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Meet the 10 men Kejriwal is counting on to boost AAP’s national expansion after Punjab win

8 MLAs and 2 close aides of party chief Arvind Kejriwal stand out for managerial and organisational skills, and have been made state or election in-charge in different states.

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New Delhi: From an IIT professor to a computer engineer, a businessman and one who tore his shirt “for the Dalit cause” — these are the eight legislators and two close aides of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal, who have come to the forefront as the party plans a national expansion.

These 10 individuals are top office bearers (appointed either as state in-charge or election in-charge) in states where Kejriwal’s party is trying to expand its footprint after its victory in Punjab on 10 March.

ThePrint brings a brief profile of these key AAP leaders, along with the states they’re now holding charge in.

Durgesh Pathak (Himachal Pradesh)

Within the party, Pathak is known as Kejriwal’s eyes and ears. He is one of the closest aides of the AAP convener, and has been a crucial part of the party’s national expansion plan much before its Punjab victory.

Pathak is the only person who is seen with Kejriwal even when the party chief is on a break at meditation and naturopathy centres in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, said a senior leader of the AAP.

At 31, Pathak is the youngest national executive member of the AAP. He was a participant in the Anna Hazare-led India Against Corruption movement of 2011 and played a role in the making of the AAP, having been a key strategist for it since its foundation in 2012.

Pathak’s assignments have included the Delhi polls in 2015 and 2020, both of which the AAP won with a majority of 67 and 62 seats, respectively, in the 70-member Delhi Assembly, even though Pathak himself lost the Karawal Nagar seat for which he was given a ticket in 2020.

He was at the helm of AAP’s Punjab campaign ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls in which it emerged as the principal opposition against the Congress. This year, he was in charge of the Goa polls, where the AAP managed to win two seats. Pathak is also an AAP spokesperson and municipal affairs in-charge.

Sandeep Pathak (Gujarat)

Sandeep Pathak (second from right) is an associate professor at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi | Photo: PTI

The other Pathak on the forefront in AAP’s national plan is Sandeep Pathak, an associate professor at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, who has been appointed the joint in-charge of Gujarat.

Another close aide of Kejriwal, Pathak is one of those behind-the-scenes functionaries of the party — much like Gopal Mohan in Delhi, who is behind several key policies of the AAP such as CCTVs, WiFis, doorstep rations, and the man who manages day-to-day affairs in Kejriwal’s assembly constituency of New Delhi, the senior AAP leader quoted above said.

Pathak is one of AAP’s Rajya Sabha picks from Punjab, and will be joining the Upper House from the next session. He is credited with building the party’s organisational base in the state ahead of the 2022 polls, designing its outreach strategies, chalking out agendas and drafting campaign plans.

In a conversation with ThePrint, Pathak’s colleague and AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj described him as “grounded, sensible and methodical”.

Saurabh Bhardwaj (Haryana)

Bhardwaj, 42, a computer engineer by profession, is a third-time AAP MLA from Delhi’s Greater Kailash constituency. He has been at the forefront in some crucial party campaigns, such as the AAP’s strategy of flaunting its Hindu credentials which, party leaders said, is an attempt to take on the BJP at its own game.

“While Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal went on to recite Hanuman Chalisa during interviews with news channels ahead of the 2020 Assembly polls, Bhardwaj kept the campaign alive by organising monthly recitals of the Sundar Kaand (a chapter from the Hindu epic Ramayana), to sending requests to the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust to build a Hanuman statue, and holding rallies with life-sized Hanuman figures,” said a second senior AAP leader.

Bhardwaj has been a cabinet minister in Delhi, and was given charge of the transport, food and supplies and general administration portfolios in the first AAP-Congress coalition government that lasted for 49 days. He is a spokesperson for the party and currently the vice-chairperson of the Delhi Jal Board.

Sanjeev Jha (Chhattisgarh)

Sanjeev Jha is the Purvanchali face of the party | Photo: Twitter

For the longest time, 42-year-old Sanjeev Jha, another third-term MLA of the AAP from Delhi’s Burari constituency, has been the Purvanchali (a term popularly used in Delhi for migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) face of the party, making TV appearances during Chhath Puja arrangements and being seen next to other senior AAP leaders in press conferences on issues concerning Delhi’s migrant population, especially the ones from Purvanchal.

Born and raised in Bihar, Jha has been a general secretary of the AAP and played an active role in the formation of its student wing, Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti.

Jha participated in the India Against Corruption movement led by Anna Hazare, where he met Arvind Kejriwal and other top leaders who would go on to form the AAP.

Dilip Pandey (Karnataka)

Pandey, 41, is considered by AAP functionaries as one of the party’s biggest assets in crisis management. While he was the face of the party during the Covid-19 crisis, informally operating a help centre of his own that was busy round the clock arranging beds, medicines, oxygen and all forms of help for patients, not many know of a different incident that illustrated his value.

The year was 2019 and the AAP was getting ready for the Lok Sabha elections. Pandey was one of its star candidates, who had been given a ticket from Northeast Delhi. For the campaign song, the party was relying on a popular music composer, who eventually failed to take up the assignment, citing other commitments.

“It was Pandey who took up the task at the last minute and came up with a catchy campaign song titled ‘Poorna-Raaj’ (full statehood) with himself in the lead vocals, backed by his party aides doing chorus parts,” the second AAP functionary quoted above said.

Pandey lost the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but became an MLA from Timarpur after winning the Assembly election the next year.

An engineer by profession, he has donned several hats so far, including being the spokesperson of the party and its Delhi convener, a post from which he resigned after the AAP lost the 2017 municipal polls to the BJP.

