Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia was arrested on Sunday by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for his alleged involvement in the now-scrapped new liquor excise policy 2021-22. His arrest poses several challenges to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government.
Sisodia has not only been the face of AAP's education policy in Delhi but also heads as many as 18 of the total 33 departments.
Delhi's upcoming budget
The immediate challenge for Kejriwal is to find Sisodia's replacement to present the Delhi government budget as scheduled. The state government is expected to present the budget in the first week of March. Since 2014, Sisodia has been presenting the state budget.
Delhi's Revenue Minister Kailash Gahlot may present the budget for the next financial year.
"As there was a possibility that the deputy chief minister may be arrested by the CBI, Gahlot was attending budget-related meetings for the last few days. Gahlot is likely to present the 2023-24 budget. It is scheduled to be presented next month," an AAP functionary told PTI.
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Apart from Kejriwal, the Delhi government has six cabinet ministers, including jailed Satyendar Jain who is still a minister without a portfolio.
Environment Minister Gopal Rai has only three departments while Imran Hussain is in charge of only two departments-food and civil supplies, and election.
Kailash Gahlot is in charge of six departments, including revenue, and transport while Raj Kumar Anand has four portfolios.
Sisodia holds 18, the highest number of portfolios. These include education, finance, and home. After the arrest of Satyendar Jain in June last year, Sisodia was also given the charge of health and PWD departments.
Sisodia has also been a close aide of Kejriwal since the two worked at NGO Parivartan. Sisodia and Kejriwal would often station themselves outside Delhi Vidyut Board (power board) and help people write technically sound applications so that they didn’t have to pay a bribe inside and could tell the officials that they knew the rules.
Kejriwal has also often found strong support in Sisodia. In times when some of Kejriwal’s closest associates turned their backs on him or questioned his "dictatorial ways", Sisodia’s support remained unfaltering. In June 2014, when senior leader Yogendra Yadav threatened to resign from the party's political affairs committee and in a letter accused Kejriwal of promoting a personality cult, Kejriwal chose to play the matter down.
It was Sisodia who picked up the cudgels for him. In an equally strong letter, he accused Yadav of fomenting factional fights within the party and gunning for Kejriwal. Yadav later quit the party.
"Best education minister of India"
Sisodia has also played an important role in bringing Delhi's education policy to the international limelight. AAP members call him the "best education minister of India" for his policies like modernising the government schools, training teachers in foreign countries and embracing technology.
AAP's national ambitions
Sisodia has also been a key campaigner for AAP. The party has now ruled Delhi for over 8 years. It has already formed its government in Punjab and fought with BJP in Gujarat.
At a time when AAP was planning to give wings to its national ambitions, and Kejriwal was scheduled to go on a tour across Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan next month, Sisodia's arrest is also expected to impact the morale of Kejriwal.
On Sunday, Kejriwal termed the arrest "dirty politics" and asserted that his deputy was innocent.
"People are watching everything. People now understand everything and will give reply to this. It will boost our spirit and our struggle will only get stronger," he said in a tweet in Hindi.
(With agency inputs)
(With agency inputs)