The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has termed the Delhi government's move to clear bills related to a defamation case against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal as a "dacoity and loot" of the people's money and said it will not let this happen.
Union Minister Kiren Rijiju has criticised the Delhi government's move to pay fees of a lawyer representing Arvind Kejriwal in a defamation case, saying no chief minister has ever burdened the exchequer to fight his own case.
"I just can't recall any other chief minister who has ever burdened the exchequer to save himself or promote himself," he told reporters in New Delhi, reacting to the city government's move to pay around Rs 3 crore to top lawyer Ram Jethmalini.
Rijiju said the defamation case was slapped against Kejriwal for speaking against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
"Whatever he had said about Jaitley ji was his own statement. So, why should the people of Delhi pay? Did the people of Delhi asked him to fight the case. Then why should people of Delhi pay now?," he said.
Later, in a tweet, Rijiju said, "Public money for defending Kejriwal ji !! Already too much money is being used to advertise him (sic)".
Earlier on the day, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar also alleged that Kejriwal was taken to court by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for his
"personal crime" and the Delhi government's decision to foot the bill of the AAP leader's lawyer is against the law and rules of the government.
"It's illegal and immoral. Why should the people of Delhi pay for your (Kejriwal) sins? This is a dacoity and loot of their money and is completely unacceptable," he told a press conference in New Delhi.
Javadekar said Jaitley had paid Rs 10 lakh stamp duty from his pocket and has been paying the bills of his lawyers as well.
He alleged that Kejriwal's politics is based on defaming others and people should not pay for his "sins".
Javadekar said Kejriwal is facing at least seven cases of defamation and wondered if the city government would pay over Rs 100 crore when he is asked to pay this sum of money.
He accused the AAP of first denying such a proposal and said it is now claiming that the government wants to pay it as the case is against the chief minister.
"The fact is the case is not against a chief minister but an individual. His actions have nothing to do with the government. He has tried to defame Jaitley and his family members and will have to pay for it," he said.
Taking a dig at the party, he said its leaders had promised to not avail official vehicles and residences, and lead a simple life if elected to power but it has become an example for reasons completely opposite to its claims.
However, Ram Jethmalani has said he will defend Arvind Kejriwal in the defamation case without taking any fee if the Delhi Chief Minister cannot afford to pay him.
Jethmalani also hit out at Jaitley alleging that the row over the Delhi government's move to clear his bills for fighting the case has been "instigated" by the Union Finance Minister.
Jethmalani said it is the government's duty to defend the chief minister.
"I will certainly defend him even if he can't pay, but he said 'no, I want to pay, send us the bills', so I have sent the bills. Even if the government does not support him, I will.
"If necessary, I will support him for his livelihood because he is a clean force compared to Arun Jaitley," said Jethmalani.
"If he is unable to pay I will do it for free. I render free services to 90 per cent of my clients," Jethmalani said.
In December, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had asked for releasing appearance fee to Jethmalani who has been fighting the defamation case slapped against Kejriwal by Jaitley.
The Delhi government has reportedly made a proposal to pay a bill of close to Rs 4 crore sought by Kejriwal's lawyer but Lt Governor Anil Baijal has sought Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar's advice in the matter.
Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal is also learnt to have sought Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar's advice in clearing bills.
On its part, the AAP alleged that Jaitley was paid large retainership fee for defending a private firm when it was mired in the 2G scam.
The party also sought to defend the government's move to pay Jethmalani from the public exchequer, saying the "penniless" AAP and Kejriwal cannot "afford" expensive lawyers.
The bills totalled around Rs 3.4 crore.
Sisodia said this is not a personal legal battle of Kejriwal and the case is a follow-up of a probe ordered by the Delhi government to clean up corruption in cricket administration in the city.
"The government will fight the case," he told reporters.
In a series of tweets, AAP leader Ashish Khetan, a former journalist, said Jaitley is a "rich man" so he can afford expensive lawyers.
"Dear @narendramodi Sir, @ArvindKejriwal & @AamAadmiParty are pennyless. Your FM is a rich man, he can afford expensive advocates. We can't.
"@narendramodi ji, your FM has made his money defending big ppl involved in big scams. @ArvindKejriwal all his life has defended the poor (sic)," he tweeted.
Khaitan further said, "What is most important that large retainership fee was paid to @arunjaitley at a time when Anil Ambani & his companies were mired in 2G scam."
(With inputs from PTI)