Rajat Sharma

Sisodia’s Arrest: The Political Fallout

AKB30 The arrest of Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia by CBI has led to protests by Aam Aadmi Party workers in different parts of the country. The arrest took place on Sunday night and on Monday afternoon, a CBI court in Delhi sent him to CBI custody till March 4. Special CBI court judge M K Nagpal said, this was to allow the CBI “to get genuine and legitimate” answers to questions being put to him about alleged irregularities in the liquor excise policy of 2021-22 for “a proper and fair investigation”.

The court said, “Though it has been observed that the accused joined the investigation on two earlier occasions, it has also been observed that he has failed to provide satisfactory answers to most of the questions put to him during his examination and has thus failed to legitimately explain the incriminating evidence which has allegedly surfaced against him in the investigation conducted so far.”

The judge however said, Sisodia could not be expected to make self-incriminating statements, but “in the interests of justice and of a fair investigation, require that he should come up with legitimate answers to the questions that are being put up to him by the investigation officer.”

Judge Nagpal said: “Some of Sisodia’s subordinates are found to have disclosed certain facts that can be taken as incriminating him and some documentary evidence against him has also already surfaced”. The court said, the investigation conducted in this case so far has revealed Sisodia played “an active role in commission of the alleged offences”. In his order, the judge felt that Sisodia, being member of the group of ministers as well as being the excise minister, manipulated certain changes in the cabinet note on the draft policy that was put up along with the expert committee report.

Special Public Prosecutor on behalf of CBI Pankaj Gupta told the court that Sisodia was not cooperating in the investigation and that he did not disclose true facts related to above conspiracy, the role of other accused, including public servants, as well as the trail of ill-gotten money received through hawala channels.

Three senior advocates, Dayan Krishnan, Siddharth Aggarwal and Mohit Mathur, appearing for Sisodia, told the court that the allegations of manipulation in excise policy were totally While false as the excise policy had subsequently received the approval of the Lt. Governor and the same, being an act of the council of ministers and the government, cannot be challenged in court.

While sending Sisodia to five days’ CBI custody, the court put certain conditions. Interrogation shall be conducted in a place which should have CCTV coverage, the footage of the same must be preserved by CBI, Sisodia must be medically examined once every 48 hours and he should allow to meet his lawyers daily for half an hour between 6 pm and 7 pm in a manner that CBI personnel must not be able to hear their conversations. The court also allowed Sisodia to meet his wife day for 15 minutes.

While AAP leaders are staging protests throughout the country alleging “political vendetta”, none of them are going through the nitty-gritties of the excise case. CBI has alleged that Manish Sisodia was in contact with liquor trades during the formulation of policy, a consortium from the South formulate the excise policy at a Delhi hotel. CBI has already alleged that as soon as it started the probe, 36 accused including Sisodia, deleted all data from their cellphones and destroyed or changed their handsets.

CBI alleged that when the case was filed against Manish Sisodia on August 19 last year, the deputy CM changed three cellphones within a span of 24 hours, changed one SIM card, and started using three new cellphones on August 20. Between August and September, 2022, Sisodia changed 18 cellphones. A total of 170 cellphones, costing Rs 1.38 crore, were changed by all the 36 accused. CBi investigators want to know why these cellphones were changed, and where are the data that were deleted. CBI investigators now want to interrogate Sisodia in the presence of other accused.

Why is AAP so much aggressive over Sisodia’s arrest? The reasons are simple. The investigation into the liquor scam can now reach Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Already, the Enforcement Directorate is working on this angle. Four days ago, ED had interrogated Vibhav Kumar, personal assistant of Kejriwal.

In a nutshell, the new excise policy that was formulated by the Delhi AAP government was meant to ensure huge profits for liquor traders, that the policy was drafted by liquor traders, and nobody will believe that crores of rupees did not exchange hands. Secondly, if Sisodia has not committed any irregularities, why did he change his cellphones frequently and destroyed the SIM cards? Why were date completely deleted from computer servers?

CBI alleged that a Gurugram-based liquor trader Dinesh Arora, who is the accused in this case, dealt directly with Sisodia. Arora is now a prosecution witness. Excise department officials also revealed several facts to CBI investigators. Sisodia’s troubles are bound to increase and the flames of this scam can reach Arvind Kejriwal, sooner or later. Kejriwal is Chief Minister of Delhi, but he does not have a single portfolio with him. He has entrusted 18 out of 33 departments to Sisodia.

Health Minister Satyendar Jain, who has been spending time in Tihar jail, has not yet been removed from cabinet. Both Jain and Sisodia are the pillars of Kejriwal government, and both of them are now in custody. Politically, Kejriwal may make it a major issue about ruling party’s vendetta. Already, Trinamool Congress, Akhilesh Yadav and Shiv Sena (Uddhav) leaders have condemned the arrest, but the Congress is maintaining a discreet silence. Congress leaders are confused, whether to support or oppose the arrest. Last week, when Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera was arrested from Delhi airport, AAP leaders remained silent. On Monday, Abhishek Manu Singhvi tweeted saying there was no reason behind the arrest, but soon after, he again tweeted to clarify that he was commenting as a lawyer, not as party spokesperson.

Opposition leaders are right in remarking that a large number of raids and arrests of leaders from opposition were made by ED and CBI during the last eight years, whether in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and now in Delhi. But BJP leaders say that if any leader has been found involved in corruption, should he or she be absolved, only because they belonged to a political party?

Congress, TMC, NCP and AAP leaders have been found involved in several cases in different states. Many of them are in jail and some of them are out on bail, but the Delhi excise case in an exception. It involves two states, two governments and two parties from Delhi and Telangana – Aam Aadmi Party and Bharat Rashtra Samiti (earlier TRS). There appears to be a nexus between the two.

CBI investigators say, Delhi excise policy was drafted by liquor traders from Telangana and it was implemented by Delhi government. Money exchanged hands between leaders from both the states. Telangana CM K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s BRS leaders are quite vocal in condemning Sisodia’s arrest. The CBI now faces a big challenge: it has to prove the accused guilty in court, otherwise the Centre may have to face embarrassment. Opposition leaders will then get a handle to allege that their leaders have been arrested in false cases. Nowadays the situation is such that when leaders come out on bail, they head victory processions as if to show that they have been acquitted.

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