The Aam Aadmi Party may be Arvind Kejriwal’s baby, but it’s next to impossible to imagine the AAP government in Delhi without Manish Sisodia. The man is always in the news.
At one end, he grabs global attention, making it to the New York Times’ front page. In an article titled ‘Clean Toilets, Inspired Teachers: How India’s Capital Is Fixing Its Schools’, NYT describes how the AAP government has revolutionised school education in the city. As Delhi Education Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, Sisodia gets a pat on the back. A recent case study conducted by the Centre for Universal Education at the Brookings Institute also appreciated Delhi’s education revolution.
At the other end, he has been in the firing line of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) following the withdrawal of the controversial liquor policy of Delhi government.
AAP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Sunday (February 26) appeared before the CBI for questioning in the Delhi excise policy scam case, following which he was arrested. Ahead of his questioning, the Deputy CM said he was not afraid of going to jail over “false allegations”.
Sisodia was suposed to appear before the CBI last Sunday, but wanted more time because he was busy with the state budget — he is, after all, the Delhi Finance Minister, too.
Also read: Sisodia appears before CBI in excise policy scam case, says not afraid of going to jail
Sisodia is, in fact, in charge of almost all important departments of the Delhi government – finance, planning, urban development, local bodies, land and buildings, education, higher education, training and technical education, revenue, services, vigilance, cooperative societies, information technology, and information and publicity. Besides, he oversees all departments that haven’t been allotted to any minister.
Journalist to politician
From a journalist to a social activist to an adroit politician, Sisodia has come a long way. The Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi – who many say is the de facto chief minister – has been facing raids and grilling from the investigating agencies and barbs from the Opposition.
This is probably the first time in his political career that Sisodia has come under such sustained attack. AAP says this is because BJP fears that the Kejriwal-Sisodia duo has mounted a formidable challenge to the Modi-Shah dominance. Delhi’s education model is AAP’s trump card when it fights state assembly elections. Last year, it won in Punjab. It lost in Gujarat, but not without a fight. So, the ED-CBI effort is to discredit Sisodia, AAP says.
Party leaders say that there is a perfect working relationship between Kejriwal and his deputy. No major decisions are taken without Sisodia’s inputs. And, what Sisodia can handle by himself, he does without escalating it.
There is a reason for this. Kejriwal and Sisodia have been working together for more than two decades now. Sisodia was working with Zee TV as a correspondent and anchor when he came across a pamphlet of Parivartan, Kejriwal’s NGO that helped people in getting their work done in government offices. He registered himself as a volunteer and in his free time worked with Kejriwal. Subsequently, he left Zee TV and joined Kejriwal full time.
To help people understand the RTI application process and how to use it to get work done, Sisodia and his team prepared sample RTI applications, created pamphlets, compiled case studies and FAQs, said Munish Kaushik, who worked with Sisodia during his activism days.
They since have had a long association — as social workers, pioneering RTI activists, anti-corruption crusaders for the Jan Lokpal bill, and now as the top two faces of AAP.
Complimenting each other
The two complement each other – Kejriwal the public face, the leader, and Sisodia the implementer, the mediator. Kejriwal has been working towards expanding the footprint of AAP in the country and Sisodia is providing the basis for it by implementing the so-called AAP model in Delhi.
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This trust between the top two makes AAP a formidable force. “It not only helps in making quick decisions, but also adds an extra layer of scrutiny. This arrangement has worked beautifully for the government. As the party is constantly thinking of schemes and measures to deliver the best from its governance, Manish ji has played a pivotal role in the entire process,” an AAP leader told The Federal.
Sisodia has also been credited with keeping the party united when it was going through tough times after losing heavily in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
“It was extremely difficult to keep our workers and legislators motivated post the 2014 Lok Sabha results,” recalled Shiv Saini, a founding member of AAP, when The Federal spoke to him before the 2022 Gujarat and Punjab elections. “In that hour of difficulty, it was Manish Sisodia who saw a silver lining in our poor performance. He constantly referred to the four seats that the party had won in Punjab and drew inspiration from the Punjab experience.”
