Sequential actions by the Union government’s investigative agencies against AAP leaders, also ministers in the Delhi government, are indicative of the BJP’s anxiety to, at any cost, ‘foist’ the label of corruption on the Arvind Kejriwal-led party.
The raids at the residence of Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia by the CBI last week are part of the BJP’s effort to establish that AAP leaders accepted kickbacks while changing Delhi’s excise policy last year. The effort is to undermine one of AAP’s USPs – the party, after all, emerged from the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement in 2011 and since then, anti-graft has been one of its most important planks.
Much before the CBI filed charges officially and took next steps against Sisodia, BJP leaders mounted a ballistic campaign against him and accused AAP and the Deputy CM personally, of prima facie violations including “deliberate and gross procedural lapses”, to provide post-tender “undue benefits to liquor licensees” through the aforementioned policy.
No specific charge
The BJP leaders are yet to make specific allegations against Sisodia, or any other of the others who were raided – including former excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna, for receiving kickbacks to benefit a chosen few by making changes in the capital’s liquor policy.
So far, no one has made a specific charge against Sisodia for receiving any monies in return for favouritism shown to award the contracts. It is possible that in the coming days the CBI may file FIRs against the Deputy CM and others and proceed further.
At the moment, however, the accusations are similar to the infamous charge that the Vinod Rai-led Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) made in 2010 against the UPA government, which was accused of causing a “notional loss” of ₹1.76 lakh-crore while selling 2-G spectrum licences.
The CBI court in December 2017 acquitted all accused, stating that the prosecution failed to establish the charges. This, however, could not turn back the clock and undo the damage to the reputation of the Manmohan Singh government that became one of the principal causes for the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.
The BJP now hopes that the charges of corruption that are being levelled against AAP would catalyse a premature end to the party’s efforts to emerge as a challenger to the BJP.
Sisodia in fact, is not the first AAP minister who has been accused of corruption by the Centre’s agencies. On May 30, less than three months after the electoral sweep by AAP in Punjab and the party’s declaration that it would make a concerted bid for political power in polls-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested Delhi’s Health Minister, Satyender Jain.
He remains in judicial custody and is to face prosecution for alleged offences under the Indian Penal Code, Prevention of Corruption Act and the draconian Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) too.
Besides enhanced public support for its majoritarian or Hindutva politics, the BJP has established its electoral hegemony by constant use of its tropes of parivarvad aur bhrashtachar (dynasticism and corruption).
At its National Executive Committee meeting in Hyderabad in July, the BJP indicated that a campaign against dynastic parties will be one of its core thrust areas in the run-up to the 2024 parliamentary elections. Its political resolution asked people to back the BJP to “defeat the divisive, opportunistic, unprincipled, and corrupt politics of dynasty, casteism, and regionalism.”
None of these standard labels that the BJP affixes its adversaries with work on the AAP. This explains the urgency to level corruption charges against important leaders of the AAP.
Because the accusation of being a party that promotes family-based politics and is corrupt does not stick on Kejriwal and his party, from early July, shortly after the launch of the broadside against dynastic parties, Modi began attacking what he termed revdi politics or freebie politics.
Since he first raked up the issue while laying foundation stones for multiple infrastructural projects in Jharkhand, Modi has repeated this line of criticism of other parties on several occasions. The BJP was assisted on this path after the Supreme Court stepped into the debate and asked if there was a way to put an end to freebie politics.
In an article in The Federal earlier this month, I argued that it was against democratic tenets for the BJP to have one standard for its freebies or populist programmes, and another for those schemes that are either administered or promised by other parties.
It cannot be denied that Modi’s accusation, that other parties made populist promises which undermine holistic development of the Indian economy, was made months after his party coasted home in Uttar Pradesh and several other states, on the back of several claimed ‘successes’, which included very prominently, the mother of all populist welfare schemes – the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY).
Why BJP fears Kejriwal
No one missed that Modi’s offensive was mounted in the backdrop of Kejriwal announcing that he would replicate the Delhi model of ‘free electricity’ for low consumption users in poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, both ruled by the BJP.
But Modi’s tactics have not put Kejriwal on the backfoot and he has been making repeated forays to Gujarat and making pro-poor promises which are awkward for the BJP.
Kejriwal, in fact, is fashioning himself as a leader committed to work for the underprivileged and this explains the pressure on the BJP and the investigating agency to level corruption charges against the AAP and its leaders.
The added worry of the BJP is that Kejriwal, unlike most other opponents, cannot be labelled as a pro-minority leader or someone who ‘appeases’ them, and someone who is a practitioner of “vote-bank” politics. Modi is an astute practitioner of the same craft and has created new caste blocks like ‘non-dominant’ OBCs and ‘non-Jatav’ Dalits in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to weaken parties like Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But he maintains the facade of a leader who does not enlist caste identity to shore up the BJP’s electoral foundation.
The AAP will in October mark 10 years of its formation and in this decade Kejriwal has created an image of himself as someone who believes that India’s developmental woes can be resolved by a technocratic approach to governance where ideology is secondary and moral values of honesty and integrity are more important.
It is the post-ideology positioning by Kejriwal that worries the BJP and Modi personally because he does not antagonise the Hindutva supporting voter of the BJP. From the same ideological platform, Kejriwal is providing the promise of relatively more humane and efficient governance.
With increasing urbanisation across India, the BJP fears the emergence of the AAP as a challenger, sooner or later.
(Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is an NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is ‘The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India’. He has also written ‘The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)