The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on February 26 arrested Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia over corruption charges in a case linked to a now-scrapped liquor sales policy.
The police detained several AAP members including its Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, Delhi Cabinet Minister Gopal Rai, and party MLAs Rohit Kumar Mehraulia and Dinesh Mohnia, who were protesting outside the CBI office. The AAP described the move as the “height of dictatorship” and decided to hold nationwide protests on February 27.
The high-profile arrest came at a time when Delhi was witness to a heightened dispute over the distribution of power between the BJP government at the Centre and the AAP government in the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
Shortly before he was arrested, Sisodia said: “We are not afraid of the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and their false cases.” He added that the BJP was afraid of the AAP’s growing nationwide political footprint.
Sisodia had been looking after several important departments in the Delhi government, such as education, finance, tourism, planning, land and building, vigilance, services, art and culture and languages, labour, employment, the Public Works Department, and all other departments not specifically allocated to any Minister, according to the Delhi government’s website. In fact, his responsibilities increased manifold earlier last year after the ED arrested former Health Minister Satyendar Jain on money laundering charges.
In July 2022, Delhi Lieutenant Governor V.K. Saxena recommended a CBI probe into a controversial excise policy that allegedly gave undue benefits to some private liquor vendors. Subsequently, several locations in Delhi and Punjab, including Sisodia’s residence, were raided. On February 23, the ED questioned Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s personal secretary Bibhav Kumar. Several other AAP leaders are said to be on the radar of the investigating agencies in connection with the withdrawn liquor sales policy.
Following almost eight hours of intense questioning by the premier central investigative agency, Sisodia was arrested under Section 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 477 A (intent to defraud) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Describing the charges as “complete fiction”, Kejriwal alleged that the central agency was acting at the BJP’s behest. He also termed Sisodia’s arrest as a “manifestation of dirty politics” in a series of tweets.
Speaking to reporters, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said that Sisodia had been arrested on cooked-up charges.
AAP leader Aatishi questioned the absence of a money trail in the liquor policy case. She said: “The BJP has been levelling corruption charges against Manish Sisodia. But they [investigative agencies] didn’t get anything from his house or bank accounts. His arrest is a matter of attacking the AAP and Kejriwal’s popularity.”
There has been an ongoing slugfest between the AAP and the BJP following the AAP’s victory in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) election in December last year. After the Supreme Court intervened in the matter of mayoral elections, AAP candidates won those too on February 22 amid heavy presence of security personnel. The MCD House witnessed ugly clashes between AAP and BJP councillors over the election of the mayor and deputy mayor and now the MCD Standing Committee.
Previously, in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, the BJP won all the three top posts of mayor, senior deputy mayor, and deputy mayor, even though it had won fewer seats than the AAP in the Corporation election.
Delhi Congress chief Anil Chaudhary welcomed Sisodia’s arrest, saying his party was the first to raise doubts over the controversial liquor policy.
Reacting to Sisodia’s arrest, BJP MP Manoj Tiwari told a news agency: “The mastermind is yet to be arrested.”
Meanwhile, some opposition parties condemned the CBI action. The Samajwadi Party slammed the BJP over Sisodia’s arrest. SP chief Akhilesh saidon Twitter: “Manish Sisodia’s arrest has proven that the BJP has given up much before the national elections in 2024.”