SlapGate or Dangal II, as TV channels are calling it, starts with talk about a midnight meeting. It was, the story goes, to discuss ration allocations in Delhi but the minister and secretary in charge of civil supplies are absent. IAS officer Anshu Prakash, chief secretary of Delhi, is summoned to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence on the intervening night of February 19 and 20. Prakash complains to the police hours later that the meeting was just an exercise in browbeating and physical bullying. It unites the bureaucracy across the country in anger.
Aam Aadmi Party MLAs, Prakash’s police complaint states, “started shouting at me and abused me… for not doing enough for publicity of the government.” His description is stark: MLAs closed the door, squashed him between AAP legislator Amanatullah Khan and another MLA—and demanded to know why he was not releasing the publicity spots. His refusal, citing a Supreme Court order, further inflamed the MLAs, in Prakash’s version. Two nearest him “suddenly…without provocation, started…assaulting me and hit several blows with fists on my head and temple.” He has called it a ‘conspiracy’, a ‘premeditated’ plan.
Officers and other employees have revolted against the attack, stopping MLAs and ministers from entering the Delhi secretariat on February 21. Members of the Indian Administrative Services, Delhi Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Services, Delhi Administration Subordinate Service and Prakash’s cadre—the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory—descended on the secretariat and allegedly manhandled AAP minister Imran Hussain. A counter-complaint has been filed. Prakash Jarwal has also lodged a complaint against the bureaucrat under the SC/ST Act. Two AAP legislators, Jarwal and Amanatullah, have been arrested.
The allegation is that Jarwal and others heckled Prakash, while the AAP says the chief secretary left the meeting in a huff even as some MLAs tried to stop him. The intermittent war-like situation prevailing in Delhi between the AAP and BJP ever since the latter won 67 out of 70 seats in the assembly has reached fever pitch after the Prakash incident. Bureaucrats and other staff have refused to attend meetings of the Delhi government until Kejriwal apologises. Two hundred officials held a candlelight march in protest.
AAP MLAs Amanatullah Khan (left), Prakash Jarwal at a Delhi court on February 21
The IAS fraternity is no stranger to friction with elected representatives, but this is the first time an officer of a senior rank, chief secretary no less, is in the eye of such a storm. “Definitely something has happened at that meeting, he has been pushed, his spectacles fell off, and worse. Otherwise a chief secretary would never have complained,” says IAS officer Sanjay Bhoosreddy, honorary secretary of the central officers association. “That is why all associations of IAS and other administrative services and cadres have come out in support of him.”
The cadres and associations demand prosecution of those involved in the attack. “You can’t do in a democracy things like in goondaraj,” Bhoosreddy says. Such bullying is absolutely unacceptable and a strong signal must be sent as such by prosecuting the guilty.”
Of what really happened at the meeting there obviously are two versions. According to AAP MLA from Greater Kailash Saurabh Bhardwaj, the February 19 meeting was delayed by 90 minutes because the chief secretary himself came late. “MLAs had been waiting for him since 10 p.m., the actual time fixed for the meeting,” he says. (A series of weddings MLAs had to attend being the reason for the night schedule). He points out CCTV footage the AAP has released of Prakash leaving Kejriwal’s residence at 11.30 p.m. “The chief secretary is saying he was beaten at the meeting, but waits 24 hours before getting a medico-legal test report. Why?” he says. (The medical report shows Prakash had injuries on his ears, head and lips.)
Bharadwaj acknowledges Prakash left after a heated exchange and denies it came to blows. “We had expected more tension with the bureaucracy after this meeting. We never imagined a complaint of assault,” he says. “If police can arrest AAP MLAs on just a complaint it should arrest those visible in CCTV footage attacking Hussain too.”
While Prakash’s medico-legal examination has become a bone of contention, questions are also being raised over the AAP’s claim that the meeting was about rations, not publicity. “We had 11 MLAs representing Delhi’s poorest areas. The chief secretary was asked why the PDS scheme was not reaching those people. No advertisement issue was even raised,” says another AAP official. “Amanatullah Khan and Prakash Jarwal were raising questions and the chief secretary told them he would only answer to the lieutenant governor,” he says, calling the episode a tactic to divert from “growing pressure of Nirav Modi case.”
“Things will get worse. Delhi is in a mess,” says an IAS officer. The Bharatiya Janata Party has struck out at the AAP over the incident while the Congress, initially cautious, has joined the chorus. “We also ran governments in Delhi, but never had such problems because we had a constructive approach,” says party spokesperson Manish Tiwari. “But we should be careful the government is not creating a distraction.”
This is not the first time such charges have been made against the AAP. Three years ago, a senior bureaucrat had claimed his room in the secretariat was locked. The IAS Association has complained then too. The AAP’s own Kumar Vishwas, the BJP’s Vijender Gupta and lawyer Prashant Bhushan—so many have alleged physical violence. Kejriwal and former L-G Najeeb Jung had extended spats. Appointment of Delhi’s IAS officials was hotly contested after Jung had claimed sole authority over it.
The question of Delhi’s statehood hangs until the Supreme Court decides the matter. On a recent Sunday, the President disqualified 20 AAP legislators. Some of these episodes fuel the AAP’s persecution complex. The question is, if nothing happened at the February 19 meeting, then why is the chief secretary so angry.