Vinay Mishra (Rajasthan)

Vinay Mishra (left) is welcomed by Arvind Kejriwal | Photo: PTI

Mishra, 39, is the son of senior Congress leader Mahabal Mishra, a former MP from West Delhi and a four-time MLA.

Mishra technically replaced Adarsh Shastri in the Dwarka seat. Shastri, grandson of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, had been with the AAP since its foundation. He was denied a ticket by the party for the 2020 Assembly polls, for which party functionaries cited performance issues. They gave the ticket to Mishra, who eventually won the Dwarka seat.

“In the 1980s, (Mahabal) Mishra was one of the most prominent Bahubali (influential leader) politicians in Delhi. Ahead of the 2020 polls, most Congress leaders knew that the party hardly had any chances. Mishra actively lobbied for his son to be inducted in the AAP. After his induction in 2020, he (Vinay) was yet to get an important role,” said a third senior party leader.

But now, Vinay Mishra is now AAP’s in-charge of Rajasthan.

Ajesh Yadav (Bihar)

Ajesh Yadav is a businessman by profession and owns a chain of banquet halls | Photo: Twitter

Ajesh Yadav, 54, is one of the several AAP legislators in Delhi who have always maintained a low profile. He is hardly visible on TV or addresses press conferences, even though he has been an MLA representing the Badli seat since 2015. A businessman by profession, he owns a chain of banquet halls.

During Assembly sessions, Yadav is known to quietly pass through the corridors in his polo tee-shirts, sporting a pair of aviators and a well-maintained moustache. He is hardly seen having conversations with reporters or party colleagues. In the last 10 Assembly sessions, according to Vidhan Sabha records, Yadav has not said a word in the House.

But within the party, Yadav’s role in the development of unauthorised colonies is appreciated. At times, the appreciation has come from the party chief, said the first AAP leader quoted above.

Badli is located on the northern periphery of Delhi. The constituency, in terms of demographic profile, is essentially a scattered bunch of villages which have turned into unauthorised residential colonies. These colonies took form much after those such as Sangam Vihar in south Delhi, and struggled for basic amenities such as water supply, sewer connections and concrete roads till a few years ago, said the senior party leader.

Ajay Dutt (Himachal)

It was August 2019. A controversy had erupted over the demolition of a Ravidas temple in Delhi. Sant Ravidas is worshipped by large sections of people in the Dalit community.

In protest against the move, Ajay Dutt tore open his shirt outside the Delhi Assembly in front of TV cameras, and that somehow turned out to be his claim to fame, said the second AAP leader quoted above, with local party leaders often watching the video and referring to him as the MLA who tore his shirt for the “Dalit cause”.

Dutt, 46, is a second-term MLA from the Ambedkar Nagar constituency of Delhi.

“He has had a tough childhood. His father was a person with disability and his mother was the only earning member. As a student he used to fix lights at wedding events. But he managed to graduate from Delhi University and later earned a business management postgraduate degree. In the party, he is one of those leaders who sets examples for others,” said the second AAP leader.

Dutt has so far held positions in several legislative panels which include the committees of welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, public accounts, government undertaking, environment and papers laid on the table of the Vidhan Sabha. But he has not yet held any post in the government.

Within the AAP, he is seen as one of the most accessible MLAs for people in the constituency.

Gulab Singh Yadav (Gujarat)

AAP leader Gulab Singh Yadav | Photo: Twitter
AAP leader Gulab Singh Yadav | Photo: Twitter

Gulab Singh Yadav, 43, a second-term MLA from Delhi’s Matiala constituency, is one of the behind-the-scenes AAP workers in Gujarat.

When Kejriwal and his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann addressed a rally in Ahmedabad on 2 April, Yadav was the man who made it possible, said a third senior AAP functionary.

Yadav, according to senior party leaders, has been working in Gujarat along with the local AAP unit since 2015.

The senior functionary recalled: “It was the time when the Delhi Police were arresting AAP leaders one after another on baseless charges. In October 2016, the police came looking for Gulab and searched his entire constituency. When they finally arrested him from Gujarat’s Surat, they (the police) went on to claim that he was hiding there. But, in reality, he has been working in Gujarat for a while, travelling on and off.”

Somnath Bharti (Telangana)

AAP’s third-term MLA from Malviya Nagar and former minister, 47-year-old Somnath Bharti, is one the most recognisable faces of the AAP. He is known for his good grip over legal affairs, skills in public administration and accessibility in his constituency.

Hailing from a humble family in Bihar, Bharti did his M.Sc. from IIT Delhi and later coached students for IIT entrance examination in mathematics before starting a software business. He then moved on to practice law in the Supreme Court. It was in 2010 that he met Arvind Kejriwal at an event in Noida, and they have been closely associated ever since. He is one of the founder members of the AAP.

The third party functionary quoted above recalled how, when a video of an elderly person (referring to the Baba ka Dhaba incident) struggling during the Covid-19 lockdown had surfaced in 2020, Bharti was one of the first to go and help. “He is kind and always very enterprising,” said the AAP leader.

Bharti was a minister in charge of portfolios such as law, tourism, administrative reforms and art and culture in the 49-day AAP-Congress coalition government. Between 2014 and 2021, Bharti headed panels ranging from committee on public accounts and privileges, to a committee dealing with the problem of stray dogs and monkeys in Delhi.

Bharti has his share of controversies too. He had made headlines in 2014 when he led a midnight raid with locals in south Delhi’s Khirki Extension neighbourhood, targeting a group of African nationals.

“Controversies are one aspect of his personality. And most of those have turned out to be baseless. The other aspect is that of a master in his field (law and public administration). And that is the reason why he has held important positions in the party, and now been given a new one,” said the third AAP functionary quoted above.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Kejriwal’s 9: The key people who work with the Delhi CM & his govt behind the scenes

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