On August 19, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided Delhi Deputy Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Manish Sisodia at 8 am.

Four hours later, as the raids continued at Sisodia’s residence and the party rallied behind their minister, AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addressed a digital press conference and began with the front page article on Delhi’s education model published in the New York Times along with education minister Manish Sisodia’s photograph.

“This means Sisodia has been declared the world’s best education minister, not just of Delhi or even the country,” said Kejriwal.

The entire talk was devoted to how it is time to make India the Number 1 country in the world, and just a few lines were devoted specifically to the raids at Sisodia’s house.

THE DAY OF THE RAIDS

“Today, Sisodia has been declared the country’s best education minister and the CBI has reached his house. So there will be many obstacles,” Kejriwal said. “In the past seven years, Manish ji has been raided so many times. This is not the first time, they have filed many false cases against Manish ji , they have raided me multiple times, they have raided Satyendar Jain, Kailash Gahlot, and so many of our people, but they found nothing. Even today, they will find nothing. The CBI is doing its job, allow the CBI to do its work, there is nothing to be scared of, they have orders from above to create obstacles,” said Kejriwal, defending Sisodia briefly and went on to say that “despite obstacles, 130 crore Indians have to come together to take the country forward”.

The AAP convener then chose the day of CBI raids on Sisodia’s house to issue a number ‘ 9510001000’ for people to give a missed call to join in the ‘mission of making India Number 1’. The CBI raids continued for 10 more hours after the Delhi CM’s digital press conference, but the latter was not arrested as widely speculated that day.

THE GUJ MOMENT

Two days after the raids, the Delhi CM took to Twitter to announce that Sisodia and he would travel to Gujarat the following Monday for two days. It was in Gujarat, the poll-bound state, where the AAP is working diligently to make inroads, where Kejriwal, in a strong political statement, mounted the strongest defence of his embattled colleague.

On August 22, the AAP chief’s fifth visit to the state in August alone, the roads to the Ahmedabad airport were lined with placards of Kejriwal and Sisodia each occupying the same space. AAP supporters held large cutouts of the NYT article and banners and waited with anticipation. It was in Ahmedabad where Kejriwal and Sisodia addressed the first joint press conference post the CBI raids. When asked about the alleged “offer”, Sisodia responded, “It was very shocking for me that I received a message, in fact, there were two parts in that message; one is that you will be given relief from all cases filed by the CBI, ED etc and second, to break the party and be the CM face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”

Sisodia had tweeted the allegation in Delhi, a little ahead of boarding the flight to Ahmedabad.

At the same press conference, Kejriwal chose to defend Sisodia. “You should be handing over the country’s education system to this person. He has worked a miracle in five years. He did what traditional parties failed to do in 70 years, improved government schools, gave a future to the children of the poor in this country. Instead, you are getting the CBI to raid him, aren’t you ashamed?”

The AAP convener then said, “Such a person should get the Bharat Ratna.”

Linking the raids to the upcoming assembly elections in Gujarat, Kejriwal said that these raids will happen only till December. For the two days that the duo spent in Gujarat, Sisodia opened up about what exactly happened in the 14-hour raid, how although the CBI officers conducted themselves well, he was upset when they searched through his wife’s wardrobe and son’s guitar.

WORD ON THE GROUND

In Himmatnagar, when asked whether Kejriwal is corrupt, as one of his ministers is in jail and another perhaps will be jailed soon, Babu bhai, a local resident, said, “Woh bhrasht nahi hai, aisa sab boltein hain [Everybody says he is not corrupt].”

Pressed further on whether he believed Sisodia to be corrupt following CBI raids, Babu Bhai said, “Iske bare mein main bata nahi sakta, who Dilli mein rehetein hain, hum Gujarat mein rehtein hai [Can’t say much. They live in Delhi, I live in Gujarat].”

A middle-aged resident, Meera behen, who works as a domestic worker, said that all that mattered to her was the hope that the children of the poor would get good education and thus, a future. “Bachchon ka bhavishya sudhar jaye toh humein aur kuch nahi chahiye,” she said.

Asked about the corruption charges against the AAP ministers, she said, “Woh gunehgar nahi hai, bhagwan unke saath hai, Sisodia ke ghar par raid jaan bujh ke kia hai – who andar andar ke waale karate hain, chahe Bhajpa waale, chahe Congress waale [He is not guilty. It is the work of the insiders – be it from the BJP or Congress].”

Abhishek Banwadia, preparing for competitive examinations, who attended the dialogue with youth that the AAP organised the same day, said that for three years, the Gujarat Subordinate Service Selection Board has kept recruitments pending, and there are many such recruitments that are pending.

“One may argue that the pandemic put a spanner in the recruitments, but then how did the elections in West Bengal take place,” the young man asked. “We have got a strong alternative to the BJP in the AAP,” Banwadia said.

But what about the raids and charges of corruption? “Why are the raids happening just three months ahead of elections? Look at the elections in Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat or Punjab. Whenever the elections near, the CBI and ED are misused.”

Young AAP leaders like Raghav Chadha inspire the youth, he said.

Manthan Jain, another young man, said that with the Congress show perceived to have fallen apart, people are looking at the AAP as an option. Jain also said that the while it is easy for the AAP to get people excited, the BJP’s cyber cell is extremely strong and it would be a real challenge for the AAP to get past it. Asked whether he thought that post CBI raids, Kejriwal and Sisodia are corrupt, Jain said, “No, no, no, it does not necessarily mean that. This is politics, they like to practise this kind of politics, some party is behind this, people are watching. Let’s see where Indian politics heads.”

THE WAR OF WORDS

Back in Delhi, speaking during the confidence motion in the Delhi Assembly, the AAP chief said that after the CBI raids, the vote share of the AAP in Gujarat went up by 4% and by the time Sisodia is arrested, it would go up by 6%.

Asked why AAP convener chose Gujarat to defend his deputy, BJP Gujarat spokesperson Dr Rutvij Patel said, “The elections are around the corner, so it is natural for him to pick Gujarat. He will use a trial and error method everywhere, however, this is Gujarat. People in Gujarat have seen the governance of Modi ji. The BJP has done good work here, and apart from Delhi and Punjab, the AAP has not been able to find a foothold elsewhere. As far as Gujarat is concerned, yahan toh woh bilkul bhi nahi chalenge. He is coming and going, but he is not getting the support of the public. The BJP is poised for a ‘historic win’ in Gujarat this year.”​

Sambit Patra, BJP spokesperson, hit back, saying if that was indeed the case then “Mr Kejriwal should send Sisodia to jail himself” as that will further increase the AAP’s vote share. Patra targeted the AAP chief for indulging in “drama” to divert the attention of the people from the alleged liquor scam.

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