By all accounts, the issue threatens to snowball into a full political war between the BJP and AAP ahead of assembly elections later this year and early next year in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat where Kejriwal’s party is rearing to go.
New Delhi: That there was something amiss about Delhi’s liquor policy was apparent when buyers got buy-one-get-one–free offer recently. There was a virtual deluge of customers outside liquor vends everywhere. It now transpires that the new excise policy compromised laid down rules and procedures in order to make quick money. The Lt Governor has rightly called for a CBI probe following a report by Delhi’s chief secretary.
Going by media reports, the chief secretary has pointed out several instances of irregularities in the new policy, including a waiver of Rs 144 crore granted to liquor cartel by Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in charge of the excise department. Allegations of kickbacks and bribery are flying thick and fast, naturally. The Kejriwal Government had claimed that it needed extra money to take care of the welfare needs of people. But it cannot justify accumulating funds by short circuiting rules and procedures. Senior AAP leader Atishi has claimed that the Delhi Government exchequer gained by Rs 1300 crore in three months as a result of the new excise policy. Liquor licence rates were raised manifold. Large number of new vends were opened. The gains were inevitable. The Kejriwal Government ignored opposition from resident associations and others who resisted opening of liquor shops in residential areas.
Surprisingly, AAP politicians expressed apprehensions of Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia getting into trouble with investigating agencies much before the Chief Secretary’s report on new excise policy. Kejriwal himself came out saying Sisodia could be roped in after health minister Satyendra Jain who is in the custody of the investigating agencies on charges of money laundering. It was generally surmised that the BJP was about to raise issues of irregularities in the education department of the Delhi Government.
As representative of the union government, the Lt Governor’s recommendation for a CBI probe into the excise muddle will surely be accepted by the Centre, unleashing another round of political slugfest. Kejriwal and other leaders have already challenged the Centre to arrest Sisodia. Delhi BJP leaders allege that the Kejriwal Government exploited liquor traders to fund its election campaign in Punjab where it is in power now.
By all accounts, the issue threatens to snowball into a full political war between the BJP and AAP ahead of assembly elections later this year and early next year in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat where Kejriwal’s party is rearing to go. BJP has genuine fears that AAP may expand its area of influence in Himachal Pradesh after wrestling power in neighbouring Punjab. The growing footprint of AAP has certainly become a matter of concern for BJP.
A new confrontation between the Delhi Government and the Centre is bound to adversely affect governance in the national capital. The Lt Governor, who took charge recently, had begun on a good note surveying monsoon arrangements in Delhi and inspecting infrastructure in general. The excise muddle and his call for a CBI probe will now create a situation of tension and clash between two power centres. The net losers will be the people of Delhi who may suffer for no fault.
(Devsagar Singh is a senior journalist.)