servant in discharging of his duties. Despite all this, he was granted bail the following day. On December 8, over a week later, he was acquitted on the grounds that the formal complainant Bittu Jha had turned hostile and disposed that “he did not give any complaint to the police.”
On July 9, 2015, Manoj Kumar, the Kondli MLA was arrested on the grounds of land grabbing and cheating. Manoj’s former business partner, Vinod Kumar had claimed that on November 2012, he had given Rs 6 lakh to Manoj, who was then a property dealer, to buy a plot. However, Manoj allegedly did not repay the amount. The legislator was booked for cheating and land grabbing and was granted bail by the court on July 20 2015.
He was later the co-accused by the police in a fair price extortion case, in which his secretary was also arrested. The court while granting him bail in December 2015, observed that on prima facie there was “no direct involvement” and that the allegations levelled against Manoj were “only through the instrumentality of the co-accused.”
On June 25, officers of the Delhi Police dragged Dinesh Mohaniya out, in the middle of his press conference. He was arrested for misbehaving with a woman and assaulting an elderly man. The complainant had visited Mohaniya’s office with other women to complain about the water problem in their locality on June 22 where she alleged Mohaniya and his associates misbehaved with them. He was booked under criminal intimidation, word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman and punishment for voluntarily causing hurt.
The series of arrests of AAP MLAs prompted Kejriwal to tweet “[Narendra] Modi declares emergency in Delhi”, a reference to the mass arrests of dissidents during the Emergency.
Another AAP MLA was granted bail – four days after his arrest. The court noted that since the investigation was “almost complete … no purpose would be served by keeping him in judicial custody anymore.” Deoli MLA, Prakash Jarwal was arrested on similar charges for misbehaving with a woman on July 8. The complainant had claimed that she first approached the Lieutenant Governor before filing the FIR. While granting anticipatory bail to Jarwal on July 11 the court pointed out the matter was “not being investigated properly.” It said that no action was taken by the police on a complaint filed by the complainant prior to registration of the present case.
In the same month, another AAP MLA, Naresh Yadav was being interrogated for desecrating a Quran in Punjab. He was arrested on July 24 after a non-bailable warrant was issued against Yadav by the trial court in Malerkotla. He was later granted bail on July 30.
Another case worth noting is the ‘fake’ degree row of MLA Bhavna Gaur. The complainant had accused Gaur of furnishing false details about her educational qualifications in the last two assembly polls held in December 2013 and February 2015. However, she was not arrested. On June 3, the Palam lawmaker was discharged by a Delhi court from the case.
There was disproportionate media coverage of this ruling as compared to Gaur’s initial arrest– a fact many in the party pointed out.
However, not all cases against members of the party have been as cursory. Jitendra Singh Tomar faces criminal charges for faking his degree and has been sacked from the Delhi cabinet. Sundeep Kumar, the Women and Child Development Minister faces charges of rape and was not only sacked but suspended from primary membership of the party itself. The party distanced itself from Somnath Bharti’s case when he was arrested on the charge of domestic violence, claiming it was a “personal matter”.
Meanwhile, little has been done in the case of members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) assault on AAP councillor Rakesh Kumar in June this year. Or even BJP’s OP Sharma widely televised attack on a CPI activist outside the Patiala House court complex on February 20 this year. As reassuring and surprising as it is to know that the law is capable of the speed that’s been shown in case of AAP members, it is important to note that on the subject of cases against people from other parties, justice appears to be firmly stuck in Diwali traffic.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @amit_bhardwaz