Kejriwal questioned at CBI headquarters; AAP leaders protest

New Delhi:  Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was questioned by the CBI on Sunday in the excise policy case, amid protests by his party as the AAP chief accused the agency of acting at the behest of the BJP.

In a five-minute video message on Twitter before arriving at the heavily fortified headquarters of the Central Bureau of Investigation at around 11 am, Kejriwal claimed that the BJP might have ordered the agency to arrest him.

The Aam Aadmi Party chief, who received solidarity messages from several opposition leaders after being summoned by the agency, asserted that he would honestly answer questions posed by the CBI as he has nothing to hide.

The BJP, which accused Kejriwal of indulging in theatrics to divert attention from corruption, has dared him to undergo a lie-detector test and said it was not the time for rhetoric but accountability.

BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra said on Sunday that investigation agencies such as CBI and ED work on the basis of facts, not emotions.

Kejriwal visited Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Raj Ghat this morning and was accompanied by his Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and some cabinet colleagues to the CBI office.

While he was being questioned, several senior AAP leaders were “detained” by the Delhi Police during a sit-in at Archbishop Road against his summoning.

The detainees included Rajya Sabha MPs Sanjay Singh and Raghav Chadha, Delhi ministers Saurabh Bharadwaj, Atishi and Kailash Gahlot, AAP spokesperson Adil Ahmad Khan, AAP general secretary Pankaj Gupta and some ministers in the Punjab government.

“The Delhi Police has arrested us for sitting peacefully and is taking us to some unknown place… what kind of dictatorship is this?” Chadha tweeted.

“BJP suffers from chronic Kejriwal-phobia,” he alleged.

Mann, who also joined the sit-in, had left the spot before the AAP leaders’ detention.

“Around 1,500 people have been detained or arrested by police across Delhi for staging protests. Thirty-two Delhi MLAs and 70 councillors have been arrested in the city and 20 Punjab AAP MLAs have been arrested at the Delhi border,” AAP Delhi convener Gopal Rai claimed at a press conference.

Rai also chaired an “emergency meeting” of its office-bearers to decide the party’s next course of action following the detention of its leaders.

After arriving at the agency headquarters, Kejriwal was taken to the first-floor office of the Anti-Corruption Branch of the CBI, which is probing the matter.

Senior officials of the agency remained present in the office on Sunday to keep an eye on the development, a normal course whenever a VIP comes to the agency, they said.

During the day, Kejriwal was offered a lunch break and chose not to go outside the CBI office, sources said.

The questioning was still continuing till 6.30 pm.

AAP leader Manish Sisodia was arrested on February 26 after nearly eight hours of questioning in the case with officials saying his answers were not satisfactory. He quit as deputy chief minister of Delhi on February 28.

“I have been summoned by CBI today and I will give all the answers with honesty. These people are very powerful. They can send anyone to jail, it does not matter if that person has committed any crime or not,” Kejriwal said in his video message on Sunday before his questioning.

“Since yesterday, all of their leaders are screaming at top of their voices that Kejriwal will be arrested and I think BJP has instructed CBI also that Kejriwal should be arrested. If BJP has given an order, then who is CBI? CBI is going to arrest me,” he said.

BJP leaders and workers held a protest at Raj Ghat demanding Kejriwal’s resignation.

Asked about the CBI action, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said the investigation agency wants to find out: “Who is the kingpin of the Delhi liquor scam? Did Manish Sisodia solely make this excise policy on his own, or someone else is also involved in this?” Patra also posed some questions to Kejriwal at the press conference in Bhubaneswar.

“The Delhi liquor policy was passed by the cabinet on your instructions at your residence and time and again you have claimed this Delhi excise policy will bring huge benefits to the State’s treasury, but instead a loss of Rs 3,000 crore was incurred and you had to withdraw the excise policy,” he said.

Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju alleged that the Aam Aadmi Party used activist Anna Hazare to capture power in the name of corruption.

Rijiju also shared portions of an undated interview of Hazare in which the activist purportedly sounded critical of the Delhi excise policy.

“Now they have captured power I am sure they will not even listen to Annaji. Corruption was an excuse to fool Annaji and the people,” he tweeted.

Earlier, as Kejriwal’s questioning got underway, top AAP leaders, including Mann, Saurabh Bharadwaj, Atishi, Kailash Gahlot, Sandeep Pathak, Raghav Chadha and Sanjay Singh gathered near the CBI headquarters and raised slogans against the prime minister.

Several AAP leaders, including Punjab ministers and MLAs, alleged they were stopped from entering Delhi.

The ruling party in Punjab claimed that ministers Bram Shanker Jimpa, Balbir Singh and Harjot Singh Bains, and MLAs Dinesh Chadha and Kuljit Randhawa were among those stopped at the Singhu border.

“We cannot even enter our capital? @DelhiPolice not allowing my car to enter Delhi,” Punjab Education Minister Harjot Bains said in a tweet.

As AAP workers held protests against the summoning of Chief Minister Kejriwal, traffic snarls were reported in many parts of the national capital.

The agency had summoned Kejriwal on Friday last seeking his appearance as a witness before the investigation team to answer their queries on the inputs generated during the probe, the sources said.

They said the CBI may ask the chief minister about the policy formulation process, especially the “untraceable” file, which was earlier slated to be put before the Council of Ministers.

They said the file containing opinions of the expert committee and public and legal opinions on it was not kept before the council and remains untraceable.

The agency may also quiz Kejriwal on the statements of other accused, where they have indicated the manner in which policy was allegedly influenced to favour some liquor businessmen and the South liquor lobby, they said.

In addition, the officials said the agency might also seek his role in formulating the excise policy and his knowledge about the alleged influence being cast by the traders and South lobby members.

Kejriwal may also be asked if he was involved in the formulation of the policy before it was approved, they said.

It is alleged that the Delhi government’s excise policy for 2021-22 to grant licences to liquor traders favoured certain dealers who had allegedly paid bribes for it, a charge strongly refuted by the AAP. The policy was later scrapped.

Security was stepped up at the CBI headquarters with the Delhi Police putting in place four rings of barricading.

Over 1,000 security personnel, including from paramilitary forces, were deployed outside the CBI headquarters and Section 144 of the CrPC had also been imposed in the area to ensure no gathering of more than four persons takes place, they said.

Security had also been tightened outside the office of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at Rouse Avenue, the officials said.

CBI officials have said they asked Kejriwal to appear on a Sunday as offices in the area remain closed. It had adopted the same strategy when Sisodia was called at the agency’s headquarters.