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PoliticsIndiaWhy opposition leaders are not willing to support AAP, seeing Manish Sisodia...

Why opposition leaders are not willing to support AAP, seeing Manish Sisodia in trouble

Not all opposition parties are willing to censure the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) search operations on the premises of Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in connection with alleged irregularities in the drafting and implementation of the now-withdrawn Delhi excise policy 2021-22, thus coming to the support of the Aam Admi Party. While the Indian National Congress (INC) wants Sisodia to resign, other prominent opposition leaders like Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar have maintained a measured silence over the issue.

Two Trinamool Congress (Trinamool Congress) leaders have spoken in Sisodia’s support, but West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is still non-committal. Trinamool Congress MPs Sougata Roy and Santanu Sen condemned the CBI raids at Sisodia’s house and alleged that such moves are a part of the ’s attempt to intimidate the opposition across the country. Roy said: "The raids are an attempt to intimidate and threaten the opposition. Manish Sisodia is the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, and the central agencies are trying to harass him on the orders of their political masters."

Opposition complains of non-cooperation by Kejriwal's party

Sources in these parties say AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal and his coterie, which includes Sisodia, chose silence in the recent past when central agencies went after leaders in the opposition camp. When the Enforcement Directorate (ED) questioned INC's Sonia Gandhi last month, when the CBI went after Trinamool Congress leaders Partha Chatterjee and Anubrata Mandal in separate cases or when the ED arrested Shiv Sena Sanjay Raut earlier this month, the AAP did not speak in their support.

The rest of the opposition camp saw AAP's silence in March this year when Banerjee wrote a letter to all of them, including Kejriwal, calling for a meeting to decide an appropriate strategy to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s alleged misuse of central agencies on political leaders in the opposition parties. Kejriwal gave no response.

When reminded of such non-cooperation with the rest of the opposition a Rajya Sabha MP of AAP said anonymously that in July, when several opposition parties wrote to President Droupadi Murmu alleging misuse of central agencies by the government and sought her intervention, AAP parliamentarians were among the signatories.

Greatest factor

That did not placate the opposition camp. They say that the AAP’s strategy to maintain a distance from the raids on other opposition leaders and now division within the opposition camp on Sisodia reflect conflicting ambitions within the opposition bloc regarding who will be the face ultimately taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 general election, which is the biggest factor.

Recently, AAP activists demonstrated in Kolkata against Banerjee's 'misrule', indicating that Kejriwal has an eye on the respective turfs of other opposition parties as well. As such, during its inception, the party wanted to emerge as a national alternative, an ambition that was thwarted only because of organisational limitations, as the party could not build its cadre in every state. Nevertheless, it fought in more than 400 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, showing clearly, an opposition from Telangana said, that the AAP would ultimately turn against all anti- parties too.

Opposition leaders say under the condition of anonymity that while the AAP looks like an opponent of the BJP, it effectively ends up wiping out the greatest anti- party in any state where it succeeds electorally as seen in the termination of the Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi and that of the Punjab Congress government. These opposition parties foresee a repeat of that act in Gujarat by the end of this year.

So far, several leaders, including Banerjee, Rao, Pawar, Kejriwal and now Nitish Kumar, are among those active in the prime ministerial race, they said, and none can let another succeed at his or her own expense.

AAP justifies distance

According to a senior Delhi-based AAP leader, who did not wish to be named, since the AAP has larger plans to expand to other states, "bonhomie with regional parties on all issues could backfire on the party". They reminded that during the first few years of their party's existence, they would say it loud and clear that the entire polity of the country was corrupt.

A senior Delhi-based AAP leader, who did not wish to be identified, explained in four broad points its strategy of silence and keeping a distance from the idea of a united opposition front so far. "First, since the victory in Punjab in March, the AAP is on an expansion spree across states. We see both the and the INC as our larger opponents. We have ourselves been calling out Congress’ corruption for decades. The question of supporting the INC when their leaders are questioned for corruption does not arise," the leader said.

"Second, the AAP relies strongly on an anti-corruption ideology, so it can’t afford to take wrong calls for the sake of supporting its allies. In the case of someone like Partha Chatterjee, it was a risky deal because even Mamata Banerjee could not defend him," the AAP functionary said.

"Third, the AAP has a long-term plan of expanding in several states in which these regional parties are eventually going to confront us as opponents sooner or later. Telangana is one example and West Bengal is another. Fourth, now that the AAP has launched the ‘Make India No.1’ mission, there is no doubt about Arvind Kejriwal’s national ambitions. Bonhomie with regional parties on all issues can backfire on the AAP," he explained.

A Delhi Congress leader agrees, recalling that "sab chor hain, ji" used to be Kejriwal's slogan.

A few supporters

But there are a few who have so far come forward condemning the ’s latest action against the AAP. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti yesterday slammed the INC for protesting against the AAP and demanding Sisodia’s resignation after the CBI raids. She tweeted: "Sad that Congress is unable to rise above party interests because AAP is a formidable opponent. Having been a victim themselves of the ED onslaught yet they are joining BJPs propaganda. At a time when agencies are being weaponised, the opposition should’ve rallied together."

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat condemned the CBI raid at Sisodia’s residence on Friday, saying that the -led union government was targeting the opposition political parties with the help of central agencies.

Rashtriya Janata ’s Rajya Sabha MP Jha condemned the raid on Sisodia but also criticised the AAP for maintaining an "eerie silence" when other opposition leaders are hounded by central agencies. He said, "Institutions like CBI and ED have lost their character. Their direction is decided, we all know where it comes from. When raids are conducted on opposition leaders, AAP [Arvind Kejriwal] chooses eerie silence. We are speaking for you, aren’t we? Nobody will benefit from this isolated thinking or from such one-sided thinking."

Neutral view

According to Associate Professor Chandrachur Singh (department of political science at Hindu College under the University of Delhi), there is a "bigger picture" when it comes to assessing the visible division in the opposition camp regarding the CBI raid on Sisodia. He pointed out that the only thing that currently acts as a glue for the opposition parties is their anti-Modi plank, but there are too many conflicting factors. 

"If you look into the trajectories of the state parties, they have always been competitive and that comes in the way of opposition unity. The primary reason is that they mostly compete over the same vote base. There is no linearity and most of these parties have territorial limits. For instance, in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee fights both the Left and the INC. But they are often seen under the larger opposition umbrella on the national canvas."

"Also, the AAP is trying to expand in other states, so sooner or later they too are likely to find themselves competing with other regional parties. Currently, the anti-Modi stand seems to be the only adhesive uniting the opposition. But to emerge as a front, they need more of an ideological commitment, which is missing at this moment," Singh said.

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