By Sushil Kutty
When the alleged Delhi liquor policy scam – a ‘whodunit’ if any – is spoken about in roadside tea stalls, it is a Sherlock Holmes narrative, especially the headline, “The Curious Case of AAP, Liquor and the Missing Money Trail” that prevails. It’s a question AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal has been asking and it’s the favourite line of Delhi Education Minister Atishi Marlena as she laughs off suggestions that Kejriwal’s party is dead on its feet with the arrest of AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh. “Where’s the money trail?” asks Marlena, confident that it wouldn’t be found because “donation” and “bribe” sound and spell differently. Most importantly, they are two words with different meanings.
The liquor policy could have been changed because certain people demanded the change for which money would have changed hands but it wouldn’t be called a bribe, instead it would rank as a donation or a grant to a political party. Can the Enforcement Directorate fault Manish Sisodia or Sanjay Singh for a donation made to the Aam Aadmi Party and link the money to the amendments made to the Delhi liquor policy to benefit private entities?
The intoxicating answer to the question is the link cannot be established, not even if the state parades accused-turned-approvers one after the other, like they were on an assembly line. After weeks and months of investigations and political drama in the streets, there’s no money trail and Atishi Marlena cannot be more confident and sure. All that the Enforcement Directorate can present in court is “Sanjay Singh received crores of rupees from accused-turned-approver”.
No wonder the Supreme Court’s skepticism. And no wonder, some experts are suggesting that the top court’s query, “Why isn’t AAP an accused?” is a timely reminder to the Enforcement Directorate to pull up its socks and not miss the crux of the case. Like the two-judge Supreme Court bench warned the case would be casualty within no time without the money trail established in the proper manner suggested in legalese. In its current avatar, it is AAP that got a donation and not a bribe taken by Manish Sisodia or Sanjay Singh.
And talk that next will be Atishi Marlena and Saurabh Bharadwaj, finally to the very man at the top – Arvind Kejriwal – is all hot air and balloon. That the ED has established a money trail was being told and repeated for more months than Sisodia has been in jail. Sisodia has been behind bars since February 2023. The case drags on has been the feature all these eight months – a line of approvers and no money trail. The latest is the guy named Dinesh Arora who has been linked to Sanjay Singh whose favourite spot in the upper house was the “Well”.
Was Sanjay Singh involved in the formulation of the Delhi liquor policy, which now stands scrapped, and is he a recipient of kickbacks? The allegation is that a sidekick of Dinesh Arora handed over Rs 2 crore in kickbacks at Sanjay Singh’s North Avenue residence. But a search of the house did not produce the illegal handout. Singh’s family says the ED officials went back empty handed.
Ditto, earlier in February this year when the ED raided Manish Sisodia’s home. “The Case of ED’s Empty Hands” is yet another Holmes kind of headline. There is talk now that the ED has more evidence than just approvers to prove Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh’s involvement in the scam and that it’s just a matter of time. But then, the ED has a deadline to keep. The case has to be wrapped up before General Elections 2024, sufficiently proved for the BJP to take political advantage of.
It has been said time and again that the AAP fought the Goa and Punjab and Gujarat assembly elections with liquor scam money. And this when the Modi government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was fighting the Covid pandemic with all it could spare. And this when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was building his “Castle” in Delhi with taxpayer money.
The fact of the matter is, dressing ‘donation’ in the clothes of ‘bribe’ is damn difficult. Both the ED as well as the CBI are up the creek on this. How can the dots be connected when there aren’t any dots to connect? It was thought the money laundering probe had successfully linked AAP leaders to the 2021-22 Delhi Excise policy, which was taken as a jolt to the Aam Aadmi Party, a political entity considered as the last word on the fight against corruption. Indications are Manish Sisodia will likely walk free on October 12 and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, would second that. (IPA Service)