Polls 2024

On Tuesday May 7 the Supreme Court had opined that it was “open to consider interim bail” for Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convenor Arvind Kejriwal. According to news reports the two-judge bench, comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta, noted “We may grant or we may not grant. But we must be open to you as neither side should be taken by surprise.”

The SC also told the Enforcement Directorate (ED) “to come prepared for the hearing”, stated news reports. Kejriwal was arrested on March 21. He has been behind bars in Tihar Jail, under judicial custody since then. Now, Kejriwal’s judicial custody has reportedly been extended till May 20.

Meanwhile, another Kejriwal has continued to hold the Aam Aadmi Party’s electoral campaign together, in Delhi and other states. Sunita Kejriwal (58), a former Indian Revenue Services (IRS) officer was once known just as the ever smiling supportive wife of Arvind Kejriwal. She was rarely seen at big public events, and stayed in the shadows playing the role of the supportive spouse, mixing with party workers, her trademark smile in place.

It was even rarer to hear from this 1994 batch IRS officer at a public rally or event. It was her husband Arvind, a seasoned orator, who was always in the spotlight, first as an activist and then as a politician who became CM of the National Capital.

Though Sunita has been his constant companion of his political, and personal, journey, and often the first one he publicly thanks after each win or milestone, she has so far come across as someone who did not seek publicity for herself.

Till, now, when circumstances have pushed her into the deep end of the political pool. She has taken it onto herself to steer her party’s ship on the choppy poll seas, to dock safely at the winning port.

Speeches, media interaction, meeting voters, Sunita seems to be doing it with the confidence of a seasoned politician now. She is not seen playing the victim card of a spouse waiting for her husband to be released from jail, but has come out as his ‘messenger’ who keeps his name, and that of his party candidates, fresh in the minds of the voters.

Sunita took voluntary retirement from her post at the Income Tax department in 2016. According to a report in NDTV, her last posting was at the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) in Delhi where she was the IT Commissioner. She had served in the IT departments for over two decades.

Today, as her husband continues to await bail, Sunita has stepped out of the wings and taken charge of the party’s Lok Sabha poll campaign 2024. Since her first address to the party workers on behalf of husband soon after he was incarcerated, Sunita seems to have come a long way in the past few weeks.

The political progress, as it were, is visible at her roadshows. Sunita has emerged as a public speaker, is confident and her attempts to strike a personal note with the hundreds who line the streets during her campaign roadshows, have gone down well. Thousands of clips of her holding microphones, talking to large crowds, acknowledging greetings and being showered with flowers, are popular on social media.

She seems to have left official party matters to the various ministers and AAP office bearers, and striking an emotional cord with the public has become her forte.

At the roadshows she often emerges from the sunroofs of SUVs, with the party’s official candidate seated on the roof, just behind her, and acknowledges the massive crowds that swell into the bylanes of various constituencies of Delhi. At rallies, she shares the stage with local leaders. Sunita constantly reminds the voters how “their CM, and my husband, is still behind bars”. She hints at how Arvind is constantly thinking about the people’s welfare even in jail.

She assures her supporters that their “CM is a ‘sher’ (tiger)” and that he is being punished for a crime he has not committed. She tells the crowds that the process of keeping the CM in jail, while the investigation is still on, is a form of punishment itself. The case can go on for years, she tells the people, asking if the CM will then be kept in jail for the entire duration. The crowds respond to her calls for justice and votes.

The case pertains to alleged corruption and money laundering in the formulation and execution of the Delhi government's now-scrapped liquor excise policy for 2021-22. Sunita amplifies the AAP slogan of “‘jail ka jawab vote se’ (respond to the jail term with votes)” message but does it in her own style.

She had released video statements on the CMs behalf soon after he was jailed. "Arvind Kejriwal has sent a message to all MLAs: 'Just because I am in jail, the people of Delhi should not suffer in any way. Every MLA should visit their area every day and discuss people's problems and sort them out'..." Sunita had said in the video message which was widely reported and watched.

She had said that the CM in his message from jail, reminded his team to “Resolve issues faced by anyone. And I am not just talking about solving government-related problems, we should also try to address other issues faced by people.

The 2 crore people of Delhi are my family, and no one in my family should be unhappy for any reason. God bless everyone, Jai Hind!"

That video statement aired soon after the CM was arrested on March 21 by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case related to the now-scrapped Delhi excise policy. Barely a week later, Sunita took charge of the campaign and led her first political roadshow in Kalyan Puri, East Delhi, on April, 27. Since then, she has been on a roadshow roll, as it were.

While Sunita herself has so far not voiced any intentions to formally join active politics, her pole position among the AAP leadership was also made clear when MP Sanjay Singh went to meet her first when he was released from Tihar jail after six months. The ‘jail ka jawab vote se’ slogan was given by him.

The slogan has been spread by the workers, and the party’s ‘star’ campaigner Sunita. Now she speaks with a more confident and personal message, still keeping the focus on Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP.

At the roadshows and rallies, Sunita speaks of her husband’s talks of activism from back when they wed nearly three decades ago. She shares personal anecdotes like how he had asked her consent to continue as an activist.

“It's clearly a dictatorship. He is a well-read, patriotic and truthful person. For the sake of social service, he left his job and went to the slums to work for them. When we got married, he asked me just one question, ‘I want to do social service, won't you have any issue with that?…" Sunita told the gathering.

