Following last Sunday’s arrest of two of its MLAs in a span of 12 hours, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) shot off a brief direction to its leaders — be prepared and be careful.
AAP MLA from Okhla, Amanatullah Khan, was picked up by the Delhi Police on July 24, a few hours later AAP MLA from Mehrauli, Naresh Yadav, was arrested by the Punjab Police.
Since the Arvind Kejriwal-led government resumed power in the Capital 18 months ago, a sixth of the AAP MLAs have seen the inside of a jail cell.
The party is already trying to predict who will be next.
Of the 12 AAP MLAs arrested, one is in jail — MLA from Narela, Sharad Chauhan, was arrested on late Saturday evening — and the remaining 11 are out on bail.
Convinced that their MLAs were being implicated in false cases, AAP leader Ashutosh on Friday — armed with bail orders of the MLAs released so far — said that the courts have rapped the Delhi Police for arresting the MLAs on flimsy grounds.
The arrests started in June last year, when Trinagar MLA Jitender Singh Tomar was arrested in a fake degree row.
Mr. Tomar spent nearly 45 days in jail. The MLAs arrested since have spent no more than four days in custody.
While every time an MLA was arrested, the party vehemently defended him — there was one exception: When Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti was arrested in December 2015 in a domestic violence case. The Chief Minister had then termed his arrest an embarrassment.
The promptness of the police in arresting the AAP MLAs would have not raised questions had the same treatment been meted out leaders of other parties with similar or serious charges levelled against them.
“There are Union Ministers facing murder, rape and corruption charges, but the police haven’t arrested them,” said Raghav Chadha, an AAP leader. Mr. Chadha claimed that of the 75 Union Ministers, 24 have criminal cases against them and 14 of them face serious criminal charges.
Apart from arrests, the Income Tax department recently raided Chhatarpur MLA Kartar Singh’s residence, the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) registered cases against Mr. Kejriwal, DJB Chairperson Kapil Mishra and former Transport Minister Gopal Rai, while the CBI raided CM’s principal secretary’s office and allegedly took away files kept in Mr. Kejriwal’s room.
“The raids and arrests are nothing but political vendetta. All the resources that the BJP government at the Centre has, they are using it against us,” said AAP’s Delhi convenor Dilip Pandey.
At the heart of the Centre-AAP tussle is Delhi’s peculiar status: It is not a full State and the Delhi Police, the ACB, the CBI, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Municipal Corporations come under the Centre.
Since the beginning, the AAP has demanded full-Statehood for the Capital city so it can gain control over the land and policing.
The party, which has termed the arrests as undeclared emergency by PM Narendra Modi, is sure that the arrests and raids will not stop till they are in power.
“Eventually, everyone will have to go to jail at least once,” Mr. Kejriwal has already warned his party men.
While the MLAs and party leaders say they are “prepared to go to jail”, they are also taking precautionary measures to avert any kind of possible situation that gives the Delhi Police a chance to register a case against them and put them behind bars.
In the past two months, four MLAs have been arrested for allegedly either molesting or threatening to kill a woman. A directive from the party has advised lawmakers to install CCTVs in their offices to record their meetings with public and party volunteers. They have been told to avoid meeting women and record every conversation they have with the public.
“But these are all ways to delay the arrest as the police are on a witch-hunt and if not molestation or altercation, they will arrest MLAs on some other charge,” said a party worker.
He added that there was a joke these days in the party office that the AAP will soon have to hold meeting of MLAs in Tihar Jail.