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AAP Under a Cloud as India’s General Elections Enter New Delhi

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AAP Under a Cloud as India’s General Elections Enter New Delhi

Allegations that a key aide of AAP chief Kejriwal assaulted a female MP could cost the party the votes of women.

AAP Under a Cloud as India’s General Elections Enter New Delhi

AAP leaders campaigning on the streets of Delhi, India, May 22, 2024.

Credit: X/Aam Aadmi Party Delhi

It doesn’t take long for the tables to turn in Indian politics. On May 12, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal was hailed as a victor. Fresh out of jail on interim bail, he threw an open challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, questioning who will be the prime minister when Modi turns 75 next year. He thereby put the Bharatiya Janata Party BJP on the back foot.

A week later, on May 19, Kejriwal was again heading a march. But this time in the backdrop of his trusted aide Bibhav Kumar being arrested on alleged charges of physically manhandling AAP parliamentarian Swati Maliwal.

Kejriwal alleged that it was another BJP tactic to destroy the AAP, which is a serious challenger to the BJP in Delhi. He dared the BJP to arrest all its leaders instead of hounding them every day. It would not be incorrect to say that the widespread public sympathy that Kejriwal garnered due to his “wrongful arrest” by central agencies, has been dented.

Maliwal, a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament from AAP, had lodged a complaint with the Delhi Police alleging that Kumar hit her with “full force again and again,” when she attempted to meet Kejriwal at his residence. The Delhi Police reports to Home Minister Amit Shah. Maliwal’s charges have given a fillip to the BJP’s prospects in Delhi, which will vote on May 25 in the ongoing Indian general elections.

Although AAP controls the Delhi government, the Delhi Police is under the control of the BJP-ruled central government. The latter has done everything in its power to undermine the AAP government including embroiling and jailing several AAP leaders in an alleged liquor scam.

Incidentally, Maliwal was conspicuous by her absence over the past two months when Kejriwal was in prison, and the party was in crisis with several of its ministers behind bars. A long-time AAP member and formerly chief of the Delhi Commission for Women, Maliwal was made a member of the Rajya Sabha in January this year.

With just days to go for voting in Delhi, AAP initially tried to play down the incident and said it would take action against Kumar if the allegations were proved. However, with the BJP doubling down on and branding AAP as a party where women are not safe, Kejriwal decided to take on the BJP head-on. Marching to the BJP headquarters Kejriwal accused Prime Minister Modi of trying to “completely destroy and crush AAP.” Operation Broomstick (AAP’s party symbol is a broom) had been kicked off with that specific aim, he alleged.

Kejriwal enjoys strong support among women voters in the capital and the alleged assault on Maliwal, a woman, could impact AAP’s electoral performance. AAP is part of the opposition INDIA coalition and has tied up with the Congress to jointly contest the seven seats in Delhi. The Congress party has chosen not to speak on the issue.

While there is still no clarity over the BJP’s role in the incident, the party’s prompt action in the case has raised many eyebrows; Delhi Police’s swift registration of Maliwal’s complaint, its arrest of the accused and securing of his judicial custody is out of character for the otherwise lethargic response of the force to crimes against women.

Even the central government-appointed, Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor V.K, Saxena, who has perennially been at loggerheads with the AAP government, jumped in with a statement saying that Maliwal had called him in “sheer anguish” over AAP’s treatment of her. He expressed concern about women’s safety under the AAP government.

In a sharp rebuttal, AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj drew attention to the reluctance of the Delhi police to register sexual assault charges made by women wrestlers against BJP MP Brij Bhushan Singh. It was only after year-long protests by women and then only on the Supreme Court’s orders that the police filed the complaint. “Why did Delhi Police, which reports to you, not file the FIR [First Information Report; police complaint]?” Bharadwaj asked Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor.

Meanwhile, Maliwal stated on X, formerly Twitter, that she would be suing those maligning her by accusing her of acting at the behest of the BJP. As the Indian Express pointed out, the BJP is using Maliwal’s allegations “to blunt the upswing enjoyed by AAP” after Kejriwal’s release on interim bail.

AAP has never won a parliamentary seat from Delhi so far, with the BJP winning all seven seats in parliament in the 2014 and 2019 general elections.

The AAP, therefore, has a lot at stake in the current elections. It is desperate to make its mark as a party with MPs from Delhi in the all-important Lok Sabha. It is keen to prove that it indeed is a national party and not just a regional outfit restricted to the Delhi Assembly. Apart from Delhi, AAP already has a government in Punjab. Incidentally, AAP has been recognised as a national party since 2023.

With voting day drawing near, AAP and Congress have accelerated their joint campaign in the capital. While AAP is contesting in four constituencies, Congress is contesting in three.

“I will vote for AAP and Arvind Kejriwal will vote for Congress in these elections,” a buoyant Rahul Gandhi told voters while campaigning in the walled city of Old Delhi. The goal, he said, is to save the Indian constitution and India from the BJP.

It may be recalled that AAP came to power in 2013 by vilifying the Congress. Whether the Congress’ decision to bury its differences with AAP and contest together will pay off remains to be seen.