Delhi gets 2 news ministers: Saurabh Bharadwaj and Atishi have acid tests ahead

Two well-known, articulate MLAs in their early forties of the Aam Aadmi Party, Atishi and Saurabh Bharadwaj, have been sworn into the Arvind Kejriwal cabinet as ministers, two days after the President of India accepted the resignations of former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and former minister Satyendar Jain. Atishi and Saurabh Bharadwaj took their oaths in the presence of lieutenant governor VK Saxena, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and other cabinet ministers. Atishi has been given education, public works department (PWD), women and child development, art, culture and language, power, and tourism, while Saurabh Bharadwaj has been entrusted with health, urban development, water, irrigation and flood control, vigilance, services, and industries. The portfolios of health and education had been given to minister Raaj Kumar Anand in the interim period. Kailash Gahlot keeps finance and home with him and it will be Gahlot who will present the budget, likely on March 21.

Speaking to the media after taking oath, Bharadwaj said, “In post-independence India, in the past 75 years, the work done by Satyendar Jain in the field of health, and Manish Sisodia in the field of education has no parallels. However, the central government has hatched a conspiracy and put these two behind bars. The circumstances under which we have assumed responsibilities are far from good. When Lord Ram was exiled for 14 years, his brother Bharat took charge on his behalf. Similarly, Atishi and I will fulfil the responsibilities of Manish ji and Satyendar Jain ji with prayers that they may be freed soon to take charge of their responsibilities.” The other newly appointed minister, Atishi, also echoed similar sentiments.

The two have been trusted by AAP supremo and Delhi CM Kejriwal to not only carry on the “legacy” of Manish Sisodia and Satyendar Jain in the areas of education and health but put in a more stellar performance. The challenge for the two could not have been bigger given that they are joining at a time when the AAP government has been rocked by allegations of corruption and two former ministers, believed to be pillars of the Kejriwal government and torchbearers of its reforms in health and education, are now behind bars.

Atishi fills the huge absence of a woman minister in the Kejriwal cabinet. “They have jailed our leaders Manish Sisodia ji and Satyendar Jain ji in false cases, since it is important that the work of Delhiites does not suffer until Manish Sisodia ji and Satyendar Jain ji are free from these false cases and come out of jail, Saurabh Bharadwaj ji and I will fulfil the responsibility given by Arvind Kejriwal ji,” said Atishi after taking oath. She reiterated that when Jain and Sisodia come out of jail, they will assume their old responsibilities again.

First-time MLA from Kalkaji, Atishi has been formally a part of the Kejriwal government in her capacity as advisor to former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia when AAP won 67 of the Delhi assembly’s 70 seats in 2015. However, following objections by the union home ministry, Atishi resigned from her position. In 2019, she was given a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha elections from east Delhi, which was won by BJP’s Gautam Gambhir, while Atishi stood in third place behind Congress’s Arvinder Singh Lovely. Perceived to be close to Sisodia, Atishi has been part of his well-publicised interventions in Delhi’s government schools. Atishi is the only woman in the Kejriwal cabinet now, and only the second after Rakhi Bidlan, the Dalit MLA from Mangolpuri who was part of Kejriwal’s 49-day government in 2013. The 2015 Kejriwal government did not have any women in a ministerial capacity. Atishi comes with impressive academic credentials: a graduate in history from the prestigious St Stephen’s College in Delhi, and Double Masters from Oxford University in London in history and education.

“The central government will try every method in order to stop our work. The last time we won a mandate for the second time as we continued to work despite the hurdles created by them. People understand whenever any government plays an obstructionist role. If we can perform well in these adverse circumstances, people will bless us,” said the newly appointed minister Saurabh Bharadwaj when asked about his biggest challenge.

Bharadwaj, who held the transport, environment, general administration department (GAD) portfolios among others, in the 49-day Kejriwal government in 2013, returns as a minister after a gap of nearly nine years. In the 2015 Kejriwal cabinet, he did not find a place, with the portfolios held by him distributed between Kailash Gahlot and Imran Hussain and he missed the bus again in 2020 when AAP returned to power, winning 62 out of the 70 seats. However, the witty, soft-spoken software engineer continued to be in the news due to his role as the party’s national spokesperson. It was only in March 2022 that the three-time MLA from Greater Kailash was made the vice chairman of the Delhi Jal Board following the resignation of Raghav Chadha when the latter was nominated as an MP from Punjab. Now that he has been made a minister, Bharadwaj likely will resign as vice chairman of DJB.

“Three significant portfolios considered to be the flagship portfolios of the Kejriwal government, health and education, and now cleaning up the Yamuna and getting water to all households, would be our priorities. We will see that the work which had slowed down in the past few days due to the assaults from the central government picks up speed again,” Bharadwaj said when asked about his priorities. “We can only request the L-G to allow us to work, whatever happens, will be in front of you,” he replied when asked about the role of the Delhi lieutenant governor in allowing the government to work.

This Holi, when AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal offered prayers at Rajghat, the visuals eloquently spoke of the conspicuous absence of former deputy, Manish Sisodia, by his side. As widely expected, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has not appointed anyone as deputy CM of Delhi. Perhaps, neither Atishi nor Saurabh can be yet to Kejriwal what Sisodia was to him and the government.

AAP is eyeing the election-bound states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Karnataka, and party supremo Kejriwal, along with Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann, is already scheduled to travel to Jaipur, Rajasthan on March 13 and Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh on March 14. In February, the Delhi CM toured Maharashtra and Karnataka. With the chief minister also keen on AAP’s expansion plan, his government in Delhi must perform to its optimal capacity.

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