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Saurabh Bharadwaj Interview: 'Arrested Kejriwal as Mandir, CAA Didn't Polarise'

On 'Badi Badi Baatein', Bharadwaj talks about AAP after Kejriwal's arrest, running the government from jail & more.

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Video Editors: Mohd Irshad Alam, Nitin Bisht

"Amit Shah was distributing pamphlets on the streets of Delhi and the AAP still got 67/70 seats in the Assembly the first time and then 62 the next time despite polarisation. They know that they cannot defeat Arvind Kejriwal electorally, hence they want to remove him illegally," said Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and Delhi cabinet minister Saurabh Bhardwaj.

Speaking to The Quint at the now sealed and deserted AAP office in Delhi, Bharadwaj said that even though Kejriwal's arrest in the excise policy case was anticipated for a while, the party did not think it would be done while the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is in force for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

While stressing on Kejriwal being a threat to the Modi government, the minister focussed specifically on the BJP's alleged links to one of the key accused in the excise policy case — Sarath Chandra Reddy, the director of Aurobindo Pharma.

Armed with data and timeline of Aurobindo Pharma and firms associated with it donating to the BJP via electoral bonds around and after Reddy's arrest in the case, Bharadwaj said that the BJP wanted to sideline the electoral bonds headlines by arresting Kejriwal at the same time.

On 'Badi Badi Baatein', Bharadwaj talks about AAP's preparedness after Kejriwal's arrest, the alleged links of Aurobindo Pharma with the BJP, and the rationale behind the CM running the government from prison.

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The party was anticipating Mr Kejriwal's arrest for a while. But when it actually happened, was the party prepared for it or did it come as a shock?

We knew it for a few days that the BJP will arrest Arvind Kejriwal. When the first summons came from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on 30 October 2023 to appear before it on 2 November, he would have been arrested then itself. People ask how we know this but we knew about Manish Sisodia's arrest as well. Whenever political decisions like these are forced on agencies, some officer reveals it. We thought that the ED has been given a notice (by the High Court), there is Modal Code of Conduct in place, and India is the biggest democracy of the world. So, he would not be arrested during the MCC. We though he might immediately be arrested after the elections.

But it appears as if the BJP is very insecure about the general elections. They test fired many issues but weren't getting political dividend from it. They tried to sway voters with the Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha event but everybody knows that it was a decision of the Supreme Court and the BJP had nothing to do with it. They were trying to hijack the issue. They brought in the CAA but the response of the Muslim community was very mature and calibrated. The Muslim community realised that the more they give importance to the CAA, the more the BJP will use it to polarise. So, all efforts of the BJP have failed and there is not much positivity as to why people should vote for the central government.

Now, the BJP is out to finish all the resources that the Opposition parties have — the money, threatening their donors, threatening leaders with imprisonment so that they remain on the back foot, breaking parties, and destabilising state governments. Then, if there are leaders still left who do not tow the line, you use the ED, the CBI, and the Income Tax department to arrest them to at least silence them for a few months. The strategy is clear — Arvind Kejriwal is in prison, he will not be campaigning in Delhi or Gujarat or anywhere else. So, one of the strongest voices of the Opposition that directly asked questions to the prime minister, was popular, and wasn't afraid of the BJP, is being suppressed.

The AAP has alleged links between the BJP and one of the accused in the excise policy case (Aurobindo Pharma). Can you elaborate?

I am surprised that there is no discussion over it in the mainstream media. The SC had to arm-twist them into giving the data by 6.30 pm on 21 March. At the same time, the ED was at Kejriwal's doors and he has been on the TV since then. Nobody is talking about electoral bonds as he was arrested at 9:00 pm. They have been successful with headline management. They hid electoral bonds from the headlines but even in Kejriwal's matter, electoral bonds is the main issue. They called Sarath Chandra Reddy the kingpin in the excise policy case. If I can take you through the dates — the policy was in force from November 2021-July 2022. When it was in force, the BJP received Rs 4.5 crore from Reddy's companies — Rs 3 crore on 5 January 2022 and Rs 1.5 crore on 2 July 2022. He gave this money when they had five zones under them for the excise policy — this is what the ED has alleged. The ED said that these zones were taken illegally.

Cases were filed against him. Reddy was questioned on 9 November 2022 during which he said that he does not know Kejriwal and there was no exchange of money. The ED arrested him on 10 November 2022. The ED, aka the Centre, has been calling him the kingpin. Five days later on 15 November 2022, his company gives bonds worth Rs 5 crore to the BJP. Did they not know he is the accused? The whole world knows it because they themselves have been reading out documents in press conferences while naming him and narrating his transactions. In the chargesheet filed on 6 January 2023, the ED again said that Reddy is the kingpin.

Reddy said that he was being framed, force was being used against him and his people, and that he is being pressurised to say what the ED wants him to. He denied bail. He is the son of someone whose company is worth Rs 25,000 crore and he is languishing in jail for six months. He eventually broke in April 2023. He gave a statement saying that what the ED is claiming is correct and that he did launder Rs 100 crore. Merely ten days later on 10 May 2023, his bail application was moved in the High Court on the grounds of back pain and the ED does not oppose it. He is released and then Reddy's three companies donated Rs 50 crore in November 2023. He is an accused in a PMLA case and that is what the ED has been claiming. This theft was very difficult to prove but the data shows it. It shows how agencies are being misused to twist arms.

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The Opposition says that Mr Kejriwal should resign on moral grounds. What message is the AAP looking to send by him running the government from jail?

See, those who want to run the government — the AAP's legislators, the ministers — are saying they are capable of running it. We have to run the government and we will. Why are they giving unsolicited advice? They are upset with Kejriwal being on the CM's chair. Amit Shah was distributing pamphlets on the streets of Delhi and the AAP still got 67/70 seats in the Assembly the first time and then 62 the next time despite polarisation. They know that they cannot defeat Kejriwal electorally, hence they want to remove him illegally.

Do you think the AAP received as much support from the INDIA bloc as it should have?

My personal opinion is that we received more support from the parties than expected. Even the BJP is shocked to see how the tallest leaders of the Opposition are standing by Kejriwal. There were many who were there with us in our movements but drifted apart later, even they reached out and backed us in principle. They said that they don't agree with a lot of things that Kejriwal does but on moral grounds, a democracy cannot run like this.

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The party offices have been sealed. What other kind of accesses have been blocked?

While the MCC is in force, national party offices are crowded with party members and volunteers. Today, the office is deserted because all roads around the party office had been sealed for the past few days. All roads had police barricading and Rapid Action Force (RAF) deployed. Not just party workers, even ministers were not allowed to go to their offices. Who gave the police these permissions during the MCC? Where did these orders come from? Or are the DCPs and ACPs acting on their own? We will take this up with the Election Commission.

Manish Sisodia, Satyendar Jain, Sanjay Singh, Arvind Kejriwal — all top party leaders have been jailed. Will the party be able to take so many blows and still stand strong?

It is the AAP's history that whenever the party's challenges rise, it grows even more and expands. If we had continued with the government that was formed in 2013, we may not have got the mandate of 66/70 seats the next time. The first government fell, hence we got a bigger mandate the next time. We failed to form the government in Punjab the first time but this time the AAP gave such a huge majority that the BJP cannot destabilise the government even if it wants to. I won't name them but some AAP members who joined the BJP said that they are not okay with Kejriwal's arrest. This mistake will cost the BJP.

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