Things fall apart; can AAP hold?

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest has put the AAP in a difficult position and the Congress in a quandary

Updated - March 25, 2024 07:23 am IST

Published - March 25, 2024 01:50 am IST

A video grab of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being produced before the Rouse Avenue Court in New Delhi.

A video grab of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being produced before the Rouse Avenue Court in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

Politics in the national capital has come a full circle with the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on corruption charges by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Mr. Kejriwal, who rose to power a decade ago by launching scathing attacks over corruption against the Congress, and particularly former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, now finds himself having to prove his and his party’s “kattar imandar” (very honest) credentials and that too from prison.

An uneasy alliance

While Mr. Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) faces its biggest challenge yet, just before the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress too finds itself in a predicament. The party, which ruled Delhi for 15 years before the AAP rode to power in 2015, has no seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly and no representation from Delhi in Parliament. In this context, the 4-3 seat-sharing arrangement for Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha seats under the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc can be seen as an attempt by the Congress to stay in the political mix in Delhi. This alliance is an uneasy one, however, given that the two parties are rivals elsewhere. In Punjab, for instance, the AAP and Congress have chosen to fight it alone; this is where the AAP came to power defeating the Congress in 2022. While the cadre of both the parties are still awaiting instructions from their leadership on how they plan to support each other after being bitter rivals for so many years, the factor that unites them is a dominant opponent in the form of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

On the night of March 21, when the ED whisked away Mr. Kejriwal from outside his residence, it was Ms. Dikshit’s son Sandeep Dikshit, a vociferous critic of Mr. Kejriwal, who was present outside his house, along with other Congress leaders, expressing solidarity and calling the arrest “illegal”. The irony is that the alleged Delhi liquor scam that is being probed by Central agencies was an issue that was raked up by the Congress. In 2022, Ch. Anil Kumar, who was the Delhi Congress president, was among the first to file a complaint with the Delhi Police alleging a “multi-crore” scam in the formation and implementation of the policy. Other Congress leaders such as party treasurer Ajay Maken have also raised allegations of corruption against Mr. Kejriwal, attacking him for spending public funds on building a lavish residence and office.

Reacting to Mr. Kejriwal’s arrest, Congress leader and former President of India Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee posted on X (formerly Twitter) that “karma catches up”. She said, “He and [the] Anna Hazare gang were responsible for making [the] most irresponsible, baseless and wild allegations against [the] Congress including Sheila Dikshit saying he has “trunk loads” of evidence against her. No one has seen the ‘trunk’ so far.”

However, leaders from both parties have said that they will respect the “alliance dharma” and put aside their differences to fight the BJP. They believe that they will have a mathematical advantage if they do not split the anti-BJP votes.

Jubilance in BJP

Meanwhile, the BJP remains confident. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while addressing an event in Delhi’s Dwarka recently, commented on the alliance saying “0+0 is still zero” and expressed confidence that the BJP will win all seven seats for a third consecutive time. The mood at a Holi Milan organised in the Delhi BJP office a day after the arrest of Mr. Kejriwal was jubilant with leaders saying corruption has been “slayed” as Mr. Kejriwal, his former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, former Health Minister Satyendar Jain, and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh are all in jail.

The AAP has spent the weekend reacting angrily to Mr. Kejriwal’s arrest. It has deputed Cabinet Ministers Atishi, Saurabh Bharadwaj, and Gopal Rai to take stock of the situation along with Rajya Sabha MP Sandeep Pathak. All of them have been reiterating that Mr. Kejriwal will continue to be the Chief Minister even if he is in jail. The Congress is yet to announce its candidates for its three seats. Meetings on how both these parties are going to tackle the elections are yet to be conducted. On March 31, the AAP, Congress, and other Opposition parties are scheduled to hold a rally at Ramlila Maidan against Mr. Kejriwal’s arrest. Mr. Kejriwal, who has often publicly called top leaders of the parties that will be present at the rally “corrupt”, will find solace in seeing them show up for him.

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