The arrest of 11 AAP MLAs one after another on charges ranging from outraging the modestly of a woman to religious sacrilege raises a pertinent question: Do legislators of other political parties in other states also face such quick action?
A quick check suggests that police elsewhere in the country do not necessarily act with similar degree of alacrity.
Take the case of former Haryana chief minister and MLA, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, accused by the CBI in May of irregularities in allotting 14 industrial plots. On July 22, he was also charged by the Enforcement Directorate with money laundering. That Hooda denies the charges and alleges political witch hunt is besides the point. The investigative agencies have not even questioned him.
So is the case with independent MLA Jasbir Deswal from the state’s Jind district. He is facing murder charges related to the death of two youths during February’s Jat agitation. Police have not arrested him, saying investigations were still on.
UP police also seem to drag their feet when it comes to dealing with elected peoples’ representatives. Six MLAs of the state have faced serious criminal accusations since 2015, the year the AAP came to power in Delhi and the procession of MLAs being whisked away by cops began.
Only two – Ajay Rai of the Congress and Rampal Yadav of the SP have been arrested. Rai was accused of instigating communal tension in Varanasi while Yadav was charged with assaulting government officials and land grab.
The four others are yet to face punitive action, though the charges they face are no less serious. Veer Singh of Samajwadi Party is accused of demolishing the house of a widow, Ram Singh Patel of house grabbing, Shyam Sunder Sharma of forgery and Ram Murti Singh Verma of abetting the death of a social media journalist. West Bengal’s record in dealing with suspected errant legislators is also patchy.
Six-time Congress MLA Manas Bhunia had an arrest warrant issued against him over a murder of a ruling TMC support in April. The day the warrant was issued, Bhunia had a long meeting with the CM Mamata Banerjee, soon after which he was named the chairman of the influential Public Accounts Committee of the state assembly.
Even his own Congress party alleged that the veteran legislator had entered into an “understanding” with the ruling party. A Tmc MLA Dipak Halder was arrested in September 2015 for his alleged involvement in a factional feud. He was suspended from the party for a while, but was given a ticket in the 2016 assembly elections.
Communist-ruled Kerala fares no better. CPI legislator ES Bijimol was accused of assaulting the additional district magistrate of Idukki, but the police took no action, prompting the high court to censure the force. “Everyone should be treated equally before law and the police should not be submissive towards the accused,” the court had said.
That is something that AAP and its leaders have also been asking the police – are its MLAs being treated equally? Jagdeep Singh, AAP’s MLA from Delhi’s Hari Nagar who was arrested on May 29 for alleged criminal intimidation and wrongful restraint of the manager of a waste-management company, has reasons to be suspicious of police motives. Experts say his arrest was not illegal, but the investigative officer did have the option of not arresting him and send the case to the court directly. Singh was after all an MLA and did not have a criminal past.
(With inputs from Lucknow/Kolkata/Chandigarh/Thiruvananthapuram/Patna)