Is Manish Sisodia paying the price for not standing up to his boss Arvind Kejriwal? Or is he the victim of a larger conspiracy to destabilise the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, as the party has long suggested?
There is no doubt that AAP has been on the crosshairs of the Modi government ever since India’s newest party stunned the world by winning 67 out of 70 Delhi seats in its assembly election 2015. It was an embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was winning state after state at the time.
AAP’s Series of Unfortunate Events started right then. The first assault was when the central government took control of the anti-corruption bureau, which had been with the Delhi administration since 1967.
The darts never stopped. But the present crisis is more complicated than ever.
Manish Sisodia is no ordinary leader. He should not be seen only as the second-in-command in the party and government. It is true that before his arrest, he was handling 18 departments and he was the backbone of the Delhi government, winning wide praise for his work on improving education in government schools. He helped build a narrative that at a time of divisive politics, only the AAP government is focused on the future of the country through education.
Before he became a minister, Manish Sisodia was the poster boy of the Anna Hazare movement. Along with Arvind Kejriwal, he was the originator of the movement against corruption. Even before Anna Hazare sat on hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, Manish Sisodia was active with Kejriwal on the issue of corruption. He was instrumental in strategising and making Anna Hazare the face of the movement, which went on to shake the foundation of the Manmohan Singh government and ultimately led to the exit of the Congress at the centre, after which Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. So, if Manish Sisodia is charged with corruption today, then serious questions will be asked, not only about his honesty, but also about the integrity of the Anna movement.
AAP succeeded in Delhi and Punjab because it was seen to be a movement against traditional politics. It was a revolt against an establishment ruined by corruption, crime, conspiracy, and money and muscle power.
Politics after independence was imbued with idealism, but after 1970, it became the new word for power at any cost; it became an industry, a money-making enterprise, which, in the name of people’s mandate, was doing everything that was against the interest of the people. It became synonymous with corruption.
It was no coincidence that the Anna movement drew outsized support nationwide. The Anna movement was a rejection of the traditionalneta. It was a cry for a new kind of political culture.
When the Anna movement transformed itself into a political party and became AAP, it was seen as a beacon of hope. Belying all predictions and analyses, AAP won 67 assembly seats, demolishing the myth of an “Invincible” Modi.
With the arrest of Manish Sisodia, what is most at stake is the moral capital of AAP, which helped it win 92 of 117 seats in Punjab. It was no ordinary victory. The AAP juggernaut demolished powerful and well-entrenched political parties and leaders. Giants like Parkash Singh Badal and Captain Amarinder Singh lost elections on their home turf. This was nothing short of a miracle. It was possible because the people of Punjab, like those in Delhi, rejected traditional politics and chose AAP, hoping it would be different.
But in its zeal to win new frontiers, AAP started making compromises. It started behaving like other parties. Instead of investing in its core ideology, it began flirting with communal politics. The party, which appealed for crowdfunding when it contested its first assembly election in 2013, started looking for new avenues to raise election money. It was a trap, and it willingly walked into that. The Delhi liquor policy was that trap.
I am not sure about Manish Sisodia’s role in it, but there are serious questions, and AAP has failed to give satisfactory answers. The cartelisation of Delhi’s liquor policy was fraught with danger but AAP did so without realising that Big Brother (Centre) was watching.
AAP’s problems began with the change of the Lieutenant Governor in Delhi. The new Lieutenant Governor, Vinay Kumar Saxena, was no Anil Baijal. Within days of taking charge, he ordered a CBI inquiry. Homes of big leaders were raided, and arrests were made. AAP, for no reason, held a press conference and announced the rollback of the liquor policy.
Manish Sisodia blamed Anil Baijal for the irregularities in the liquor policy. This was a self-goal. If there was nothing wrong with the liquor policy, then there was no reason to withdraw it. That move handed a weapon to the BJP to target the AAP government with. It became difficult for AAP to defend itself. The agencies were waiting.
The arrest of Vijay Nayyar, Kejriwal’s blue-eyed boy and the high-profile communication in-charge of AAP, was a signal that the agencies will go for the big fish too.
The CBI named Manish Sisodia as Accused Number One in its FIR but in its subsequent chargesheet, did not mention his role. Those in the know said the CBI was waiting for more substantial evidence, and that once the money trail reached Sisodia’s doorstep, they would not hesitate to take him into custody.
I don’t know if the money trail has reached Sisodia’s doorstep or whether it is yet another tactic to divert people’s attention from the Adani issue. But one thing is certain – this is the biggest crisis in the life of AAP, one it will find it difficult to get out of.
If the CBI has decided to arrest a big leader like Manish Sisodia, it can’t be done in a vacuum. If there is any truth to the allegations, then Sisodia, like Satyendar Jain, will find it difficult to get out of jail.
There is no denying that this is the most decisive moment for AAP. If it can wiggle out of it unscathed, then AAP will be around for a long time. If not, then this is a serious existential crisis and a challenge to AAP’s ambitions of horizontal expansion. This is the real test of its inner resilience and fortitude.
Will AAP make it? That’s the big question.
(Ashutosh is author of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Editor, satyahindi.com.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.