New Delhi: Delhi Chief Minister (CM) and AAP president Arvind Kejriwal has decided to replace former cabinet ministers Manish Sisodia and Satyendar Jain with MLAs Atishi (she uses only her first name) and Saurabh Bharadwaj, who will receive the portfolios held by the two former ministers, according to party sources.
Sisodia, who was Delhi deputy CM, was arrested Sunday in a liquor policy scam case, while Jain, who held the health portfolio among others, was arrested in May last year in a money laundering case. Both leaders, trusted lieutenants of Kejriwal, tendered their resignation earlier this week.
After Jain’s arrest, Kejriwal had handed over his seven departments, including health, home and industries, to Sisodia. The former Delhi deputy CM went on to handle as many as 18 of 33 Delhi government departments, including key ones such as finance, education, planning, health, public works and tourism.
All of these will now be distributed among the two new ministers.
Until the new appointments are made official, MLA and transport minister Kailash Gehlot has been temporarily handed over the finance, planning, public works, home, power, urban development, irrigation and water portfolios, while cabinet minister Raaj Kumar Anand has been given education, land and building, vigilance, health, tourism, and employment, among other departments, according to party leaders.
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Who are the new faces
Bhardwaj, 43, is an MLA from Greater Kailash, while Atishi represents the Kalkaji constituency in south Delhi. Both are familiar AAP names.
A computer science engineer and law graduate, Bharadwaj was first elected to the Delhi assembly in the first Kejriwal government in 2013, which lasted for 49 days. He had been allocated several departments at the time, including food and supply, transport, environment and general administration.
He is known to have left a well-paying corporate job to take the plunge into politics.
In letters being circulated by the AAP before the formal appointment of Bharadwaj, he is being hailed as someone who was working for companies in the US, Hyderabad and Gurugram (in India), before fighting elections for the party.
In 2017, Bharadwaj emerged as a prominent AAP face when he demonstrated in the Delhi assembly to show how electronic voting machines could be hacked with a “secret code”, using a dummy machine for the purpose. The Election Commission rebuffed his claim.
In political circles, Bharadwaj is said to have a hint of both the rural and urban in him. His communication style is also a mix of both, making him connect easily with the masses.
In 2017, Bhardwaj was appointed chief spokesperson of the AAP’s Delhi unit and frequently launches attacks on the BJP over various platforms. He has also been part of several committees in the Delhi assembly.
Last year, he was made the vice-chairman of the Delhi Jal Board, after AAP leader Raghav Chadha was nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
Marlens, 41, is another young and popular face among AAP workers, and is said to have played an important role in Sisodia’s much-hailed education reforms in Delhi.
The Rhodes scholar and Oxford graduate got associated with many of the AAP leaders during the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement of 2011 which led to the birth of the party, and was appointed as an advisor to Sisodia in 2015.
Working alongside him on AAP’s ‘model of education’, she is credited with helping improve school infrastructure, initiating school management committees and working on the “happiness curriculum”.
Atishi herself has previously taught at the prestigious Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh.
However, it was her removal as an adviser to Sisodia by the Centre in 2018, purportedly over issues of legal validity, that brought her to the limelight.
She has also drawn attention because of her last name ‘Marlena’ — a blend of the names of Marx and Lenin, given by her parents who were influenced by the ideology of the two leaders. The BJP had claimed she was a “Christian”. Atishi dropped her last name ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a move that was opposed by a section of AAP supporters.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Atishi was pitted against cricketer Gautam Gambhir and lost the election from the East Delhi constituency. A year later, she won the Delhi assembly election from Kalkaji constituency. In 2022, she was appointed the in-charge of AAP’s Goa unit for the state election.
Atishi is set to become the first woman minister in the Kejriwal cabinet in eight years, after Rakhi Birla was given a place in the first (2013 to 2014).
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
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