The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has a new voice these days. And it is not that of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, but of his deputy, Manish Sisodia. With Kejriwal increasingly maintaining a low profile, his education minister has taken on the task of voicing the Delhi government’s grievances and spearheading the battle against the Centre. He has been particulary active over the last one week. From calling the Lt Governor a dictator and accusing him of running a parallel government to writing a three-page letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the removal of Delhi government’s advisors, he has taken over from his mentor the job of attacking the Centre.
Sisodia even addressed a press conference, otherwise the forte of Kejriwal, launching a broadside against the Modi government. But party leaders stressed that the two were working in tandem. A party leader held that the emergence of Sisodia as the voice of AAP was a well planned strategy. After AAP’s lackluster performance in Punjab and Goa, many in the party believed that Kejriwal’s rabble rousing had boomeranged. Soon, the attacks on Modi by Kejriwal were not as aggressive as they used to be. “When a conscious decision was taken that Kejriwal would tone down his attacks, someone had to perform that role. And there was no one better than Manish to do so,” said a senior party leader, requesting anonymity.
The Kejriwal-Sisodia association dates back to a time when both were activists—well before they started working on the Right to Information. Bureaucrat Kejriwal and journalist Sisodia started the Public Cause Research Foundation for transparent and participatory governance, especially in the slums of Delhi. The two were together as activists and also when they took their first steps in politics. The bond was so strong that Kejriwal made him his deputy after AAP rode to power for the second time in Delhi in 2015. “Such is the level of closeness between the two leaders that when they have to take a difficult decision and are not in a position to exchange words, they just look at each other and a message is conveyed,” a senior AAP leader said.
There is another reason for Sisodia’s rise. The AAP government has been focusing on reforming the education and health sectors and Sisodia is at the forefront of both — as the education minister he has been seeking to improve government schools and as the finance minister he has been pouring funds into AAP’s mohalla clinics. Kejriwal’s right-hand man is also seen as a loyalist. “Kejriwal is not threatened by him, nor does he have issues with Sisodia,” said another AAP leader. He cited the case of Kumar Vishwas who many thought was trying to upstage Kejriwal in the party and government and was subsequently eased out.
While AAP spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh denied that there was any such strategy at work, political analyst Sanjay Kumar agreed that Kejriwal’s voice was muted, whereas Sisodia was more strident than ever. “But there is a difference between what the prime minister says and his ministers say. The prime minister’s words will always carry greater weight. Similarly, what Sisodia says will not have as much of an impact as what Kejirwal says,” Kumar added.