Can arrested Kejriwal run Delhi govt from jail?

Subhasish Mitra (Wide Angle)

Does the law bar an arrested person from continuing as chief minister? This question is suddenly raging in the corridors of power as well as in the political circles of the national capital.


Legal experts say there is no bar under the law which prohibits an arrested person from holding the post. 


To be more specific, they say Arvind Kejriwal can continue as Delhi Chief Minister despite his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in an excise policy-linked money laundering case.


Kejriwal was arrested by the ED on Thursday night hours after the Delhi High Court refused to grant him protection from any coercive action by the central probe agency.


Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan said there is no bar in law on a person continuing as chief minister once arrested.


On the other hand, senior advocate Vikas Singh said though legally there is no bar, administratively it will be next to impossible.


Kejriwal has not tendered his resignation from the post of the chief minister.


The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said he will continue as the chief minister of Delhi and if need be, he will run the government from jail.


To a specific question as to whether Kejriwal can continue as chief minister post his arrest, Sankaranarayanan said, "There is no bar in law on a person continuing as chief minister once arrested."


"As per the Representation of the People Act, it is only after a conviction that an MLA can be treated as disqualified and, therefore, disentitled to be a minister. Although unprecedented, it is technically possible for him to function from jail," he said.


But, senior advocate Vikas Singh said, "Legally there's no bar but administratively it will be next to impossible."


Section 8 clause 3 of the Representation of the People Act deals with disqualification of a lawmaker and says a person convicted for an offence and sentenced to two years or above shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction. It says the lawmaker shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years after his release.


Under Article 361 of the Constitution, only the President and Governors are granted immunity from arrest and proceedings before a court. The Prime Minister and Chief Minister of a state are not granted any such immunity.


On his part, Kejriwal said his life is dedicated to the nation whether he is inside jail or outside jail.


This was Kejriwal's first reaction while he was being produced in the court after being arrested by the ED on Thursday night.


The AAP has called his arrest a "political conspiracy" to stop him from campaigning in the Lok Sabha polls.


On the other hand, the BJP has taken strong exception to Kejriwal's continuation as CM saying it's an "insult" to people, law and democracy.


The BJP was reacting to AAP's assertion that Kejriwal will run the Delhi government from jail.


Union minister Anurag Thakur wondered if Kejriwal considered himself above law that he ignored nine summonses from the ED and refused to join the probe, while BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra accused AAP leaders of peddling lies on the issue and asserted that those involved in corruption will go to jail.


Another BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi said Kejriwal's decision to continue as chief minister despite being arrested makes him the first such chief minister. He has surpassed Lalu Prasad, he said, pointing out that the RJD supremo had resigned and installed his wife Rabri Devi as chief minister before the CBI arrested him in the fodder scam cases.


BJP leaders derided the support extended to the chief minister by opposition leaders as a show of brotherhood among thieves.


With the AAP insisting that Kejriwal will remain chief minister, Patra said it shows his greed for power and post while he and his colleagues rose in politics by claiming to disdain the very thing.


As Kejriwal's arrest created a leadership crisis, names of the embattled chief minister's wife and former IRS officer Sunita Kejriwal and cabinet ministers Atishi and Saurabh Bharadwaj are being talked about as his possible replacement.


The challenge before the AAP now is to come up with a worthy leader who could handle both the party and its government in Delhi in absence of Kejriwal.


Atishi holds the maximum number of portfolios in the Delhi government, including education, finance, PWD, revenue and services, and is considered close to Arvind Kejriwal. She is also a frontline spokesperson of the party defending the AAP government and Kejriwal, and attacking the BJP in her regular press conferences and appearances on news channels.


Bharadwaj is also a prominent member of the Delhi Cabinet holding several important portfolios including health and urban development. He, too, is a well known face of the party, often engaged in defending the party and its leaders and counter-attacking the BJP and its government at the Centre on a range of governance-related and political issues.


The AAP leadership also has to find a replacement of Kejriwal to head the party that runs governments in Delhi and Punjab besides having MLAs in Gujarat and Goa as well.


The mantle could fall on Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, who could hold the responsibility of new AAP national convener.


Political observers say it's indeed a big task for the AAP leadership to come up with a name of a leader that at least comes closer to Kejriwal's stature as convener of the party since its inception in 2012 and holding Delhi Chief Minister's post for three terms spanning nearly a decade.


Meanwhile, the urgency of the task becomes even more pressing as the AAP is gearing up to contest the Lok Sabha polls in Punjab, Delhi, Gujarat, Assam and Haryana in which Kejriwal was to be a key campaigner of the party.


In December last year, the AAP had launched a signature campaign 'Mai Bhi Kejriwal', asking people whether he should resign as Delhi chief minister or run the government from jail if arrested.


"Nearly 90 per cent of people in this exercise opined that Kejriwal has the mandate of Delhi and he has been elected and hence, only he would run the government in Delhi no matter from where," Bharadwaj had told reporters after the survey.


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