The arrest of Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in a liquor scam on alleged charges of corruption in the formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped Delhi excise policy 2021-22 has thrown the Aam Admi Party into a tumult.
The gulf, Sisodia's arrest creates for the party cannot be overemphasized. While the investigative agencies are currently probing Sisodia's involvement in the liquor scam, another probe is in the pipeline to investigate the alleged "feedback unit" created by him in order to gather political intelligence against the party rivals.
The AAP Cabinet Without Two Key Ministers
Months after the Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain was jailed, who was responsible for 18 of the national capital's government departments including crucial portfolios such as finance, Sisodia is the second minister of Keriwal's seven-member cabinet to face an arrest.
Jain was arrested in May 2022 in a money laundering case involving infamous conman Sukesh Chandrashekhar. The party decided against appointing a new minister in his place and rather transferred all his key responsibilities to Sisodia including the health and public works department (PWD). Over the years, AAP has expanded its horizons under the joint leadership of Kejriwal and Sisodia.
The party at present has sitting Chief Ministers in the national capital and Punjab, elected MLAs in Goa, and even succeeded in establishing itself as a national party as it won more seats in the 2022 Gujarat Assembly Elections than the Congress. Despite Jain's arrest, Kejriwal managed to further the party's interest with Sisodia as his confidante. His arrest makes things tougher and more complicated as it comes at a time when the Delhi CM plans to go on tour next month to expand AAP’s electoral prospects across four states — Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
An Indian Express report quoted a party leader saying, “Sisodia’s arrest affects not just governance but also morale. Jain has been in jail for eight months now and even though work hasn’t stopped, his absence has been felt.”
For a party that traces its roots to an anti-corruption movement dating over a decade ago, blatant corruption charges against two of its pivotal faces laugh at the irony of its present situation. Since first coming to power in 2014 under Arvind Kejriwal, Sisodia has tabled eight consecutive budgets of the AAP government in Delhi. His budgets, over the years, have expanded gradually and focused on health and education, something also touted as the USP of the AAP government, helping with its vote bank.
With his budgets, Sisodia has also pulled off the challenge to provide free of cost electricity and water as well as free govt bus services for women. His budgets and policies have pushed AAP as a popular choice for middle and lower-income demographics.
A news 18 report quoted AAP sources saying that the party has been preparing and anticipated a situation as such since the first summons was issued against Sisodia on February 19. all the budget document meetings were attended by Kailash Gahlot as a key member besides Manish Sisodia and CM Arvind Kejriwal. Gehlot is expected to take charge of the 2023 budget which is expected to be presented in the first half of March.
The Delhi CM and Deputy CM go back a long time before the formation of the Aam Admi Party (AAP). The two earlier worked on issues like the availability of ration, electricity bills, and the Right to Information with Parivartan NGO.
While AAP has made a mark on Indian politics, Sisodia remains the administrative face of the party with Kejriwal leading as the public face as the Chief Minister. His arrest raises the question of his replacement and finding a candidate as staunch as him if his bail plea is rejected.
Attack On Democracy Unifies The Opposition
Sisodia's arrest has led to the unification of the opposition, with Congress being the latest entrant. Major opposition parties, since Sisodia's arrest on February 27 have expressed their dismay and anguish and now the Congress has tweeted against the abuse of power by Central investigative agencies.
Congress media in-charge, Jairam Ramesh tweeted on Monday evening after Sisodia's arrest, "INC has always held the belief that institutions like ED, CBI & Income Tax Dept have become instruments of political vendetta & harassment under Modi Sarkar. These institutions have lost all professionalism. Oppn leaders are selectively targeted to destroy their reputation."
.@INCIndia has always held the belief that institutions like ED, CBI & Income Tax Dept have become instruments of political vendetta & harassment under Modi Sarkar. These institutions have lost all professionalism. Oppn leaders are selectively targeted to destroy their reputation— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) February 27, 2023
The matter was scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court before the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud at 10.30 am on Tuesday as an urgent listing. before the Chief Justice of India (CJI). As mentioned by Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the plea will now be heard before the bench led by Chandrachud, scheduled at 3:50 PM.
On February 27, the CBI took Manish Sisodia on a five-day remand in connection with the liquor excise policy scam. The CBI arrested Sisodia on Sunday night after 8 hours of questioning and brought him to Rouse Avenue Court for seeking five days’ remand of him. The court has allowed the CBI to take the Delhi Deputy Chief Minister in till March 04.
Seen as an attack on democracy and constitutional values, the CPM in its statement on Monday said that the arrest is a part of the Modi Government project to weaponize central investigative agencies to target opposition party leaders. "In almost every state where the government is run by an opposition party, cases are filed against leaders, arrests are made so as to destabilize the governments being run by opposition parties. Having failed to win elections by democratic means the Modi regime is using central agencies to undermine democracy in India by targeting the opposition," the CPM said.