She repeats these anecdotes at each roadshow and rally, every so slightly changing the tone and tenor depending on the area she is speaking at. She also reminds the people that “Arvind ji has sugar (diabetes), he takes 50 units of insulin everyday. they stopped his insulin. his sugar level rose above 300, this way his kidney and liver will be damaged.

Sunita throws questions at the crowds and asks, "if investigations go on for 10 years, will they keep him (Arvind Kejriwal) in jail for 10 years?". According to a report in ‘Indian Express’, Sunita while campaigning in Tigri Colony, of South Delhi constituency, said “Kejriwal left his 30 years of service to make common people’s lives better.”

Sunita has also addressed big rallies outside the National Capital. “They (BJP) have put Arvind Kejriwal forcefully behind bars during elections so that his voice doesn't reach the people. But the people are very smart, and they will respond with their votes," Sunita recently said in Gujarat.

In the seven seats of Delhi, an intense political fight between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is underway. And even though the Congress is in alliance with AAP, and well known names such as Kanhaiya Kumar, and Udit Raj are in the electoral fray as well, many voters seem to remain more focussed on the ‘Broom’ symbol, rather than the ‘Hand’ symbol in some areas.

The electoral focus remains on the AAP Vs BJP equation in the national Capital. There were some reports of Congress and AAP workers caught in an awkward “bickering on ground” in some areas. However, the parties have now streamlined their campaigns and are going full steam ahead, as Delhi votes on May 25.

Kanhaiya Kumar, the Congress candidate from Delhi’s North East constituency had even met with Sunita Kejriwal at her official residence on Wednesday. Perhaps a first such cross-party meeting in the city this election.

He called the meeting “vaicharik (about principles), not chunaavi (polls)." But the message sent out to the people was clear, that the two parties had come together this time, to fight a common foe.

After the meeting, which lasted over an hour, Kumar said, “We have been fighting against the ‘tanashahi’ [dictatorship] going on in the country for the past few years. I told her that we will save the Constitution, democracy and defeat tanashahi. This meeting was not chunaavi, but vaicharik."

Kumar had said the fight in Delhi is about “aatma samman" (self-respect). “We are not fighting on four seats. We are fighting on 543 seats. We are part of the I.N.D.I.A. group. The I.N.D.I.A. Bloc is fully united.

“Our strategy is not about one candidate or one party. This is a fight for Delhi’s self-respect, not to make someone the Prime Minister, Member of Parliament or form the government

“The question is about the manner in which the people of Delhi have been insulted. The CM has been put in jail. Everyday, there are assaults on the rights of Delhi.

“This fight is against tanashahi, the manner in which an ordinance was brought to overturn the Supreme Court’s verdict, the attempts being made to create hurdles in the development work and the manner in which leaders are being put behind bars in the middle of an election. This amounts to insulting the people of Delhi.”

These words were a strong statement aimed at not only the BJP, but also to those within the Congress who may have issues with Kumar and former MP Udit Raj being given a ticket to contest in Delhi. Delhi Congress State President Arvinder Singh Lovely had recently quit the party citing the alliance with AAP, among other reasons.

However, Sunita has continued to remind people that these elections were above simple politics and were more about saving the democratic process.

Responding to the controversies surrounding the Delhi Congress following the resignation of Lovely, Kumar said that he had not read the latter’s letter and sought to focus on arch-rival BJP. “I have neither received nor read Arvinder Singh Lovely’s letter. The BJP’s actions across the country are more dangerous than a few leaders resigning in the Congress. We have seen what happened in Surat and Indore."

Kumar said, “The people of Delhi are fortunate to have the opportunity. Your leaders are still standing. The people of Delhi must vote as one does not know if the right to vote will remain or not.

“They must think what will happen if the entire country becomes like Surat? Resignation of leaders in the middle of elections is not new. What is new is coercing opponents to withdraw from the contest, making them join and not let the elections take place."

As part of I.N.D.I.A Bloc alliance three candidates from Congress will be fighting in Delhi this time, while others will be from AAP. While BJP claims that it is “confident of winning all seven seats again”, AAP sources have said they are looking at tough competition this time.

The nomination process for the seven Lok Sabha constituencies in the national capital began last Monday, with 13 candidates, including BJP’s pick from Northwest Delhi Yogender Chandoliya, filing their nomination papers.

Before filing the nomination, Chandoliya had addressed party workers and supporters in Mangolpuri: “I began my journey in the party as a minister in the mandal. After a social and political journey of nearly 40 years, today I am going to file my nomination for the Lok Sabha.

“I am a party worker first and foremost and will respect all workers. I will expedite development work in my constituency and will always be accessible to the people.”

However, Sunita has so far refrained from naming any opposition candidates, thus keeping the focus solely on her party. According to news reports the AAP has released “a list of 40 star campaigners for the party in Delhi for the Lok Sabha elections.”

The names, apart from Sunita include, “

Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann, MPs Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chadha, Delhi ministers Gopal Rai, Atishi, Saurabh Bharadwaj, Kailash Gahlot and Delhi Mayor, Shelly Oberoi” among others.

According to an ANI report, the AAP and Congress had also “held a meeting under the banner of the I.N.D.I.A. bloc to discuss their campaign strategy for contesting the Lok Sabha elections in Delhi together.”