All is not well for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the run up to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections. Just couple of days after the arrest of AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan in a corruption case related to Delhi Waqf Board, AAP in-charge of MCD polls Durgesh Pathak appeared before Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Monday.
Sources said that Pathak was summoned by the ED for questioning in connection with the money laundering case linked to the alleged irregularities of now-scrapped Delhi Excise Policy. Political observers say it was understood that Pathak would be questioned over his connection with Vijay Nair, former CEO of an entertainment and event management company and an accused in the case.
Reacting to the raids and other invasive actions taken by the ED relating to the excise policy, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia tweeted, “The ED has summoned AAP's MCD poll in-charge Durgesh Pathak today. What has our MCD poll in-charge to do with Delhi government's excise policy? Is their target liquor policy or MCD poll?”
MCD elections are scheduled to be held towards the end of this year. The dates will be declared as soon as the ongoing process of delimitation is over.
Is BJP using corruption to change the narrative around AAP?
For the last few months, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been targeting frequent salvos at the Arvind Kejriwal government for its alleged corruption related, first in the Delhi Excise Policy and then in deals related to the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC).
Political observers point out that attacking AAP on the ground of corruption is an effort to change the narratives of the new politics that Kejriwal brought with him through Lokpal movement. The emergence of AAP was a result of the middle-class intolerance toward the corruption that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was steeped in.
Interestingly, the emergence of Kejriwal as the main political opponent was also dependent on his anti-corruption plank. The videos of Kejriwal, a simple middle-class man with no dynasty-baggage, walking into slums and scolding IAS officers for their irresponsible behavior was the essence that made him survive continuous Narendra Modi waves. His emergence as an educated leader of the middle class who left lucrative job to serve the people has within it a Gandhian asceticism that helped him counter the image of another ascetic leader —Modi— who claimed to be a ‘fakir’.
During the Delhi Riots and Shaheen Bagh protests, Kejriwal was in no way supportive of Muslims. His logic of keeping distance from the rights-based issues, as the political observers note, had much to do with the politics of infrastructure he was trying to promote. Kejriwal’s utterance of Hanuman Chalisa after his victory in Delhi assembly polls pushed his image further as a middle class educated Hindu technocrat who speaks English equally well as Hindi. This image, however, survives only when he is corruption-free.
Kejriwal knows it well. Thus yesterday, in a show of strength where 1,446 elected representatives came from across country for the first National Conference of AAP, he upheld his anti-corruption image.
Addressing the huge crowd, Kejriwal said, “God has sent me to end the evil of corruption.”
This effort to resuscitate the fallen image ahead of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh polls, where the party is expecting to create impact, says much about its current vulnerability.
The Delhi Excise Policy, DTC — Unbearable burns for AAP?
Notably, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal introduced the new liquor policy in November 2021 saying that it was intended to remove the “malpractices” and will cater better experiences to those buying alcohol. The policy was about to provide retail licenses to 849 private bidders. As per the policy, the city was proposed to be divided in 32 zones where each zone comprises of 8-10 wards. These zones were supposed to have 27 vends.
However, in early August, Delhi Chief Secretary submitted a report to the Lieutenant Governor (LG) found gross lapses in the policy and “financial quid pro quo” at “top political level”. Bashing the excise minister Manish Sisodia, the report said he “took and got executed major decisions in violation of the statutory provisions”.
In contrast, the excise department was said to have given a waiver of Rs 144.36 crores to the tendered licenses due to the pandemic. It also, sources said, gave back Rs 30 crores it took from a bidder of a license from Airport Zone who could not get the sanction of Airport Authority.
However, on basis of the report, the LG recommended the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the case and start investigation. The CBI filed an FIR and last month and started raiding different locations including the residence of deputy Sisodia.
Though the Kejriwal government already scrapped the excise policy amid several criticism on August 1, the political turmoil over it has maintained its pace. The image of Sisodia, however, got saved as CBI could not manage to garner much evidences to put him under stress.
On the day CBI raided his residence, Sisodia, recently applaused for his efforts in developing the Delhi schools, tweeted, “We welcome CBI. Will give full cooperation in the investigation so that the truth can come out soon. Until now many cases have been filed against me but nothing has come out. Nothing will come out of it either. My work for quality education in the country cannot be stopped.”
On the other hand, BJP is on its toe to use the alleged irregularities in DTC tender in the upcoming polls to gain grounds in Delhi. LG VK Saxena has sent a report filed by Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar to CBI for investigation. The report noted, “DTC invited one company for negotiation for BS-IV buses on the basis of the rates offered by another company for BS-VI buses. This action of DTC was without any justification and the price negotiation with the first company was in violation of general financial rules and Central Vigilance Commission guidelines.”
In response, the Delhi Government in a statement said, “No money was paid by DTC nor has any bus been delivered. Where is the corruption? The tender of 2019 of 1,000 CNG uses was scrapped by the DTC board itself.”
Sources informed that the deal was scrapped as the Deputy Commissioner of DTC showed the red flag back in 2019.
These allegations of corruptions against Kejriwal come along with Modi’s ‘freebies’ salvo. Notably, Delhi government has changed the rules for electricity subsidy in Delhi. Now, for getting the subsidy, one has to show her willingness and get herself registered under the scheme. From October 1, there will be no subsidy for those who have not got themselves registered. So, the question of ‘freebies’ is also getting a new shape.
The allegations, though have no doubt affected the clean image of Kejriwal, political observers note that, at the end of the day, people vote for better infrastructures. AAP’s recent Kuda Virodh Yatra significantly pointed out the hills of waste in the hearts of Delhi. While BJP uses its tactics of pushing Kejriwal through allegations of corruptions, for BJP the mole on the waste-hills would be its anti-incumbency and allegedly ineffective administration in the upcoming MCD polls.