New Delhi: Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia Friday condemned the arrest of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) legislator Amanatullah Khan by the police in connection with a protest against an “anti-encroachment” drive, but Delhi CM and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal maintained silence.
Party spokespersons have also not held any press conference or initiated any campaign yet in support of Khan.
In response, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders trained their guns at AAP, alleging that the party was playing the “soft Hindutva card” by choosing not to openly come out in support of Khan.
They also contrasted the situation with how the BJP had stood behind its Delhi office bearer, Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, when the AAP government in Punjab sent its police to arrest him last week.
In a press briefing at noon Friday, Sisodia said he had written a letter to Union home minister Amit Shah asking him to direct the municipal corporations in Delhi — which are ruled by the BJP — to stop sending bulldozers to colonies for demolition drives.
After the briefing, when reporters asked him about Khan’s arrest, which happened in connection with one such demolition drive Thursday, Sisodia said, “We condemn the action. What has happened is wrong. AAP leaders will always stand against such illegal demolitions.”
Later in the day, the party’s Malviya Nagar MLA, Somnath Bharti — a lawyer by profession — was also sent to the court where Khan was produced by the Delhi Police. The Delhi Police, too, fall under the jurisdiction of the BJP-led Union government.
Commenting on the silence from Kejriwal and AAP spokespersons, Delhi BJP spokesperson Harish Khurana told ThePrint, “This is a well-planned strategy of AAP not to stand behind Amanatullah Khan because they are busy playing soft Hindutva cards. They also want Hindu voters and don’t want to openly support Khan… The BJP on the other hand stands behind its workers, and in Bagga’s case you have seen it.”
Naveen Kumar Jindal, another Delhi BJP spokesperson, said, “Kejriwal’s silence shows he must be thinking of strategies, because he does everything for votes.”
Sources in the BJP told ThePrint that the party is planning to organise a larger campaign in the national capital in the coming days. highlighting how it supports its party leaders in police cases and how AAP has allegedly failed to do so, using the examples of Bagga and Khan.
A large number of shops in Okhla — Khan’s assembly constituency — reportedly remained closed Friday, in protest against the MLA’s arrest, even as many local residents in the area questioned Kejriwal’s silence.
‘Outspoken leader’, ‘immensely popular’
AAP leaders describe Khan as one of the party’s most outspoken leaders.
While AAP’s political vocabulary has witnessed a sea change over the past two years in matters that involved Muslims — from a strategy of silence to now blaming “Bangladeshis” and “Rohingyas” for communal violence — Khan is known to be someone who has stood behind people in his area and Muslims in general, irrespective of the party’s stand on multiple political issues, said two senior AAP functionaries.
When AAP’s top leadership decided to keep a distance from the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protest in Shaheen Bagh in 2019-2020, led by Muslim women, Khan was there throughout — often overseeing basics such as tents, food, water, and medical camps, although he often avoided the media as he didn’t want to get into any controversy, according to one of the two leaders.
Last month, when the North Delhi Municipal Corporation initiated a demolition drive in Jahangirpuri, Khan was the first AAP leader who took to social media to accuse the BJP of causing disharmony in Delhi, even though the party eventually took a different line on the issue.
“People like Khan are immensely popular local leaders. The party can have its own strategies in terms of showing or not showing support for Khan openly. But that does not affect his popularity,” said the other AAP leader.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)