From a journalist to a social activist to the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi and Arvind Kejriwal’s closest confidant, Manish Sisodia is an unlikely politician who in a short span has emerged as the face of the Aam Aadmi Party government’s most successful policy, education.
While Sisodia has found himself in the eye of the storm before in the 10 years that AAP has been around, it’s the first time that allegations of corruption have been levelled directly against the minister.
The new excise policy, on which Sisodia is facing the allegations, is among the several policy changes overseen by him during his stints in the AAP governments of 2013, 2015 and 2020, while holding crucial portfolios (more than 10 as of now; Kejriwal holds none).
Originally from Hapur in Uttar Pradesh on the outskirts of Delhi, the 50-year-old Sisodia studied at a government school, before doing his diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. He was working in the media, both in television news as well as radio, when around two decades ago, he came in contact with Kejriwal.
He slowly turned into a social activist like Kejriwal, and they worked together in NGO Parivartan, raising issues such as availability of ration, electricity bills, and the Right to Information. They did extensive work especially in the slums of East Delhi, and formed a bond that lasted as they moved from activism to the India Against Corruption movement of Anna Hazare, to active politics.
Even as other comrades fell away, many of them accusing AAP convenor Kejriwal of concentrating power in his hands, Sisodia stayed loyally by his side.
While many see him as the right-hand man of Kejriwal, others say that may not be an accurate description. “I am not sure that adequately describes the relationship. Sisodia sir has handled the working of the government singlehandedly on more than one occasion, alongside looking after the party’s political affairs. There is implicit trust between the two, and he is known as someone who is able to give a roadmap for the CM’s vision, and also provide him with a polite dose of reality when needed,” says a member of Sisodia’s team who did not want to be named.
How much Kejriwal trusts Sisodia is also evident in the portfolios the latter holds — Finance, Education, Health, Home, Vigilance, PWD, Planning, Urban Development and Land & Building. He was given the responsibility of the departments held by Satyendar Jain, when the latter was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate over alleged hawala transactions.
For years now, AAP leaders have credited Sisodia with bringing about a “revolution” in Delhi government schools, both in terms of infrastructural overhaul and introduction of concepts such as Happiness Curriculum and Mega PTMs.
The Opposition, however, accuses Sisodia and the AAP government of painting a false picture of the “progress” in Delhi schools. Last year, Delhi BJP leaders alleged corruption in the construction of school classrooms in the city and filed a complaint against Sisodia and Jain with the Anti Corruption Branch.
The allegations against Sisodia come at a time when AAP is eyeing big gains in the coming Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections, both states currently ruled by the BJP. Till date, all election campaigns by AAP have placed education, and the work done by Sisodia in Delhi, at the centre of their campaign. In campaign speeches in different states and cities, Kejriwal repeatedly days: “Mujhe nafrat phailani nahin aati, mujhe rajneeti karni nahin aati, school banane aate hain (I don’t know how to spread hatred, or to play politics. I only know how to build schools).”
After Jain, who as Health Minister oversaw AAP’s other showcase policy, centred around its mohalla clinics, the charges on Sisodia could cast a shadow on Kejriwal. The party knows that well, with the CM talking repeatedly in the past few days of being a target of the Centre. In the Assembly session recently, Kejriwal said Sisodia might face action next, pointing to him and asking: “Does he look like a thief to you?”