A sting operation on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal by one of his own partymen is the latest blow to the Aam Aadmi Party, which is known for using sting operations on other political parties and asking people to sting those indulging in wrongdoing.
Recorded in July, a time when AAP was fighting a case in the Supreme Court seeking fresh elections in Delhi, the audio clip that surfaced on Wednesday relates to purported conversations between Kejriwal and former AAP MLA Rajesh Garg. In one of the conversations, Kejriwal urges the former Rohini legislator to try and “separate” six Congress MLAs, ask them to form their own party and support the AAP from outside.
Garg, who did not contest the 2015 assembly elections, told The Indian Express that he had not recorded Kejriwal “specially, but every conversation is recorded on his phone through an app”.
The recording has added another element to the raging battle in the AAP leadership, which has seen senior leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav on one side, and Kejriwal and his supporters on the other. Ironically, those who have targeted Yadav and Bhushan over the past fortnight also used a sting recording containing a conversation between a journalist and Bibhav Kumar, a Kejriwal aide, as evidence of Yadav “planting stories” against the AAP national convener.
In response to allegations made by four senior AAP members against them on Tuesday, Bhushan and Yadav in a joint letter also raised the point of Kejriwal attempting to form government with the Congress immediately after the Lok Sabha defeat, leading to disagreement with them.
Watch the India TV sting
In one of the conversations with Garg, Kejriwal purportedly says that “Manish” — an apparent reference to Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia — was in touch with Congress MLAs, but they were not agreeing to join hands with AAP, and that no announcement should be made until the “other side agrees”.
In what appeared to be another conversation, Garg tells Kejriwal that while all eight MLAs, including Arvinder Singh Lovely and Haroon Yusuf, were willing to join hands with AAP again, the AICC was against it, worried about the Congress’s fate in states like Haryana. It is then that Kejriwal responds, “I tell you, start to try and separate six. Six people separate, make their own party, and support us from the outside… If these six people break… they were going to the BJP, but they couldn’t go to the BJP because there are three Muslims…They couldn’t go so they could support us from outside.”
Garg told The Indian Express that he “recorded all conversations on his phone through an app, just like journalists do”. “This recording was made in July when we had asked for dissolution of the assembly. I was in support of backing the Congress and often spoke to Congress leaders and Manish Sisodia about it. But it was not right when it extended to breaking the Congress,” he said.
He claimed he did not release the audio. “I did not release the audio but had given it to Kumar Vishwas because he asked for it. Even I want to know how it got out. I will produce this as evidence before anybody, especially the party Lokpal, and if anything is found wrong on my part, I am ready for any action,” he said.
Responding to Garg, Vishwas later tweeted, “… I had forwarded the audio clip to the party the same day… that was when you tried to exchange a ticket with this.”
Hours after the sting was released, senior party leader from Maharashtra Anjali Damania “quit” the AAP in a tweet, attaching a link of the recording. “I quit… I have not come into AAP for this nonsense. I believed him… I backed Arvind for principles not horse-trading,” she tweeted, demanding an inquiry. It was Damania who had attacked Bhushan, Yadav and Mayank Gandhi after the tumultuous national executive meeting on March 4.
Preeti Sharma Menon, a Maharashtra leader close to Damania, later termed Damania’s tweets as an emotional outburst. “Anjali Damania will soon withdraw her resignation; she just reacted emotionally. She was under lot of strain due to the ongoing conflict in the party,” she said.
With Kejriwal away in Bangalore seeking treatment at a naturopathy centre, party leader Ashish Khetan defended him. He said “even if the clip was authentic”, it was an example of “political realignment”.
“Some people are using big words like ‘horse trading’ irresponsibly. Political realignment is a reality in politics, but ‘horse trading’ is wrong. Even if we assume the recording is authentic, where does it suggest that monetary gains were offered by AAP in exchange of support,” he said. “We do accept political realignments have taken place in past, are happening in present, will continue to take place in future. PDP and BJP have formed government in J&K, this is also an example of realignment. At that time, efforts were being made by BJP to form a government through horse trading. Those Congress MLAs were in touch with our MLAs as well and it was in the interest of Delhi to form government with outside support of Congress.”
Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken reiterated that in the run-up to the elections, he had spoken about AAP approaching his party. “They were desperate to form government. When the Congress refused, they wanted to get individual support of our MLAs. I must compliment our eight MLAs who resisted the temptation.”
Hari Shankar Gupta, former MLA from Wazirpur who is mentioned in the conversation, said, “Garg was the MLA from a nearby constituency and I would often meet him at different events. They approached us repeatedly and at all levels. But the party was clear that they didn’t want to be associated with AAP. The thinking was simply that AAP couldn’t be trusted. They are capable of stinging us after inviting us to meet them under false pretences.”
\BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said, “Kejriwal used to ask his people to do sting and record any wrongdoing. His own people have recorded and presented his own picture before the world. Kejriwal’s real face today stands exposed before the world as one having no principle and who is only seeking to grab power.”