It was a day of high drama as Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal called an emergency meeting of all AAP MLAs for a head count, following inputs from within that some of the legislators were “not contactable".
The decision to call all AAP MLAs for a meeting with the CM was taken a day before by the political affairs committee, the highest and all-powerful decision-making body of AAP. In fact, the resolution passed in the PAC condemned “the misuse of ED-CBI & calling out BJP’s attempts to poach AAP MLAs". A source present at the meeting said that the decision was taken to retaliate aggressively and not to capitulate: “Eent ka jawab patthar se denge (we will give a befitting response)". The BJP though has termed it all “drama" and a “diversionary tactic".
AAP MLAs had been asked to arrive at 10.30 am. However, contrary to apprehensions within the party, many of them started trickling in earlier. AAP MLA and spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj tweeted, “We will fail operation Lotus, all our MLAs come today." Outside the chief minister’s residence, Bhardwaj was seen contacting MLAs over the phone as well as greeting them as they reached. Timarpur MLA Dilip Pande, on reaching the chief minister’s residence, dropped a bombshell, alleging that there were attempts to break away forty MLAs of AAP with a staggering offer of Rs 800 crore, i.e., Rs 20 crore for each legislator.
As the minutes went by, a little after 11 am it was confirmed that 52 AAP MLAs had reached the CM’s residence. Seven legislators who were not in Delhi joined in through videoconferencing, one MLA Satyendar Jain is in jail, while another, Amanatullah Khan, was arriving at the meeting venue. Along with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, the numbers stood at 62.
Addressing a press conference after the meeting, Greater Kailash MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj disclosed that 12 AAP legislators said in the meeting that they had been contacted by the BJP. He also alleged that it was the BJP that had spread rumours of some AAP MLAs being “not contactable" by party leaders, and the chief minister, out of anxiety, had called for a head count. And with the attendance of all MLAs, the BJP’s lie was exposed and “Operation Lotus" defeated, he said.
Asked about the evidence that AAP had to back its allegation, Bhardwaj argued that four MLAs — Sanjeev Jha, Kuldeep Kumar, Somnath Bharti, and Ajay Dutt — had already stated that they were approached by BJP leaders with offers of Rs 20 crore each if they broke away from AAP, and Rs 25 crore if they brought in more MLAs. An elected representative’s testimony is counted as evidence in a court of law, he maintained.
Significantly, in a flashback to AAP’s old style of politics, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal along with his MLAs went to Rajghat to pray for the “foiling" of the BJP’s “Operation Lotus". Speaking to the media afterwards at the Rajghat, CM Kejriwal mounted a strong defence of his embattled deputy Manish Sisodia and launched a scathing attack on the BJP for attempting to “topple the Delhi government".
“They did not find corruption of even one rupee. They did not get unaccounted cash, benami land deeds or any objectionable papers. So, why did they do this?" he said.
The Delhi chief minister also alleged that the BJP sent a message to Sisodia the day after the raid. “You leave Arvind Kejriwal, break AAP, and join us. We will topple the Kejriwal government and make you the CM. We will withdraw all cases by the CBI and the ED," he claimed.
Kejriwal also said that he must have done something good in his past lives to get a colleague like Manish Sisodia, who ignored the lure of being made the CM as well as relief in terms of withdrawal of cases. The AAP convener went on to say that after Manish Sisodia, 40 party MLAs were also being targeted with offers of Rs 20 crore each, adding that he would like to communicate to the people of Delhi that AAP will not betray the trust of the public even if it means sacrificing one’s life.
Talking of the “mahaul" (ambience) in the country, Kejriwal said that the BJP has toppled governments in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Goa, and he pointed to the developing situation in Jharkhand, and past developments in Bihar.
The AAP chief then mounted a scathing attack on the BJP. “They are saying that there is a ‘ghotala’ (corruption). In one of their meetings, they put up a poster screaming ‘ghotala of Rs 1.5 lakh crore’. Delhi’s budget is just Rs 70,000 crore. What is the ghotala?" he said.
Kejriwal targeted the different figures of the alleged corruption as claimed by BJP leaders: from Rs 8,000 crore, to Rs 1,100 crore, to the Rs 144 crore mentioned in the lieutenant governor’s note, and the Rs 1 crore mentioned in the CBI’s FIR. “Ye sab bakwas hai (This is all nonsense)," he said, rubbishing the allegations.
Kejriwal then said that the “ghotala" was “Operation Lotus".
“Each MLA is being offered Rs 20 crore. They need 40 MLAs. They have kept Rs 800 crore ready to topple the government. Today, the country’s people want to ask, who does this Rs 800 crore belong to? Is it that of the GST, is it that of PM Cares, has any friend given it? Whose money is this? Where have they kept the money to topple the government of Delhi?" he said.
As AAP galvanised its leadership and cadre to ensure that its flock stayed together, the BJP’s Harish Khurana called it a “diversionary tactic" and BJP MP Manoj Tiwari alleged that Delhi’s ruling party was indulging in “drama".
There is a special session of the Delhi Assembly on Friday, where AAP is expected to pass a resolution condemning what it has termed the misuse of central government agencies, like the CBI, ED, IT, etc, to target opposition leaders and topple non-BJP governments.
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