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Opposition divided on CBI raid on Delhi Deputy CM Sisodia, blame AAP’s ‘eerie silence’ in the past

AAP's silence on central agencies targeting opposition, differences among allies on Sisodia reflects conflict over ambition of leaders wanting to be the face challenging Modi in 2024.

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New Delhi: The opposition camp seems to be divided on the issue of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raiding Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) senior leader and Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia’s residence in connection with alleged violations and procedural lapses in drafting and implementation of the now-withdrawn Delhi excise policy 2021-22.

While the Congress has demanded Sisodia’s resignation over the issue, several other prominent leaders in the opposition camp, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, Telangana CM K. Chandrashekar Rao, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, have maintained a calculated silence over the issue.

Though West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has not said anything yet, two of her colleagues in the Trinamool Congress (TMC) have spoken in Sisodia’s support.

Notably, as three leaders from across political parties in the opposition bloc told ThePrint, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal along with other top party leaders such as Sisodia, too, chose silence in the recent past when central agencies went after leaders in the opposition camp — such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) questioning Congress’ Sonia Gandhi last month, the recent arrests of TMC leaders Partha Chatterjee and Anubrata Mandal in separate cases by the CBI and arrest of Shiv Sena leader SanjayRaut by the ED earlier this month.

In March this year, Banerjee had written a letter to opposition leaders, including Kejriwal, calling for a meeting over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government’s alleged misuse of central agencies on political leaders in the opposition parties. Kejriwal, according to sources in the AAP, did not react to the letter.

However, in July, when several opposition parties wrote to President Droupadi Murmu alleging misuse of central agencies by the government and sought her intervention, AAP Parliamentarians were among the signatories, a Rajya Sabha MP of AAP, who did not wish to be identified, told ThePrint.

Two senior leaders from political parties in the opposition camp, on condition of anonymity, said that the AAP’s strategy to maintain a distance from the raid on opposition leaders and now division within the opposition camp on Sisodia, reflects conflicting ambitions within the opposition bloc regarding who will be the face ultimately taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 general elections.

So far, several leaders, including Banerjee, Rao, Pawar, Kejriwal and now Nitish Kumar, are among those actively in the race, they added.

According to a senior Delhi-based AAP leader, who did not wish to be named, since the AAP has larger plans to expand to other states, “bonhomie with regional parties on all issues could backfire on the party”.

Also read: ‘Abused for welfare schemes’: How AAP is trying to fight BJP after Modi’s ‘revdi’ remark

‘No one can benefit from isolated thinking’ 

Only a few have so far come forward condemning the Centre’s latest action against the AAP.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday criticised the Congress for protesting against the AAP and demanding Sisodia’s resignation after the CBI raids.

She said in a tweet: “Sad that Congress is unable to rise above party interests because AAP is a formidable opponent. Having been a victim themselves of the ED onslaught yet they are joining BJPs propaganda. At a time when agencies are being weaponised, the opposition should’ve rallied together.”

CPI-M leader Brinda Karat Friday condemned CBI raid at Sisodia’s residence, saying that the BJP-led Centre is targeting the opposition political parties with the help of central agencies.

While Mamata has maintained silence, TMC MPs Sougata Roy and Santanu Sen condemned the CBI raids at Sisodia’s residence and alleged that such moves are a part of the BJP’s attempt to intimidate the opposition across the country.

Roy said: “The raids are an attempt to intimidate and threaten the opposition. Manish Sisodia is the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, and the central agencies are trying to harass him on the orders of their political masters.”

Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha, too, condemned the raid on Sisodia but also criticised the AAP for maintaining an “eerie silence” when other opposition leaders are hounded by central agencies.

He said: “Institutions like CBI and ED have lost their character. Their direction is decided, we all know where it comes from. When raids are conducted on opposition leaders, AAP [Arvind Kejriwal] chooses eerie silence. We are speaking for you, aren’t we? Nobody will benefit from this isolated thinking or from such one-sided thinking.”

AAP’s ‘strategy’ on silence

A senior Delhi-based AAP leader, who did not wish to be identified, explained in four broad points its strategy on silence and keeping a distance from the idea of a united opposition front so far.

“First, since Punjab victory in March, the AAP is on an expansion spree across states. We see both the BJP and the Congress as our larger opponents. We have ourselves been calling out Congress’ corruption for decades. The question of supporting the Congress when their leaders are questioned for corruption does not arise,” the leader said.

“Second, the AAP relies strongly on an anti-corruption ideology, so it can’t afford to take wrong calls for the sake of supporting its allies. In the case of someone like Partha Chatterjee, it was a risky deal because even Mamata Banerjee could not defend him,” the AAP functionary added.

“Third, the AAP has a long-term plan of expanding in several states in which these regional parties are eventually going to confront us as opponents sooner or later. Telangana is one example, West Bengal is another. Fourth, now that the AAP has launched the ‘Make India No.1’ mission, there is no doubt about Arvind Kejriwal’s national ambitions. Bonhomie with regional parties on all issues can backfire on the AAP,” he explained.

According to Chandrachur Singh, Associate Professor in the department of political science at Hindu college under the University of Delhi, there is a “bigger picture” when it comes to assessing the visible division in the opposition camp regarding the CBI raid on Sisodia.

He pointed out that the only thing that currently acts as an adhesive for the opposition parties is their anti-Modi plank, but there are too many conflicting factors. “If you look into the trajectories of the state parties, they have always been competitive and that comes in the way of opposition unity. The primary reason is that they mostly compete over the same vote base. There is no linearity and most of these parties have territorial limits. For instance, in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee fights both the Left and the Congress. But they are often seen under the larger opposition umbrella on the national canvas.”

“Also, the AAP is trying to expand in other states, so sooner or later they too are likely to find themselves competing with other regional parties. Currently, the anti-Modi stand seems to be the only adhesive uniting the opposition. But to emerge as a front, they need more of an ideological commitment, which is missing at this moment,” Singh added.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Curbs on poll speeches over ‘freebies’ won’t fix fiscal deficit, AAP tells SC


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