As the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)’s raid at Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia’s residence was underway on Friday, the CM and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal started a media address by congratulating the nation over a front-page news report published by the New York Times on the AAP government’s efforts to improve Delhi’s education system.
Kejriwal then made it clear that the CBI’s action against Sisodia was expected and that his party will not back down from what he increasingly sees as its role: a challenger to the Narendra Modi-led BJP.
On August 17, Kejriwal held an event at Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium to announce the launch of the “Mission to Make India Number 1” and his “panch kaam” or five-point vision that includes free education, free healthcare, employment for youth, respect, dignity, equality and safety of women, and right price for farmers’ produce.
This came two days after Prime Minister Modi declared his “panch pran (five resolutions)” in his Independence Day address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
During his eight-minute address, Kejriwal mentioned the CBI’s raid only once – just to say that the central agency should be allowed to do its job, claiming that they would not find anything against education minister Sisodia.
Since the AAP swept the Punjab Assembly election early this year, thereby becoming only the second party after the Congress to be in power in more than one state, Kejriwal and his party have been more than willing to take on Modi and the BJP head-on.
In several speeches, be it in the Delhi Assembly or during his rallies in the poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, Kejriwal has not shied away from naming Modi and going after him – something he avoided since the AAP lost most of the seats it contested in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The AAP, which was formed less than a decade ago, has seen a spectacular growth. It has been ruling Delhi for the third consecutive time. In Punjab, the party had emerged as the principal Opposition party the first time it contested the state Assembly polls in 2017, and then went on to clinch the 2022 polls by a landslide.
When the AAP had first kicked off its campaign for the Delhi Assembly polls in 2013, the incumbent Congress sought to dismiss the debutant party as a “non-starter”. The AAP, however, ended up with 28 seats — just 4 seats behind the single largest party BJP — and formed its government with outside support from the Congress, which could just manage to win 8 seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly. The first Kejriwal-led AAP government could last for only 49 days though.
The AAP went on to contest 400 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, but could win altogether only 4 seats, in Punjab. Kejriwal himself lost to Modi in the Varanasi constituency.
When the AAP fought the Delhi Assembly polls in February 2015, it was a different party – hungrier and grittier. And it bagged 67 seats.
While the outcome of the 2017 Punjab Assembly polls was a disappointment for the AAP – it won 20 seats – its strategists had then said it was because the party had set its sights at a far higher target. “Winning 20 seats in a state in your first election is not a small feat. This is how AAP wins – a little bit at first and then all at once,” a senior AAP leader had told The Indian Express.
Last week, after the AAP got the status of a state party in Goa, Kejriwal said it would soon become a national party. “After Delhi and Punjab, AAP is now a state recognised party in Goa too. If we get recognised in one more state, we will officially be declared a national party,” he said.
As the AAP gears up to enter the fray in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where the party has already launched its campaign,
its leaders are confident that they will get at least 6% vote share in both the states. “Our aim is of course higher, but we know we will soon become a national party,” a leader said.
But while its rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls – it won only 1 seat, in Punjab (Bhagwant Mann from Sangrur) – pushed AAP into silence with regard to the BJP, especially Modi, its another triumph in the Delhi Assembly polls, in 2020, restored its voice, confidence and aggression.
In March this year, as the Budget Session of the Delhi Assembly was concluding, Kejriwal hit out at the BJP and Modi, accusing their party leaders of promoting “The Kashmir Files”, which he called a “jhooti film”.
Subsequently, after health minister Satyendar Jain was arrested on charges of money laundering, Kejriwal slammed Modi and the BJP, saying that he would request them to arrest all the AAP leaders in one go so that they are released quickly and can get back to their work.
Recently, after Modi said at an event in Uttar Pradesh that some people were distributing “free ki revdi” (freebies), Kejriwal intensified his attacks on the Modi dispensation, saying that the AAP believes free education and healthcare are prerequisites of a developed nation and not “revdi”.
But while upping the ante in its battle with the BJP, the AAP knows that these are trying times. “We will fight and not back down. There will be several roadblocks, but we have to push through and make India number 1,” said Kejriwal during his Friday address.
With two of its key ministers – Jain and Sisodia – under the scanner of the central investigating agencies as well as the Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing, things are however set to get tougher for the party in the coming days.