A white MG Hector electric car, fully charged for Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia’s schedule, stood in the driveway of his official residence at Mathura Road in the capital on Friday. The AAP leader’s plan, after all, had been snipped as a CBI team swooped on the house around 8.30 am over alleged irregularities in the Delhi government’s now-scrapped liquor policy. At least 21 locations in seven states were simultaneously raided.
With searches ongoing, occupants of the building remained confined inside while visual journalists glued to the gates for a glimpse of the deputy CM; the silence broken by a few AAP workers who gathered in front of the two-layer barricade to express their support for Sisodia.
Sources familiar with the CBI investigation said the CBI FIR has named 15 accused, including Sisodia, former excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna, former deputy excise commissioner Anand Kumar Tiwari and liquor firms, besides unidentified individuals.
However, the AAP has accused the BJP government at the centre of misusing probe agencies against opposition parties.
Sisodia tweeted, “These people are perturbed by Delhi government’s amazing work in education and health. That’s why they have caught education and health ministers so that the work could be halted. The allegations are false. Truth will come out in court.”
“This is the only government in the country which is working with honesty. Prime Minister Narendra (Modi) is afraid of (Delhi Chief Minister Arvind) Kejriwal-ji,” said Sajid Khan, an AAP councillor at Kardampuri. Another protester, Hafiz Afzal, claimed the BJP was plotting against the Delhi government to scotch its “good policies in education and health sector”.
Last month, LG Vinai Kumar Saxena had recommended a CBI inquiry into the excise policy on the basis of a letter written by the Delhi chief secretary. The letter alleged a revenue loss to the exchequer due to some decisions – including the waiver in liquor licence fee and return of deposit to a vendor – taken by the Delhi government. Around two months ago, health minister Satyendra Jain was arrested by ED in connection with a money laundering case.
On Friday, with searches at Sisodia’s house continuing for more than nine hours, CBI officers were seen taking printouts from the reception room and talking to the deputy chief minister’s staff. Outside, AAP MLAs SK Bagga, Praveen Kumar and former MLA Nitin Tyagi were prominent faces of the protest.
“Even NYT published a story today, praising Delhi’s education model. People from various countries have come to learn from the Delhi experience… Earlier too, the BJP had got the CBI to raid Kejriwal’s and Sisodia’s houses. Nothing came of it,” Kumar told Newslaundry, asking why previous Lieutenant General Anil Baijal cleared the liquor policy if there was something wrong with it. “He should have been probed too.”
Tyagi alleged that the BJP was misusing the central agencies in opposition-ruled states. “BJP is trying to build a narrative that if there is smoke, there must be fire. Delhi’s development models are being praised…Perturbed by the success of the mohalla clinics, the BJP had got Satyendra Jain arrested. Now it’s Sisodia-ji because his policies have been lauded in a report by the New York Times,” he said.
In a report on August 16, the NYT listed steps taken by the AAP-led Delhi government in bringing about a turnaround in government schools.
Mariyam Siddiqui, president of the AAP’s women wing in Okhla, asserted that those who endeavour to fix health and education problems in India are facing political “vendetta”.
As the crowd swelled, a police officer warned of legal action if the protesters did not disperse. “Section 144 is in place. You can’t protest here,” declared the officer on the public announcement system. And soon, the police began bundling a few of them into police buses lined up on the Mathura Road. “Is it wrong to stand here? We did not raise any slogan,” said a party supporter.
A few protesters escaped from the other exit while around 30 were detained, including Kumar. “Jab, jab Modi darta hain, police ko aage karta hain (Whenever Modi is afraid, he seeks police’s help),” shouted another.
In the melee, a few protesters slunk away to Tilak Marg road and New Delhi DCP Amrutha Guguloth noticed the same. “Where are the others (protesters)? See, they are leaving. Catch them. What have you been doing standing here,” she scolded a few police officers. A few more were detained.
And outside Sisodia’s house, it was silent again, except a few fake alarms by journalists ostensibly trying to break the monotony.
The CBI FIR also names Buddy Retail Pvt Limited and its director Amit Arora; Sameer Mahendru, managing director of Indospirit Group; and Dinesh Arora, a pub owner. Buddy Retail Pvt Limited was given a licence to open 10 shops in the airport zone last year, but it was suspended as the firm could not get an NOC from airport authorities. The Delhi government later refunded a Rs 30 crore deposit to the company which, according to the BJP, violated the excise policy.
In October, after Indospirit won bids for wholesale liquor licences, the excise department issued a showcause notice to the firm for violating the policy. According to the notice, the company, being a manufacturer of liquor, was barred from bidding for wholesale licences.
In a press conference earlier this month, the Delhi BJP alleged that Arora was a conduit between Sisodia and liquor vends to receive ill-gotten money. The AAP government eventually decided to scrap the policy and announced its reentry into the liquor business.
Meanwhile, nine hours after the beginning of the raid, the MG Hector was woken up from its unexpected slumber, not by its owner but by CBI officers, and searched for documents. While it’s not clear how long the raid will continue, it could be the longest night in Sisodia’s political career.