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Opinion: Arvind Kejriwal’s Inner Circle And How They All Ended Up

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A year ago, when Arvind Kejriwal was making unrealistic claims and demands to court different communities in the run-up to the Gujarat election, Ashutosh, his one-time close associate, wrote an article titled: ‘This is not the Arvind Kejriwal I Knew.’

The headline said it all. “By taking the Lakshmi Ganesh route to power, Arvind Kejriwal has betrayed the promise and hope the AAP once held out,” wrote Ashutosh.

Ashutosh quit as editor of a leading news channel to dive into politics as one of the founding members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). He was everywhere, defending or advancing the cause of AAP and Kejriwal. He was the rising star.

In the 2014 national election, he was advised to use his last name Gupta – something he had never done – to contest from the Chandni Chowk seat in Delhi. He lost to the BJP’s Harsh Vardhan. Given the number of AAP MLAs in the Delhi assembly, Kejriwal was set to send three of his nominees to Rajya Sabha in 2018. Everyone believed Ashutosh was a shoo-in.

But Kejriwal chose prosperous businessman Sushil Gupta over Ashutosh. Many were baffled about businessman Sushil Gupta being chosen over more deserving candidates within AAP. The disillusionment drove Ashutosh out of the party.

He was among many prominent AAP leaders perceived to be close to Kejriwal, who were either forced by emerging circumstances to quit, or humiliated and thrown out, or sidelined, or even jailed on charges of corruption. Perhaps those in the last category would be hoping that at least judicial remedy would be in their favour.

Kejriwal’s model of governance and managing his party raises serious questions about his “kattar Imandar (honest to the core)” claim.

He is the only Chief Minister in India, perhaps since Independence, to not take on any ministry. He’s a Chief Minister without portfolio. Recently, it became public knowledge that he doesn’t sign off on any file, and hardly calls cabinet meetings. Yet he reigns supreme. It is his name and face that represent AAP’s politics and governments in Delhi and Punjab. So, it is anybody’s guess whether important files and policy decisions are cleared by ministers with or without the express consent of the Chief Minister Kejriwal.

For years, Kejriwal projected Education and Health in Delhi as the best example of his governance. That’s hype. Now the reality. Two months ago, Karnataka Health Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao, an ally of AAP in the INDIA bloc, visited a Mohalla clinic in Delhi Health Minister Saurabh Bharadwaj’s constituency and declared it “overhyped”. He also declared that Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu had a much better system.

The point here is that his ally has shown him the mirror – don’t talk up achievements that are only on paper. The subtext was – focus on work on the ground rather than spend on advertisements and blame political vendetta by the Centre for its own wrongdoings.

Former Health and Education ministers Satyendar Jain and Manish Sisodia, under whom Delhi’s health and education had become world class according to Kejriwal, have spent many months in jail – Jain for alleged involvement in a money laundering case and Sisodia in the Delhi liquor scam.

Jain is currently out on interim bail on health grounds. The world has seen the VVIP facilities he availed while in Tihar jail. He even continued to be Jail Minister while in jail. It was surely not the Modi government’s conspiracy to provide him unheard of facilities in jail and force him to get involved in something called money laundering.

It was not the Modi government that forced the Delhi government to adopt a liquor policy that would translate into a huge revenue hit for the government and profits to private dealers and blacklisted companies. Sisodia has been in jail for eight months and his bail request is now before the Supreme Court.

Sanjay Singh, recently arrested by the Enforcement Directorate, is praised by AAP as the best parliamentarian. Yet, those who track parliament and politics know well that he is known more for rustling up chaos in Rajya Sabha than participating in debates. He is currently under suspension for unruly behaviour. While sending him to five-day custody to the probe agency, a court backed the Enforcement Directorate’s arguments against him and negated AAP’s charge of political vendetta.

Remember, in the run-up to the Gujarat election, Kejriwal claimed that AAP’s victory (where the party was only fringe player) margin went up by several notches after Sisodia was raided. It didn’t matter to him if people of Gujarat had even heard of Sisodia. Kejriwal even announced that Sisodia and Satyendar Jain should be awarded the Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan.

Kejriwal kept challenging central enforcement agencies to arrest Sisodia but when it did happen, it became “political vendetta by the Modi government”.

Sanjay Singh put up a hoarding at his home “welcoming” the ED and posted a video daring Modi and central agencies to arrest him instead of his close associates. But, when the same associates turned approvers in the liquor scam, and his name surfaced in alleged money transactions, leading to his arrest, it became political vendetta.

When AAP’s then Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar was arrested in a fake degree case in 2017, Kejriwal and his party screamed vendetta. Did the Modi government plant fake degrees on Tomar?

It was certainly not a Modi government conspiracy to force Kejriwal to forget his so-called ethics and practice just the opposite of what he has preached. For example, the palatial “Sheesh Mahal” residence for the Delhi Chief Minister built at a cost of Rs 54 crore to the taxpayer, and his alliance with people and parties he repeatedly called Chor (thieves). The list could go on.

Let us look at the fate of everyone close to Kejriwal, those who were key figures in AAP since its birth from the Anna Hazare campaign: 

– Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan were unceremoniously thrown out of party after they claimed that the party under Kejriwal had deviated from its path and was choosing dubious poll candidates for reasons that had nothing to do with merit.

– Kumar Vishwas was Manish Sisodia’s childhood friend and a very close associate of Kejriwal but fell out of favour because of his honest criticism.

– The likes of Ashish Khaitan exited after being initially counted as future stars and holding important posts in AAP. The likes of Kapil Mishra and Mayank Gandhi also exited abruptly.

– Sanjay Singh, one of the strongest voices of AAP, is now in jail.

– Since AAP took power in Delhi, Manish Sisodia had been Number 2 and Satyendar Jain, the third most influential person in the government. Look where they ended up.

(Sanjay Singh is a senior journalist based in Delhi)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.