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Raghav Chadha’s Absence In AAP’s Trying Times Sparks Speculations

| Updated: April 29, 2024 12:29

As the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) grapples with political crisis, especially following the arrest of party chief and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, one of its popular leaders and Rajya Sabha member, Raghav Chadha is conspicuous by his absence.

Kejriwal was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the liquor policy case on March 21. The same day, Chadha was reportedly on a trip to the UK with his wife Parineeti Chopra, a Bollywood actor.

However, he released a video clip on his social media account in which he expressed support for Kejriwal, hours after his arrest, and attacked the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre.

While Chopra has returned to India and was spotted in promotion events of one of her recently released movies earlier this month, Chadha’s whereabouts seem to be a mystery even for many of his party colleagues.

Kejriwal was arrested by the ED from his Delhi residence in connection with the Delhi liquor policy case, which involves suspected corruption and money laundering.

He is currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. His former deputy Manish Sisodia is also in judicial custody in the same case, registered in August 2022.

Chadha, 35, seen as close to Kejriwal, was last seen in India on March 2 when he visited the residence of AAP legislator Sahiram Pehalwan to congratulate him after his name was announced as a Lok Sabha candidate from South Delhi — the same seat from which Chadha had unsuccessfully contested against the BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri in 2019.

According to his social media posts, Chadha reached London on March 8, primarily for a vitrectomy — an eye surgery that’s supposed to treat problems related to retina and the vitreous.
On March 9, he spoke at an event organised by the London School of Economics, his alma mater.

During his UK trip, he also met British Labour MP Preet K Gill, drawing criticism from the BJP which sees Gill as a vocal supporter of the separatist Khalistan movement.

On March 20 — a day before Kejriwal’s arrest — Chadha visited the Palace of Westminster with his wife and attended the Prime Minister’s Question Session at the House of Commons, a photo of which he posted on social media.

Off the record, several AAP leaders said Chadha had informed the party top brass before leaving India and he was expected to return for the ongoing election campaign. But that didn’t happen. Some of them claimed that they too had been tracking Chadha only through his social media posts.

Chadha has been active on X. A post on April 18 highlighted how Kejriwal, a diabetes patient, was not getting adequate insulin in jail — an allegation which the prison authorities have dismissed.

On April 17, Chadha wished people on Ram Navami. On April 14, he highlighted how AAP gave a facelift to Delhi’s schools and identified his mentor Kejriwal as a real follower of BR Ambedkar.

He wrote several posts expressing solidarity with AAP’s Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh who too was arrested in connection with the liquor policy case in October last year but was granted bail earlier this month.

Chadha has been sharing all media briefings by Sunita Kejriwal and even took time out to congratulate party colleague and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann, who became father to a girl on March 28.

But, in real life, Chadha is missing.

“He [Chadha] has undergone an eye surgery and doctors have recommended rest,” an AAP spokesperson says.

A chartered accountant by profession, Chadha has donned many hats in AAP. On returning to India after completing a postgraduate course in finance from the London School of Economics, Chadha met Kejriwal and the AAP top brass during the Anna Hazare-led India Against Corruption movement in 2011.

Chadha is one of the founding members of AAP, which was born out of that movement in 2012.

He was part of the team that drafted the Delhi Jan Lokpal Bill, which provided for the setting up of an independent body to probe corruption cases.

Chadha handled AAP’s legal affairs when Kejriwal was engaged in a defamation battle in the court with then-Union finance minister Arun Jaitley in 2017. Kejriwal had accused Jaitley of corruption during his tenure as the head of Delhi and District Cricket Association.

Between 2012 and 2019, Chadha was part of AAP’s communication department and manifesto-drafting committees. He was elected from Delhi’s Rajendra Nagar assembly constituency in 2020 — a post he eventually vacated after becoming a Member of Parliament.

He never held a cabinet berth in Delhi but chaired several important committees of the Delhi assembly. Being close to Kejriwal, he often handled responsibilities in challenging times, including the overseeing of logistics of medical oxygen during the deadliest wave of the Covid pandemic in 2021.

Chadha was appointed the “joint in-charge” of AAP in Punjab in 2020 and was rewarded for the party’s thumping victory in the state in March 2022 with a Rajya Sabha nomination later that year.

Chadha based himself in Punjab after he was appointed adviser to the newly-elected government under Bhagwant Mann there. Chadha’s proximity to Kejriwal often triggered speculations that it was Kejriwal who was actually running the show in Punjab through Chadha, using Mann as a proxy. AAP has always dismissed such claims.

Until recently, Chadha was involved in the seat-sharing negotiations with the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc, which includes the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Left parties, AAP, among others.

The alliance held an event in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on March 31 as a show of strength ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and criticised the Narendra Modi government for the arrests of Kejriwal and former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren.

Chadha did not attend the event but posted about it on social media.

With Kejriwal’s arrest, AAP — which fielded candidates in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Assam for the ongoing Lok Sabha polls — has been forced to go for campaigning without its most popular face. The polls started on April 19 and shall conclude on June 1 — spread over seven phases. The results will be declared on June 4.

“He is also a master strategist. He is an expert in designing political campaigns, planning media outreach programmes, etc. He comes with experience. We needed him here [in India] at this point,” says a Punjab-based senior AAP leader.

The BJP has been questioning Chadha’s absence in India for a while. On March 18, Punjab BJP chief Sunil Jakhar said: “In this politically charged atmosphere, lots of reasons are being attributed to the intriguing absence of Raghav Chadha. The silence of Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann on this has only lent credence to such insinuations.”

Mann hit back and asked Jakhar to focus on his own party.

Around a week after Kejriwal’s arrest, the BJP’s Amit Malviya said: “MP Raghav Chadha is in London, apparently for an eye surgery [what happened to Delhi’s mohalla clinics and health model?], but has been in news for meeting people inimical to India’s interest.

Even AAP’s allies in the INDIA bloc are questioning Chadha’s absence. Nationalist Congress Party (Sharad Pawar) leader Jitendra Awhad on March 30 raised the matter through a social media post, which he later deleted.

Leaders in the Punjab unit of the Congress have raised similar queries.

An AAP legislator in Punjab seems to have taken things to another level. Amritsar (North) MLA Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh has alleged that two senior police officers, who are considered close to Chadha, are backing the drugs trade in the state. A video clip featuring Singh’s allegations surfaced recently.

While AAP has not responded to Singh’s charges, it seems to have embarrassed the party. Opposition leaders in Punjab have demanded a probe into the allegations.

Notably, Chadha too is under the ED’s scanner in the Delhi liquor policy case. But no specific charges have been pressed against him yet. In a supplementary chargesheet filed in the court last year, the central agency mentioned Chadha’s presence in a crucial meeting at Sisodia’s residence, which pertained to the drafting of the 2021 Delhi excise policy.

In a press conference on April 2, AAP leader Atishi had said that she, along with at least three other AAP leaders, including Chadha, were also likely to be arrested by central agencies — even though she dismissed the case as “bogus” and called it “politically motivated”.

Politically, Chadha’s absence comes amid fears about the BJP taking advantage of Kejriwal’s arrest to break AAP, in its attempt to take control of Delhi, where the party led by Kejriwal has been in power since 2015.

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