Opposed by Modi regime, Mehta refuses Gujarat lokayukta post

Retired Supreme Court judge R A Mehta on Wednesday refused to take up his appointment as Gujarat's lokayukta (anti-corruption watchdog) on the ground that the Narendra Modi government did not want him and was opposed to the appointment.

"A Lokayukta unwanted by the government cannot get all the necessary and timely support from a reluctant government," Justice Mehta said in a letter to Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal, who was instrumental in getting him appointed.

"How can I take responsibility and become the Lokayukta when my objectivity and credibility are not accepted by the government and public functionaries whose conduct the Lokayukta may have to investigate?" he said.

The state had waged a long but ultimately unsuccessful court battle to block Mehta's appointment. He noted that after as many as three Supreme Court judgments, "the reluctance of the state government to notify the lokayukta appointment is surprising, but not unexpected".

In a two-year battle to block Mehta's appointment, after losing its case in the Gujarat High Court the Modi government unsuccessfully asked the Supreme Court to cancel the appointment in January this year.

In July, the Supreme Court dismissed the curative petition of the Gujarat government.

The Modi government argued that governor Beniwal did not consult the cabinet before picking the ombudsman. Justice Mehta was also accused of an "anti-government bias", an argument that was rejected by the court.

Mehta said a letter to him from the Gujarat government said he had been appointed by the governor and hence the swearing-in would have to be organised at the Raj Bhawan (governor's official residence). "As if the government has no interest or role in the matter!" he said.

The post of Gujarat's Lokayukta had been vacant since 2003, since the Bharatiya Janata Party's Narendra Modi took over the government.

Mehta said his credibility was damaged by the state government. He said the state had spent Rs45 crore spent by the government in legal expenses to thwart his appointment, and after all this he was sure the government would not cooperate with him.

Beniwal had recommended Mehta for the Lokayukta post in August 2011, but this was opposed by the state government on the ground that he was biased. This trigged a turf war between Modi and Beniwal, with Modi even writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking for the governor's recall.

While liberal observers see this as a further tarnishing of the Modi government's image, the chief minister himself is likely to be more pleased than fazed, given his huge popularity in the state and his 'clean' image as being above corruption.