Kejriwal Faces Media Trial Ahead of Delhi MCD Polls

Arun Jaitley Defamation case

Arun Jaitley Defamation case

The Delhi MCD elections are slated to be held on April 23, 2017. The Indian National Congress (INC), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are locked in a close contest, on all 272 seats.

With an important political battle looming ahead, things look rather gloomy for the AAP chief and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. Following a media exposé that Kejriwal was attempting to use public funds to foot his legal bills, there has been considerable political polarisation and outrage on social media platforms.

Arvind Kejriwal – Arun Jaitley 2015 Defamation Case

Back in 2015, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had filed a case of criminal defamation against Arvind Kejriwal and five of his AAP colleagues – Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh, Kumar Vishwas, Raghav Chaddha, and Deepak Bajpai.

Jaitley alleged that Kejriwal and the others (prominent leaders of the AAP) had maligned him. The union minister told the Delhi High Court that Delhi CM Kejriwal had spread “malicious falsehood by alleging that my wife and daughter are linked to fake companies”.

Earlier, Kejriwal had accused Jaitley of financial irregularities when the latter had held the post of President of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). Apart from pressing charges, Jaitley had sought Rs 10 crore in damages. According to him, the false allegations had caused irreversible damages to his reputation and his family’s honour.

Jethmalani And Legal Fees

To fight the case Kejriwal hired a battery of lawyers, including some heavyweights such as Ram Jethmalani. Jethmalani is deemed one of the most expensive and renowned lawyers in India. News reports say that he has charged Kejriwal about Rs 1 crore as a retainer fee and in addition, Rs 22 lakh for each court appearance.

Jethmalani has appeared 11 times in court (so far) in relation to this case. Kejriwal’s legal fees for this case has already run up a bill of Rs 3.8 crore and Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia has forwarded the bills to Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor, Anil Baijal, for clearance.

Baijal, in turn, has sought the advice of legal and administrative experts before sanctioning the bills.

AAP’s Stand

While there has been a considerable outrage on Twitter, Facebook and various media reports over the issue of Kejriwal’s legal bill, the AAP took up a stand that supported its leaders. The defamation case is not private matter, said other party members, adding that the CM had done the sport a great service by exposing irregularities.

AAP members also came out with allegations that the BJP was trying to divert the attention of the capital’s voters away from the EVM controversy, by raking up Kejriwal’s legal bills. AAP maintains that its poor performance in Punjab state assembly elections was mainly due to rigged voting machines.

The BJP claims that it is only fair that Kejriwal dig into his own pocket to pay the legal bills since Jaitley does too.

Ram Jethmalani Will Treat Kejriwal as “Poor Client”

Ram Jethmalani has come out strongly in support of Kejriwal after news reports caused much debate about the matter.

I charge only the rich but for poor I work for free…I will treat him (Kejriwal) as one of my poor clients,” said the lawyer. He added that the outrage had been instigated by Mr. Jaitley, who was probably unnerved at the thought of being cross-examined by him. Notwithstanding the “political conspiracy” surrounding the case, Jethmalani has vowed to fight on in favour of Kejriwal.

According to news reports, the eminent lawyer had initially offered to represent the Delhi CM free of cost, but within months of the case’s progress and media attention had started to send Mr. Kejriwal his legal bills.

The main question that demands analysis here is if Arvind Kejriwal acted in his personal and political capacity when he raised questions about Jaitley’s role in DDCA finances, or if he was acting as the CM of Delhi.

This remains a complicated question with no easy answers. Whatever the case, what will matter is the effect of the accusations on the people of Delhi and their ultimate decision vis-a-vis the AAP in the Delhi MCD polls. As the saying goes, the ultimate verdict lies with the voters.