Late but necessary: Why Cong support in Sanjay Singh case was crucial for troubled AAP
Support comes as a shot in the arm for Kejriwal at a time when three of his closest aides have been nabbed by ED, and BJP has been hinting he's next
Late Thursday (October 5) evening, the Congress party issued a qualified response to the arrest of senior Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh, with the party’s organisational general secretary KC Venugopal stressing that the Enforcement Directorate’s action against the Rajya Sabha MP “takes the BJP's vendetta politics to another level”.
After a day-long raid at his residence, Singh was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), on Wednesday evening, for his alleged role in the Delhi excise policy case. On Thursday, Singh, a fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal’s pointsman for backchannel dialogues with other like-minded parties, was remanded to the ED’s custody for five days – against the agency’s request for a 10 day remand – by a Delhi court.
Congress last to condemn arrest
Venugopal’s condemnation of the arrest came several hours after Singh was placed under ED custody and in wake of sundry Congress leaders issuing conflicting statements on the agency’s action. While some, like Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh was unequivocal in his support for the arrested AAP leader, others like Deepak Babaria, the party’s in-charge of Delhi, sought to suggest that the arrest was merely a consequence of “law taking its own course”.
Since Singh’s arrest, the Congress had been the only key constituent of the Opposition’s INDIA coalition – of which the AAP is also a part – that refrained from issuing an official statement of solidarity with the AAP leader. The DMK, Trinamool Congress, RJD, NCP, JMM and various other INDIA partners had promptly condemned the arrest, unanimously dubbing it as yet another manifestation of the BJP’s vendetta politics.
As such, the lack of an official response from the Congress had irked not just the AAP but also other INDIA partners, several of whom The Federal spoke to, who felt the Grand Old Party was being myopic by giving primacy to its own political considerations over the Opposition bloc’s collective commitment of calling out the BJP’s misuse of investigative agencies against its political rivals.
Behind Congress’s delayed response
It was obvious that the Congress’s delayed response was on account of the fresh strain that its uneasy truck with Kejriwal’s party had come under after its farmers’ wing chief and Punjab MLA, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, was arrested by Punjab police last week in an eight-year-old narcotics case. Amid howls of protests against the arrest by Punjab Congress leaders, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and Kejriwal both justified Khaira’s arrest, asserting that their party’s government in Punjab would make no compromise in its “crackdown against drug menace in the state.”
The Congress had to strike a balance in its response to Singh’s arrest, ensuring that the party is not seen breaking ranks with its INDIA partners on an issue – misuse of central agencies by the Modi regime – that the alliance has collectively pledged to fight against, while simultaneously making its displeasure over Khaira’s arrest clear to the AAP.
Thus, while Venugopal said that the Congress stands in “complete solidarity” with Singh and rejects the use of law enforcement agencies “to settle political scores”, it also opposes Khaira’s arrest as “democratic principles of a fair trial and authorities acting within the boundaries of the Constitution are non-negotiable”. The AICC general secretary also asserted, “we cannot become those we oppose,” making it clear that Congress saw no difference between Singh’s arrest by the ED and Khaira’s arrest by the police in AAP-ruled Punjab.
Congress vs AAP in INDIA
The Congress’s belated, but still qualified, condemnation of Singh’s arrest once again exposes the challenges that the party and the AAP face in working as allies within the broader INDIA coalition. A senior Congress leader told The Federal that Venugopal’s statement of solidarity with Singh came only after a nudge from Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who had also discussed the matter with former party chief Rahul Gandhi. The Congress leader added that though Kharge and Rahul “are determined to make every effort work with AAP in the larger interest of the Opposition’s fight against the BJP, there is an equal responsibility on Kejriwal to reciprocate this support, which cannot be merely confined to assertions of being committed to the INDIA alliance while your actions speak otherwise.”
Nonetheless, the support from Congress, despite the rider, comes as a shot in the arm for Kejriwal at a time when three of his closest aides in the AAP have now been nabbed by the ED and the BJP has been dropping scarcely veiled threats alluding to the Delhi chief minister’s impending arrest in the money laundering case. Besides Singh, senior AAP leaders Manish Sisodia and Satyendra Jain have been consigned to judicial custody for varying spans of time in the Delhi excise policy case.
AAP pins hopes on SC
Incidentally, the Delhi court’s decision to grant ED Singh’s custody came hours after the investigating agency drew flak from the Supreme Court for a second consecutive day during the hearing on a bail plea moved by Sisodia’s lawyers and amid speculation that the ED was also contemplating naming AAP, the political party as a whole, as an accused in the case.
While hearing Sisodia’s bail application for over four hours on Thursday, the apex court repeatedly questioned the ED on “factually inaccurate” arguments made by its counsel and, on more than one occasion, pointed out that nothing placed on record in the case against the former Delhi chief minister, thus far, attracts provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The top court wondered how the ED would bring Sisodia under PMLA as “the money is not going to him” while noting that “in case it is a company with whom he is involved, then we have vicarious liability; otherwise the prosecution falters... money laundering is entirely a different offence; we have to show that he is in possession of that property.”
Delhi’s Education minister Atishi told The Federal that the Supreme Court’s remarks during Sisodia’s bail plea hearings on Wednesday and Thursday showed that the PMLA case was “nothing but a fishing expedition by the BJP to persecute AAP leaders”. “When the Supreme Court tells the ED that your case will fall flat in two minutes during cross-examination (the remark was made by the apex court during Sisodia’s bail hearing on Wednesday), what other evidence does anyone need to prove how bogus this entire case is?”
“Modi is rattled because he knows his tyrannical rule is coming to an end; his agencies could not find any incriminating evidence against Satyendra Jain and Manish Sisodia even after keeping them in jail over a year and over six months, respectively, and so ED has now lured others accused in the case (Dinesh Arora and Magunta Raghava Reddy) to become approvers and give false evidence... the BJP could not silence Sanjay Singh, who is the loudest and bravest voice against Modi, so they got him suspended from Rajya Sabha but when that also failed to intimidate Sanjay Singh, they sent the ED to arrest him; does the BJP really think people of this country are so naive that they do will not see through this fraud,” Atishi said.
ED eyes on Kejriwal?
The AAP believes that the Supreme Court’s proceedings on Sisodia’s bail application were “encouraging” and the former deputy chief minister could be out of prison soon, which would allow the party to further up its ante against the BJP. However, the party also realises that Singh’s arrest, ongoing speculations over AAP being made an accused in the PMLA case and even the possibility of the ED coming after Kejriwal next would throw up new challenges ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha polls.
“Their (BJP’s) agenda is clear. First they thought by arresting Satyendra Jain and Manish Sisodia, they would scare Kejriwal into submission but it did not work. Now they have come for Sanjay Singh but even this is not working and so they are spreading rumours that Kejriwal will be arrested,” a senior AAP leader said.
“They could not isolate Kejriwal and so they want to put him in jail so that he cannot campaign for the party in the Lok Sabha polls; they think without Kejriwal, Sisodia, Sanjay Singh, the AAP will be crippled but they are wrong. As Sanjay Singh said, naa darenge, naa peeche hatenge, ladte rahenge (we won’t be scared, we won’t back off, we will keep fighting); this is the spirit of AAP... together with our INDIA allies, AAP will root out this government,” the leader added.