The party is preparing for Sisodia's imminent arrest in connection with the alleged liquor scam in Delhi. However, Kejriwal is also trying to use the issue to make a national pitch for the AAP.
In the middle of the CBI probe against Sisodia, Kejriwal launched the Make India Number One campaign and put forward AAP's five-point formula for achieving this goal. More on that later.
And instead of becoming defensive, Sisodia went ahead and addressed the party's public meetings in Gujarat.
"The party doesn't want to be seen as being on the defensive on this issue. That's why we aren't directly protesting against the case against Manish Sisodia. Our stand is what Arvind Kejriwal has always said: Wo pareshan karte hain, hum kaam karte hain (They trouble, we work)," a senior party leader and member of AAP's Political Affairs Committee told The Quint.
The sense within the AAP is that the case against Sisodia is BJP's way of thwarting the party's national ambitions.
This article will look at the following aspects:
What exactly is the AAP's national pitch?
What is the potential for the AAP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and what are its limitations?
In the context of the AAP's national plans, how does one look at the case against Manish Sisodia?
What Is AAP's National Pitch?
There are two aspects to this: The AAP's ideological pitch and its policy promises.
In terms of its ideological pitch, the AAP's tagline is 'Kattar Deshbhakti, Imandaari, Insaniyat' (zealous patriotism, honesty, humanity).
It's the party's way of telling voters three things:
That it won't compromise on nationalism, or at least the dominant narrative around nationalism.
It will provide cleaner governance compared to the BJP and Congress; Kejriwal has of late begun accusing the two parties of helping only their 'friends' and 'family' respectively.
To the poor, it has promised to provide relatively more humane governance than the present regime.
In terms of policies, the AAP's national pitch can be seen in the five-point formula Kejriwal announced as part of the Make India Number One campaign:
Free and quality education to every child
Free medical treatment medicines and test facilities.
Employment to every youth.
Every woman should get respect, security, and equal rights
Fair prices and respect for farmers
Politically, a great deal of AAP's ideological pitch is aimed at winning over disgruntled BJP voters as well as consolidating anti-BJP voters by presenting it as a more effective Opposition than the Congress.
Quite often the first aim – of winning over BJP voters– takes over the AAP's priorities more than the latter. With the belief that the BJP voter is more difficult to convince, the AAP tries to go overboard in showcasing its "Hindu" and "nationalist" credentials.
This also comes at a cost – of not calling out the BJP vociferously enough on communal issues. Most recently, the AAP has been accused of remaining silent on the release of Bilkis Bano's rapists and the killers of her family in Gujarat.
Except for a comment by AAP Spokesperson Durgesh Pathak at a press conference, none of its senior leaders spoke out on the issue.
There are two views within the AAP on this. One section feels that the silence on these issues is important to prevent the BJP from setting the agenda. On the other hand, a few leaders also believe that overdoing the pro-Hindu card amounts to playing on the BJP's pitch.
"If the competition is on Hindutva, the voters know very well which party to pick. Voters are not fools. They come to the AAP for very specific things – health, education, free electricity, and cheaper water. They don't come to us for Hindutva. So we should play to our strengths and not to BJP's strengths," a party functionary from Delhi told The Quint.
The Scope and Limitations of AAP for 2024
Sources in the AAP have revealed that Arvind Kejriwal and his team are seriously mulling over the possibility of him contesting the 2024 elections and are looking at different options in terms of a constituency for him.
The real dilemma is whether he should contest from a seat in Delhi or Punjab or take on PM Modi once again in Varanasi.
According to the latest Mood of the Nation survey by CVoter and India Today, 27.2 percent respondents said Kejriwal is the best suited Opposition leader to lead an anti-Modi alliance. This placed him ahead of Mamata Banerjee at 19.6 percent, Rahul Gandhi at 12 percent, Naveen Patnaik and 4.7 percent and Sharad Pawar at 3.9 percent.
However, as PM choice, 7 percent chose Kejriwal, narrowly behind Rahul Gandhi at 9 percent and far behind PM Modi at 53 percent.
This is interesting. If 7 percent chose Kejriwal as their PM choice and 27 percent as "best placed to lead the Opposition," one can estimate that nearly two thirds of this 27 percent could be coming from respondents who either picked Modi as their PM choice or were undecided.
Put simply, voters presently supporting Modi may view Kejriwal much more favourably than Rahul Gandhi or Mamata Banerjee. But in any contest involving Modi, Kejriwal doesn't match up.
This lies at the crux of the AAP's electoral problems in most places except Punjab.
Delhi may have given Kejriwal massive majorities twice at the Vidhan Sabha-level but in the same period it has handed Modi's BJP all seven seats at the Lok Sabha level. It is clear that in terms of national politics, Delhi's first choice has been Modi and not Kejriwal.
There's no reason to believe that there has been any significant change in this respect. In Delhi, at most the AAP can hope to regain second place in terms that it had lost to the Congress in 2024. Unless of course there is some major change in national sentiment regarding PM Modi by 2024.
AAP's biggest hope in terms of seats remains Punjab. According to several polls conducted during the Punjab elections, Kejriwal was the most popular PM choice in Punjab so the AAP hopes that a clear national pitch for him will help them maximise their tally in the state.
The party hopes to win at least 10 out of the state's 13 seats to become an important regional player in 2024. However, the Sangrur bypoll loss was seen as proof of dissatisfaction with the Punjab government. So it remains to be seen whether the AAP can do enough to sweep Punjab at the Lok Sabha level.
In Goa, it has two Assembly seats both of which fall under the South Goa Parliamentary seat. But that is insufficient for the party to have a serious chance in the Parliamentary election.
Whether the AAP can emerge as a major alternative in Gujarat or Himachal Pradesh will be clear later this year. The two polls are crucial for the AAP as it needs to get enough votes or seats to be recognised as a state party in one of the two states, if it has to be recognised as a national party. It is already a state party in Delhi, Punjab and Goa.
The AAP's biggest problem is that despite its attempt to showcase its pro-Hindu image, its electoral successes at the Assembly level outside of Delhi have been in Sikh-majority Punjab and two Catholic dominated seats in Goa.
This would affect its prospects in the Lok Sabha election as well.
Realistically, the AAP or any other regional party for that matter can't become the main anti-BJP alternative, unless the Congress completely collapses. Despite several setbacks, that hasn't happened as yet.
As things stand today and especially after the change of government in Bihar, 2024 increasingly looks like a contest between the BJP and a national-level Mahagathbandhan, with Congress as a major component in it.
AAP's National Prospects and the Case Against Manish Sisodia
Ever since the AAP was voted back to power in Delhi in 2020, Sisodia and Satyendar Jain were practically running the government as Kejriwal was focusing on the AAP's electoral expansion, especially on its key focus states Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand.
Manish Sisodia and Satyendar Jain have helmed most of the key ministries, especially AAP's showcase areas – education (Sisodia) and health (Jain).
Jain was arrested in May 2022. If Sisodia is also arrested, it would mean two pillars of the AAP government in Delhi, would be behind bars.
The AAP alleges, and there may be some merit to this, that this is the BJP's attempt to thwart its national ambitions.
"It's like a game of chess. They are trying to tie Arvind Kejriwal down to Delhi by going after his Wazir (Sisodia). But it won't work. It will make him even more aggressive," the political affairs committee member said.