It is yet to be proved whether charges levied against Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Manish Sisodia are true. But prior to be proven guilty, he and another former minister, Satyender Jain have been placed behind bars. Jain has been in prison for around 10 months over allegations of money laundering, Sisodia was arrested on February 26 for alleged irregularities in Delhi government’s excise policy for 2021-22. Sisodia also served as deputy chief minister in addition to heading 18 of the 33 government departments. This clearly indicates that roughly 50 percent of Delhi government’s tasks were taken care of by him. Handling of two, three, even six departments by an individual is understood, but that of being given charge more than two dozen certainly seems fairly incomprehensible. During this period, prior to Sisodia’s arrest, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal did not hold any portfolio. He devoted greater time and energy to expanding AAP’s base in other states. In essence, the actual role of handling Delhi government was played by Sisodia, even though he was called deputy chief minister. It may not be erroneous to state that Kejriwal played the role of the chief minister only nominally.
With Sisodia’s arrest, Delhi government has certainly been shaken severely. Of these, the political “dock” which Kejriwal has been placed in is perhaps the most severe. Charges levied against Sisodia and his arrest demand analysis from several angles. Sisodia is still viewed as allegedly accused of the charged levied against him. Of course, if these charges are proved to be correct and the concerned judicial authorities are convinced, their verdict is likely to pronounce him as guilty. But till Sisodia is declared as “guilty” of one, several and/all charges levied against him, shouldn’t he be viewed as innocent or at least probably innocent? Legally, the line- whether thin or thick- prevailing between alleged charges laid against any person and the same being upheld or dismissed covers numerous dimensions, temporally, politically, bureaucratically and so forth.
Sisodia is one of the several people against whom charges have been levied. Interestingly, if only charges had been levied against him without leading to his arrest as well as resignation from Delhi government, he may not have gained the media coverage that he is receiving now. News about his arrest is dominating headlines almost daily. And so are speculations about political reasons which have probably led to his arrest, apart from charges levied against him. Of these, among the most dominant is that Sisodia may not have met this fate if he was a member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There are no specific reports about whether this offer- that of joining BJP- was really extended to him but certainly this is being talked about.
Besides, given the responsibilities being handled by Sisodia, his being targeted is equivalent to depriving Delhi government of its backbone. In addition, irrespective of charges levied against Sisodia, there is no denying he made a major contribution to educational system of Delhi. Probability of him being held in great regard and remembered by those who have gained from this cannot be sidelined. With respect to charges levied against him and alleged usage of money gained probably for party’s campaign, this only suggests that he and a few others (also held as allegedly accused) are not the only ones who can be held as allegedly accused/“guilty”. If not the whole party, at least its stalwarts and key power holders of Delhi government seem to be almost equally responsible for charges levied against Sisodia. But if there isn’t sufficient evidence to hold him and others guilty but only label them as allegedly accused, perhaps focus should also be on their being innocent of charges they have been imprisoned for till the judicial verdict decides otherwise.
Undeniably, objections had been raised against Delhi government’s excise policy, which was implemented in November 2021, leading to handling of liquor retailing business to private players. The policy was withdrawn on July 30, 2022 as allegations of corruption and favouritism brought it under CBI’s scrutiny. In other words, it seems higher power holders had been keeping a close eye on Delhi government’s functioning – particularly related to this issue – from day one. What is puzzling as to behind whose back was the controversial excise policy apparently allowed to be implemented even for a second? After all, the deputy chief minister cannot be expected to be final authority in according a green signal to execution of any policy. He is headed by the chief minister. And given powers accorded to Delhi Lieutenant Governor in recent years, perhaps it is debatable as to why wasn’t CBI probe called for earlier? In this context, various opinions have been voiced over “sweeping” powers accorded to LG and questions have been raised on whether the elected government is being able to function democratically or not. Deliberating on this issue, however, would be equivalent to going off-track. Nevertheless, with respect to concern displayed about democratic ethics, opening of liquor outlets in particularly residential areas as well as near schools – in keeping with the controversial, also called AAP government’s ambitions excise policy 2021-22 – seemed hardly suggestive of paying desired democratic attention to people’s well-being, at least democratically. But rather than go off-track, it would be pertinent to refer to key issue being focussed upon- that of Sisodia being allegedly accused.
Even though Sisodia handled excise department, in lieu of his not being the primary power holder and also not the only key party member, there seems something amiss in his being viewed as the main person allegedly accused. If the charges – following series of legal proceedings and a lot more- are proved to be true, politically speaking, would it be fair to hold only him as the primary convict? The leaders holding greater power and responsibility than him in running the Delhi government cannot probably be absolved of their role in not paying due and timely attention because of which the now-infamous excise policy was executed. Notwithstanding this aspect, the fact that they have not been accused in this case and thus legally may be viewed as innocent bears its own political as well as legal significance. But as yet, it is too early to comment on this aspect.
Nevertheless, till charges levied against Sisodia and others allegedly accused are confirmed to be correct, they cannot be viewed as guilty parties, at least judicially. So as suggested earlier shouldn’t they also be viewed as innocent till judicially pronounced as guilty? This may be viewed as debatable. It is to be seen whether the hammer’s impact is confined to Sisodia and others allegedly accused at present. And how powerful is the impact as well as reach of the hammer- judicial as well as political- in the coming days!
Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).