Latest in the series of embarrassing revelations about the ostentatious lifestyle that Aam Aadmi Party leaders, and in particular their supremo Arvind Kejriwal seem to leading, is a set of bills for catering at his official residence. Raised by The Delhi Tourism and Tpt Development Corporation, they are for meals provided by Taj Mahal Hotel at exorbitant rates of Rs 12,472 and Rs 16,025 per plate (on 11 Feb 2016 and 12 Feb 2016).
This comes on the heels of revelations of similar extravagances at public expense – Rs 1 Crore worth samosas (including Rs 47 Lakh worth at office and residence of Arvind Kejriwal), Rs 1.05 Crore paid to a PR agency for promoting Kejriwal’s social media outreach program ‘Talk to AK’ in Punjab, Goa and Gujarat, and the move to pay legal bill of about Rs 3 Crore for a personal defamation case of Kejriwal from public money. This gross misuse of taxpayer’s money is only surpassed in its brazenness by the arguments offered by the party and its leaders in their defence.
In this instance, terming the allegations as “a ploy by the BJP to defame the party before municipal elections”, the Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia has said that although these bills were sent to him for clearance, he never approved them. This follows the typical pattern of AAP responses – counter allegations of the charges being conspiracy by opposing forces, and obfuscate issues instead of giving a factual refutation. The aim, it seems, is to brazen it out, deflect attention and try to turn the tables by counter allegations, playing the victim card. However, they must credit people with a little more intelligence rather than expecting them to accept their conspiracy theories without raising some questions – for instance the following need to be explained about the ‘Case of the Costly Catering’.
Since Sisodia has admitted that the bills were put up to him for approval, it’s established that the bills themselves are genuine and not fabricated, and the catering was actually provided on the dates mentioned, at Arvind Kejriwal’s residence. Sisodia’s contention is that he asked for an investigation why the bills were so high and returned the file. Does this mean that food had been ordered without enquiring about and negotiating the rates beforehand? That’s what anyone spending their own hard earned money would do while catering for a private event – so why such a cavalier attitude with public money?
Since it’s been over a year since, the other questions that arise are – what happened to the investigation that Sisodia claims he ordered? And what happened to the outstanding bill? If indeed an investigation had been ordered and conducted, why aren’t the findings being put in public domain? After all, how long does it take to fix accountability in such a scenario? That is, of course, if it is indeed the intention to do so. And was the bill ultimately settled? If so, who paid it? And if not, why is the vendor / caterer being penalised for a service that has already been provided a year ago?
Is it possible that the expenditure was incurred on the direct orders of Arvind Kejriwal himself, and that Sisodia was not in the loop? That is why the amount came as a shock when the bills were put up to him for sanction, and probably being more conscientious than Kejriwal, he refused to sanction the amount as he’s asserting. That would also explain the enquiry being a non-starter.
The other interesting aspect is Sisodia’s allegation that the bills have been ‘leaked’ by BJP for electoral gains in MCD polls. For a party that professes absolute transparency, was the intention to keep such expenses under wraps that their disclosure in public domain is being seen as a ‘leak’ which is potentially politically damaging?
Extravagance by political parties and politicians isn’t a new phenomenon in our environment. Some apologists may claim that other parties and governments are equally profligate so why is AAP always singled out for such scrutiny. The answer to that they came up on the promise of being a party with a difference, their whole USP being their assurance of ending the VVIP culture and not missing public resources. It seems those were mere words, ‘jumlas’ to garner support and votes, only to be discarded once the fruits of power became irresistible. And on the flip side, on the performance front the government doesn’t have much to show for itself. It is this sense of disappointment and betrayal that is probably costing them election after election, and has led to everything the party says being taken with a pinch of salt now.