Saini recounted how legislators were being lured to cross over by the established parties. But it was Sisodia who tactfully handled the situation. “Manish ji personally mentored our young legislators and kept our group united,” he said.
Sisodia is credited with putting education in the forefront of the political roadmap in Delhi. One of the first decisions he took as Delhi’s Finance Minister in 2015 was to double the funding for the public education programme. Since then, the Delhi government has allocated a quarter of its total budget to education.
Also read: Schools of Specialised Excellence: Promoting AAP’s ‘Delhi Model’ of education
As a result, school buildings have been reconstructed, model classrooms have been built and government schools have started conducting mega parent-teacher meetings. The government schools have started performing well and their results have improved admirably.
Another major step has been creation of parent-led School Management Committees (SMCs). Sisodia ensured parents’ participation in schools for their effective monitoring and to fix the administration’s accountability. For this, he has engaged volunteers known as ‘school mitra’ (school friends). These volunteers are elected from among parents and work in coordination with SMCs.
Making it work
Tarun Bais, SMC coordinator, Patparganj Vidhan Sabha, told The Federal: “SMCs were truly functional after Manish Sisodia took over as the education minister. For the first time, parents were made an equal stakeholder in school management and in the overall education setup.”
“Regular PTMs were not the norm in government schools. But the Education Minister’s insistence on a regular feedback mechanism has validated the effectiveness of the exercise,” he added.
Also read: How Delhi govt transformed its schools, and the challenges it faces
The education department has also been credited for its ‘mentorship initiative’. The programme has enabled students to share their concerns with former students who now act as mentors. As former students are more familiar with the issues faced by students, it has helped solve many student-centric issues.
A couple of years ago, AAP and Sisodia faced charges of irregularities in construction of school buildings. The latter was even charged with false propaganda. But the charges didn’t stick and soon they slid away.
The liquor controversy
The withdrawal of the excise policy though has embroiled Sisodia in a major controversy and put him under the gaze of ED and CBI.
“The very fact that the Delhi Excise Policy… was withdrawn after it faced scrutiny, meant that the implementation involved irregularities,” a BJP spokesperson told The Federal, requesting anonymity. “If the policy was actually intended to allow a level playing field for private vends and thereby resulting in a revenue uptick for the state exchequer, it shouldn’t have been called back.”
Kishori Lal, assistant manager at a government liquor shop in Govindpuri, Delhi, when asked about AAP government’s alleged involvement in the said liquor scam, did not share any personal views, but did say that newspaper reports and TV debates give a good indication about the role of the government.
Sisodia, after being questioned by the CBI for over nine hours on October 17, made serious allegations on the CBI. He said that during the questioning he was told to join the BJP if he wanted to wriggle out of the case. He had earlier also said that the BJP had messaged him and he had calls from the BJP side offering him the post of Delhi CM if he left AAP.
Charges of being double faced
The CBI and the BJP expectedly refuted the charges but something unexpected happened. Yogendra Yadav, former colleague of Sisodia and Kejriwal, hinted that the AAP duo was capable of making such fake calls.
He said so when he was asked about an old video of former AAP leader Paramjit Katyal which was going viral after the ED raids. Katyal had given an interview for a documentary where he had recalled an incident of 2013 where he was given two SIM cards and was asked to call AAP leaders saying that he was calling from Nitin Gadkari’s office or Arun Jaitley’s office and offering ₹35 lakh to switch parties.
“As I was making the calls from a tea stall at the Delhi border, I saw Kejriwal was on the TV and he was claiming that BJP leaders were calling AAP leaders. At that moment, it struck me that I was doing that,” Katyal said.
This is yet another criticism that the AAP is increasingly facing nowadays – that Kejriwal and Sisodia indulge in gimmicks in a bid to play to the gallery and the AAP has, as a result, lost the honesty that brought it to power in the first place.
How far is this true? It’s a matter of conjecture, but one thing is irrefutable – if Kejriwal is here to stay, Sisodia is there by his side, forever in the news.