Sisodia’s absence would leave the Delhi chief minister with no heavyweight lieutenant to implement his governance agenda.
By: Shubham Ghosh
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s premier investigative agency, on Sunday (26) arrested Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia in connection with alleged corruption in the now-scrapped excise policy related to the sale of alcohol, a move that could widen the political rift between the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which rules Delhi.
Sisodia’s arrest — a high-profile action against an opposition leader — comes after that of former Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain in May last year. Both ministers have led what the AAP calls a successful transformation of Delhi’s education and health services, contributing to the party’s popularity and continued electoral success.
Their absence in the government would leave Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, one of India’s major anti-Narendra Modi faces, with no heavyweight lieutenant to implement his governance agenda in Delhi.
Sisodia was arrested after nearly eight hours of questioning on various aspects of the excise policy for 2021-22, which the probe agency said suffered from irregularities both in its formulation and implementation, allegedly intended to benefit people with links to the AAP.
The CBI investigators were not satisfied with Sisodia’s answers, an agency official said, adding he was not cooperating in the investigation and avoided clarifications sought on crucial points.
“He gave evasive replies and did not cooperate in the investigation despite being confronted with evidence to the contrary. Therefore, he has been arrested,” the CBI said in a statement.
Reacting to Sisodia’s arrest, Kejriwal said the deputy chief minister was innocent and his arrest was “dirty politics”.
“Manish is innocent. His arrest is dirty politics. His arrest has angered people quite a lot. People are watching everything. People now understand everything and will reply to this. It will boost our spirit and our struggle will only get stronger,” Kejriwal said in a tweet in Hindi.
In a statement, the CBI said Sisodia was issued a notice under CrPC section 41A to attend the investigation on February 19.
“However, he sought time of one week citing his preoccupation. Accepting his request, he was issued a notice for attending the investigation on February 26 for answering various questions evaded by him during his examination on October 17, 2022, and further questions relating to his incriminating role based on evidence collected during the investigation of the case,” the agency said.
Before leaving for a second round of questioning by the CBI, Sisodia had, earlier in the day, expressed apprehension that he may be arrested.
“I can go to jail several times and I am not afraid. When I left my job as a journalist, my wife supported me. Even today, my family is standing by my side. My workers will take care of my family if I get arrested,” Sisodia told reporters at Raj Ghat in Delhi.
Sisodia, who also holds the finance portfolio in the Delhi Cabinet, was originally summoned last Sunday (19) but he sought deferment of his questioning citing the ongoing Budget exercise, following which, the CBI had asked him to appear seven days later.
This was the second round of questioning of Sisodia after the agency registered a case on August 17 last year. He was quizzed on October 17 last year.
The day began with Sisodia paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat before arriving at the agency headquarters along with his supporters who were stopped at the barricades raised by Delhi Police.
Sisodia, who also held the excise department’s charge, was not mentioned as accused in the charge sheet filed in the case on November 25 last year.
According to officials, the CBI had not named Sisodia in the charge sheet as the central probe agency kept the probe open against him and other suspects and accused.
In the FIR, the CBI has booked him under IPC (Indian Penal Code) sections 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) and 477A (falsification of accounts) and provisions of the Prevention Of Corruption Act including Section 7 (taking undue advantage to influence a public servant by corrupt or illegal means or by the exercise of personal influence).
It is alleged that the Delhi government’s excise policy for 2021-22 to grant licences to liquor traders favoured certain dealers who had allegedly paid bribes for it, a charge that the AAP strongly denied.
The policy was later scrapped.