The Enforcement Directorate has summoned Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal this week in connection with a money laundering case related to an alleged excise policy scam. This development has sparked concerns about the potential arrest of the AAP’s leader following his interrogation by the ED. Party leaders are resolute in their belief that the Delhi government could continue to operate even if their leader is incarcerated.
Saurabh Bharadwaj, a prominent party member, expressed, “Should the entire party find themselves in jail, the government and the party can still function from within the prison walls. It appears that the BJP’s intent is to imprison everyone, jeopardizing essential services like free education, electricity, water, pilgrimages, hospitals, and neighborhood clinics. Arvind Kejriwal is determined to prevent any disruption to these vital services.”
But can a chief minister be detained or arrested? In India, the President and Governors enjoy immunity from civil and criminal proceedings during their tenure, but this immunity does not extend to the Prime Minister or Chief Ministers. It’s worth noting that J. Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu was the first Chief Minister to be convicted while holding office.
Regarding the operation of a government or a Chief Minister from jail, Saurabh Bharadwaj emphasized that the Delhi government and the party could continue their functions even if the CM were arrested. While this would present logistical challenges, there is no inherent legal prohibition against the Chief Minister remaining in office during an investigation. It is crucial to remember that the arrest or incarceration of Kejriwal remains a matter of speculation at this point.
A Chief Minister is only disqualified from holding office if convicted. For instance, Jayalalithaa remained in office until her conviction in the disproportionate assets case, which occurred approximately three years into her term. Furthermore, some members of Kejriwal’s Cabinet continued in their roles even after their arrest and imprisonment in connection with the same case. The portfolios of former Deputy CM Manish Sisodia were reassigned two days after his arrest, while former Health Minister Satyendar Jain resigned after more than a year in jail. However, their status as Delhi MLAs remained unaffected.
Regarding the possibility of Kejriwal’s arrest, he has been issued a summons under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, and the ED will record his statement once he appears at their Delhi office at 11 am on November 2. Party leaders insist that he will be arrested on Thursday, although this assertion currently lacks factual basis.
If Arvind Kejriwal is arrested and incarcerated, while he would not be automatically removed from office, his responsibilities would become considerably more challenging. Both the Aam Aadmi Party and the Delhi government are led by Kejriwal, who has been operating without two of his top aides in recent months. Although the party boasts other prominent leaders, there are no clear successors to the top role in his absence. Nonetheless, it’s essential to note that Arvind Kejriwal holds no specific portfolio in the Delhi government, meaning his absence would not directly affect the various portfolios under the Delhi Cabinet.