A bitter battle between the central and AAP governments worsened on Tuesday as police arrested Delhi’s Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar amid high drama and secured a four-day police custody over his alleged fake degree. The AAP denounced the arrest as vendetta.
Metropolitan magistrate Navjeet Budhiraja sent Tomar to police remand after police argued that the Aam Aadmi Party leader was an influential man who could fabricate documents if he remained free.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress promptly made fun of the AAP and asked Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to quit over the episode.
Police slapped cases of cheating, criminal conspiracy and forgery after picking up Tomar from his office early in the morning and then dramatically taking him into custody.
There was no comment from Kejriwal. But a livid Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia called the arrest illegal and said that an “Emergency-like situation” was being imposed on the capital by Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung.
Delhi Police reports to the Lt. Governor and the union home ministry, and not the AAP government.
Delhi Police rejected charges of wrongdoing. Its chief B.S. Bassi maintained that the arrest was “within the parameters of law”. He said: “There is no conspiracy behind the arrest.”
The AAP, which took power in Delhi in February, accused police of roughing up Tomar. Delhi assembly Speaker Ram Niwas Goel said he wasn’t informed about the arrest.
Sisodia said vested interests were ganging up against the AAP government because of its anti-corruption campaign.
He said about 40 policemen swooped on Tomar’s office and took him away as if he was a fugitive.
“Police told Tomar that they had come to see some documents… They asked him to accompany them to his house. On the way they told his driver to get off, took charge of the vehicle and told him that he was being detained,” said Sisodia, adding Tomar was told “that he could ask someone to being the documents to the police station”.
“What is going on?” he asked. “Was he (Tomar) running away? Did he explode bombs in Delhi? There is an allegation (against him). The matter is in court. What was the need to arrest him?”
Sisodia added: “This arrest is illegal. There is an Emergency-like situation. This is supposed to be a democracy… Maybe it is an attempt to teach the AAP a lesson (for what we are doing).”
The arrest triggered protests by AAP supporters at the Hauz Khas police station in south Delhi where Tomar was initially taken. He was later moved to Vasant Vihar where AAP leaders Ashutosh and Kumar Vishwas staged a protest.
Tuesday’s arrest peaked a simmering row between the central and AAP governments over the powers of the Delhi government over the posting and transfer of senior officials. This too is now facing judicial scrutiny.
The arrest also coincided with an ugly turf war between the central and state governments over the Anti-Corruption Branch of the Delhi government.
AAP leader Sanjay Singh asked: “If the case relates to a fake degree, will ministers Smriti Irani and Ram Shanker Katheria (of BJP) will also be taken to police station without any prior notice?”
Tomar told CNN-IBN that he didn’t know why he was arrested, adding it had been done to tarnish the AAP’s image.
Two cases are pending against Tomar in the Delhi High Court, alleging he enrolled himself as an advocate on the basis of a fake law degree and seeking cancellation of his election. Tomar says his degree is genuine.
“The case was very clear from the first day but Kejriwal turned a blind eye and let him (Tomar) continue as a minister,” Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay said.
“This is the first time a minister has been arrested,” added Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken.
But the CPI-M denounced the arrest as shocking, and said it was a clear case of vendetta politics. It asked Lt. Governor Jung to resign.