Delhi Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena has accused Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his ministers of showing "utter disregard" towards the commemoration of birth anniversaries of Mahatma Gandhi and former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Saxena termed the absence of Kejriwal and his ministers at Raj Ghat and Vijay Ghat, memorials to Gandhi and Shastri, on Sunday "unacceptable" and "appalling", saying such events call for "commemoration of much beyond the issuing of symbolic advertisements in newspapers that your government very promptly did".
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hit back, saying Kejriwal could not attend the programmes as he was campaigning in Gujarat for the assembly polls and also accused Saxena of acting at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a letter, the LG said neither Kejriwal nor his ministers were present at the two memorials even though President Droupadi Murmu, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and representatives of foreign missions in India among others were there to pay homage.
The LG noted that Kejriwal's deputy Manish Sisodia was "perfunctorily present" there for a few minutes, but "did not deem the occasion fit enough to stay the course".
"It is with a deep sense of pain, regret and disappointment that I draw your attention towards the utter disregard displayed by you and the government headed by you towards the commemoration of Gandhi Jayanti and the jayanti of Bharat Ratna, Lal Bahadur Shastri ji yesterday," said the letter.
Saxena asserted that what made the absence all the more "unacceptable and appalling" is the fact that the president and vice president were invited for the programme after "approval" from Kejriwal, Sisodia and Minister in-charge of the General Administration Department.
"Moreover, in accepting the invite from the Delhi government, the President's Secretariat had clearly apprised the chief minister through his addl secretary, that it was expected of the chief minister to be present at the programme and receive the president at Vijay Ghat," the letter read.
Saxena said organising the homage function at Vijay Ghat is the responsibility of the city government and the invitations for the programme on Sunday were issued in the name of the chief minister.
"However, you were absent from the programme at Vijay Ghat and the dy chief minister who came there, left the venue without waiting for the president to arrive.
"This is not only highly improper but prima facie amounts to deliberate breach of protocol indicative of disrespect and insult to the president of India -- the highest Constitutional authority of the Republic," the letter said.
Saxena underlined that according to the standard protocol and convention, the chief minister, or in his absence, the deputy CM should accompany the LG to receive the dignitaries at such national functions.
It is also customary that the chief minister and his cabinet colleagues are present at such events, he added.
"Much more than being matters of protocol, perfunctory respect or display of physical presence, these almost holy occasions and events at the Samadhis of the greatest sons of Mother India are an expression of respect and reverence towards them.
"Indeed, such events, especially Gandhi Jayanti is a national festival, that calls for commemoration of much beyond the issuing of symbolic advertisements in newspapers that your government very promptly did," he said.
The LG noted the chief minister's personal presence would have been befitting, but since he was travelling due to a prior political commitment, it "would have been in the gracious fitness of things" for the CM to have nominated a senior minister on his behalf to attend the events and also accompany the president and vice president.
Saxena also flagged the general apathy in the maintenance and basic upkeep of the venue.
"Right opposite to the Samadhi gate, there was garbage and C&D waste strewn and basic cleanliness compromised. This again, was reflective of utter disrespect of one of our most respected leaders and an insult to his memory," he said.
The entire episode is "indicative of disrespect and disregard" of the government towards the constitutional offices of the president and other dignitaries as well as "gross apathy and dereliction of duties and responsibilities on your part", Saxena said.
"I would... like to reiterate that just issuing advertisements in newspapers does not suffice and the importance of propriety and bi-partisanship on matters of national sentiments and interests cannot be undermined.
"I hope that you would take points, placed by me in the right stead and spirit and take necessary measures to avoid such derelictions in future," the letter said.
In a statement, the AAP said Kejriwal has always been attended Gandhi Jayanti and Lal Bahadur Shastri Jayanti programmes in last several years.
"CM was in Gujarat on that day and thats why he could not attend the programme. It is important to understand the reason for LG's letter. CM addressed a very massive rally in tribal area of Gujarat against empty chairs of PM's programme in Ahmedabad just two days ago. PM is livid. This letter has been written by LG on PM's instructions," the AAP claimed.
In a tweet, Sisodia said, "If BJP had walked the path shown by Gandhi ji and Shastri ji and built schools and did something for the farmers, it would have been better. This letter has been written after the crowd gathered for @ArvindKejriwal ji in Gujarat and there were empty chairs in the PM's rally."
(With PTI inputs)