In the first of its kind action, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday publicly sacked Food Minister Asim Ahmed Khan for allegedly demanding bribes from a builder, sending a strong signal that AAP government won’t tolerate corruption.
Announcing this at a hurriedly-called press conference where he played an audio tape of a conversation purportedly involving the builder, Khan and a middleman, Kejriwal said he won’t tolerate corruption.
“We won’t tolerate any corruption, even if it is by our ministers or legislators,” said Kejriwal, flanked by Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and official spokesman Nagendar Sharma.
“I’ll not spare any minister, any legislator, even my son or even Manish. Strict action will be taken against anyone involved in corruption,” he said, also asking Sisodia not to spare him if he himself indulged in corruption.
“Even if we have to give the biggest sacrifice, we will not compromise on corruption. We are keeping a vigil on everyone,” he said.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader said the case was being referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Later, Kejriwal tweeted that the matter was sent to the agency.
Hours after being removed, Khan said he was shocked.
“I am shocked and surprised. I was asked to resign and I have. There is a conspiracy behind it. I will reveal it,” he told reporters.
Kejriwal also announced that party legislator Imran Hussain will replace Khan, who was also the environment minister, in the cabinet.
“I don’t think that such action has ever been taken. We have done it. Now BJP should remove Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Vasundhra Raje,” he said, daring the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to remove Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh chief ministers accused of alleged impropriety in the Lalit Modi case and the Vyapam scam respectively.
Kejriwal, who began the press conference by saying that the AAP was born from an anti-corruption movement and was “forced to contest elections”.
“We had dreamt of a corruption-free India. And we had said we will not compromise on corruption at any cost,” he said.
Still keeping the media guessing, Kejriwal said the step “we are going to take is a solid step” — and then announced Khan’s sacking.
He said an audio tape given to him on Thursday established the claim of the complainant that the minister demanded Rs.6 lakh from the builder for allowing illegal construction in his Matia Mahal constituency in old Delhi.
“Prima facie it seems the matter is serious…We cannot tolerate this.”
In the audio tape released to the media, Khan could be heard telling the person on the other line that he became late because of a meeting which lasted for four hours. The conversation was in Hindi.
“I was really worried where to keep this,” the unidentified person is heard on the phone.
“Meet in 10-15 minutes in front of Moti Mahal,” Khan is heard telling the person.
“This is 6, should I give the date six,” the man asks. “Meet Iqbal there and give,” the minister answers.
In another conversation, Khan is heard haggling over the money.
Khan is the second minister to bow out of the AAP government in disgrace. Then law minister Jitender Singh Tomar resigned under pressure in June after being arrested for allegedly faking his educational degree.
“If we can remove our minister, then we can take action against anyone,” Kejriwal said on Friday.
The BJP, the only opposition in the Delhi assembly where the AAP has 67 of the 70 seats, and the Congress made light of the minister’s sacking.
“Sometimes Kejriwal fights with (Delhi’s Lt Governor) Najeeb Jung, sometimes with PM (Narendra Modi), sometimes with (Home Minister) Rajnath Singh, and sometimes with his own people,” said BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad.
“Let his stories of fights be left to him,” he said.
Congress spokesperson R.P.N. Singh added: “This is the situation when there is no Lokpal in Delhi. Imagine if there was one, the whole cabinet would have to resign.”
Former chief minister Sheila Dikshit said Kejriwal was seeking publicity by this.