'Only four AAP leaders see Kejriwal as Modi's alternative, don't take them seriously': BJP MP

Verma also alleged that some of the accused in the FIR registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with excise policy "scam" were close to AAP leaders.
Delhi BJP's Parvesh Verma (Photo | Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma/Facebook)
Delhi BJP's Parvesh Verma (Photo | Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma/Facebook)

NEW DELHI: As AAP leaders have begun projecting their party chief Arvind Kejriwal as an alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, BJP MP Parvesh Verma on Saturday hit back saying claims made by "four people" should not be taken seriously.

"Was there a survey by any news channel? Was any survey conducted among the people on whether Kejriwal can challenge Modi? This is being said by four AAP members -Saurabh Bhardwaj, Sanjay Singh, Atishi and Raghav Chadha. Who else is saying this?" Verma said in reply to a question at a press conference.

"If there is some survey among the people of the country, if they say Kejriwal could be (an alternative), we will accept it. How can you accept anything said by just four people" he asked.

Verma also alleged that some of the accused in the FIR registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with excise policy "scam" were close to AAP leaders.

At a press conference earlier in the day, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had said, "People have a question in mind: Modi vs Who? Now, the entire country believes that they do not want Modi to be in power anymore. People now have a worthy opponent in Kejriwal."

The assertion from Sisodia came in the backdrop of a raid at his residence by the CBI in connection with alleged irregularities in Excise Policy 2021-22.

"The action taken against me was premeditated and scripted by the BJP. They have a problem with Kejriwal, not with corruption. The whole country wants to give Kejriwal a chance in 2024. So, the BJP is trying to defame him by sending his education and health ministers to jail," Sisodia, who also holds education and health portfolios among others, alleged.

Satyendar Jain, who was the health minister in the Delhi government before his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) two months ago in a money laundering case, is currently in judicial custody.

As the CBI began questioning the accused in the Delhi excise policy "corruption" case in which he has been named, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Saturday claimed it was ploy by the BJP which "fears" Arvind Kejriwal and the 2024 Lok Sabha polls will be a battle between the AAP chief and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The BJP hit back, alleging that Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal was the "kingpin" in the "liquor scam" and the Aam Aadmi Party was trying to divert attention from its corruption by linking the CBI action to politics.

It asserted that Modi would improve his tally in the next general election as he did in 2019.

A day after the CBI raid against him, Sisodia, at a press conference, expressed apprehension that the agency or the ED may arrest in the next 3-4 days and alleged that it was part of the "script to stop Kejriwal who has emerged as a national alternative".

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Kejriwal, who has been aggressively taking on the BJP in Modi's home state, announced on Twitter that he will be touring Gujarat with Sisodia from Monday.

The AAP leaders intensified their attack on the BJP as the CBI stepped up the probe into the "corruption" case related to the implementation of the Delhi Excise Policy 2021 on Saturday.

Officials said that at least three accused were quizzed and their statements recorded.

The AAP leader is facing the prospect of multiple probes as the CBI FIR, which names Sisodia and 14 others, has been shared with the Enforcement Directorate (ED) which will look into the allegations of money laundering.

Also, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs is looking into a maze of corporate entities associated with those named in the FIR.

The agency on Friday carried out searches at 31 places which included premises related to Sisodia as well as some bureaucrats and businessmen.

"The 2024 Lok Sabha polls will be a battle between Arvind Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It will be AAP vs BJP," Sisodia told reporters, alleging that the raids were aimed at stopping AAP chief Kejriwal's rise.

Sisodia said the BJP was not concerned about corruption but was targeting Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal, whose work on education and health was being talked about in the world, and that is why Satyendar Jain was arrested by the ED in May.

Dismissing the charge, Union Minister Anurag Thakur claimed the Aam Aadmi Party's "real face has been unmasked" and referred to the deputy chief minister as "Money Shh", alleging that he "makes money and maintains silence".

"Sisodia is the accused number one in the case but Kejriwal is the kingpin behind the scam," he said.

