Delhi law minister Jitender Singh Tomar quit on Tuesday after being arrested for allegedly using fake degrees to enrol as an advocate, further souring the Centre’s already strained ties with the AAP which called it an “Emergency-like situation”.
The Tri Nagar legislator sent his resignation through his lawyer after being charged with cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy, saying he didn’t want the image of the party to suffer.
“JS Tomar put in his papers a while back. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has accepted the resignation and it will be sent to the L-G tomorrow,” deputy CM Manish Sisodia told reporters on Tuesday after a late-night huddle of senior Aam Aadmi Party leaders at his residence.
The 48-year-old was sent to four days of police custody on a May 11 complaint by the city’s bar council that said Tomar had submitted forged academic documents including mark sheets, a BSC degree, provisional documents and his law degree to the body in 2010.
Video: Sisodia presser on Tomar's arrest
City police commissioner BS Bassi defended the arrest, saying all procedures were followed but a livid Aam Aadmi Party alleged Tomar was the victim of a political conspiracy and questioned the need for the move when the case was being heard by the Delhi high court.
"Tomar was arrested as if he was a mafia. Was he running away? Did he set off a bomb? What was the emergency, especially when a scam is being reopened? This is an attempt to teach AAP a lesson,” said a furious Sisodia.
Sources said Delhi Jal Board vice-chairman Kapil Mishra, Greater Kailash MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj and former law minister and Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti were the frontrunners to replace Tomar, who became the first Delhi minister to be arrested. A section of the party, however, feels the portfolio should be looked after by Kejriwal.
The arrest is the latest in a string of controversies engulfing the young party that rode a tidal wave of support to victory in Delhi but has lurched from crisis to crisis since, with each episode chipping away at its credibility.
Kejriwal’s two-year-old outfit that was born out of a national anti-corruption stir has been locked in a bitter tussle with lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung for the city’s administrative control that has nearly paralysed governance in the Capital.
The Delhi CM has repeatedly accused the Centre of trying to attempting a coup in the Capital through the L-G -- who controls the crucial departments of police, land and services and reports to the Union home ministry.
Tomar’s troubles began in February when a petition in the high court accused the minister of using a fake undergraduate degree to enrol as a law student -- corroborated in an RTI reply by the university that said his degree, mark sheet, and roll number were “completely fabricated”. The bar council initiated an inquiry shortly afterwards.
In April, Bihar's Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University, from where Tomar claimed to have obtained his law degree, told the court the provisional certificate was not "genuine" and didn’t exist in the official records. A BJP leader has also dragged Tomar to the court on charges of lying in his election nomination papers, an accusation that may cost the AAP legislator his seat.