"It is a government of revdi (freebies) and it is also a bevdi (drunkards) government," he alleged and asked why it returned over Rs 144 crore to liquor companies without the Cabinet approval.

Why was the excise policy withdrawn if it was correct as claimed by the AAP and why some "blacklisted" firms were given the liquor license, he asked.

Delhi Congress leaders and workers staged a protest outside the Aam Admi Party office, demanding the resignation of Sisodia.

The protesters marched from the Delhi Congress office at DDU Marg towards AAP headquarters raising slogans against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Sisodia.

Sisodia, however, claimed the rival parties are "scared of Kejriwal who has gained the love of people, especially after the party's victory in Punjab assembly elections".

"They first arrested Satyendar Jain who was holding the charge of the health portfolio and I will also be arrested in the next couple of days," he claimed.

Delhi's health minister Jain was arrested in May by the Enforcement Directorate on money laundering charges.

Sisodia also highlighted a front-page story in New York Times on Delhi's education model saying it made every Indian proud.

After the CBI raids, the AAP leaders claimed that the Modi government was rattled by the report that "praised" the Delhi government.

In his tweet, Kejriwal said he and Sisodia will visit Gujarat on Monday to "guarantee education and health".

"On Monday, Manish ji and I will go to Gujarat for two days - to guarantee education and health. Like Delhi, Gujarat will also have good schools, good hospitals and Mohalla clinics. Everyone will get a good education and good and free treatment. People will be relieved. We will also interact with youth," Kejriwal said in a Tweet.

This will be the fifth visit of the AAP national convener this month to Gujarat where Assembly elections are due in December this year.

Kejriwal had earlier promised many sops to Gujarat including free electricity up to 300 units in a month, free and quality education, a Rs 3,000 monthly unemployment allowance, and a job for every youth in Gujarat if his party was voted to power.

AAP's Gujarat president Gopal Italia on Saturday said the raids and FIR against Sisodia were a fallout of a "massive support" the party has generated, especially in poll-bound Gujarat.

CBI officials said three of the accused were called to CBI headquarters where their statements were recorded and they were confronted with some documents of financial transactions recovered during the searches The agency is also examining the documents seized during raids at 31 places including the residence of Sisodia, they said.

Under the CBI scanner are at least two payments in crores allegedly made to "close associates" of Sisodia by Sameer Mahendru, the owner of Indospirits, who was one of the liquor traders actively involved in alleged irregularities in the framing and implementation of the excise policy.

The FIR alleged Sisodia's "close associates" - Amit Arora, director of Buddy Retail Pvt.

Limited in Gurugram, Dinesh Arora and Arjun Pandey - were "actively involved in managing and diverting the undue pecuniary advantage collected from liquor licensees" to the accused public servants.

The search operations on Friday continued for nearly 15 hours with the CBI team leaving Sisodia's residence at around 11 pm.

The searches at the AAP leader's home, the residence of IAS officer and former excise commissioner Arava Gopi Krishna, and 29 other places took place after the CBI registered an FIR for alleged corruption and bribery in the formulation and execution of the Delhi Excise Policy brought out last November, officials said.

The policy was withdrawn in July this year after Delhi Lt Governor VK Saxena called for a CBI probe.

The FIR on August 17 was based on a reference from the Lieutenant Governor's office routed through the Union Home Ministry.

The CBI has invoked the IPC section related to criminal conspiracy and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act in its FIR.

Speaking to reporters after the raid, Sisodia had said on Friday, "The CBI team reached in the morning and searched the whole house. My family and I extended full cooperation. They seized my computer and mobile phone. They also took away some files."

The damaging allegations in the FIR, based on "source information", state that Sisodia and the accused public servants took decisions pertaining to the excise policy 2021-22 without the approval of competent authority with "an intention to extend undue favours to the licencees post tender".

"It was alleged that irregularities were committed including in modifications in Excise Policy, extending undue favours to the licencees, waiver/reduction in licence fee, extension of L-1 licence without approval, etc.," the CBI spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.

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