ONE OF the senior-most members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), despite being just 31 years of age, Durgesh Pathak on Monday became its latest leader to come under the cloud of a probe by Central investigation agencies.
Pathak appeared before the Enforcement Directorate for questioning, with AAP claiming this was in connection with the alleged liquor policy scam. Pathak is not named in the CBI FIR in the case, which includes among others Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia as accused.
Associated with Arvind Kejriwal since the India Against Corruption movement, Pathak has fronted many battles for AAP, mostly away from the limelight. He was the party’s co-convener in Delhi during the 2015 Assembly elections and co-in-charge for Punjab ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls. He is also a member of AAP’s highest decision-making body, the Political Affairs Committee.
While many believe the party has entrusted him with responsibilities way beyond his age and experience, AAP leaders say Pathak has rarely made them regret their faith in him as the youth face of the party. They cite his win in the high-stakes Rajinder Nagar Assembly seat bypoll in May, where he defeated the BJP’s Rajesh Bhatia by over 11,000 votes.
The Rajinder Nagar bypoll was necessitated because of sitting MLA Raghav Chadha moving to Parliament as a Rajya Sabha member from Punjab. With the seat largely comprising Punjabi refugees rehabilitated from Pakistan after Partition, fellow Punjabi Bhatia was thought to have an edge.
Originally from Gorakhpur, Pathak is thought to have got the Purvanchali vote, with a rising population of the community in Rajinder Nagar.
It was Pathak’s second foray into electoral politics. In the 2020 Assembly elections, he had contested from Karawal Nagar seat but lost to the BJP’s Mohan Singh Bisht, who had represented it in the 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2013 elections.
A Master’s in English from Allahabad University, Pathak first moved to Delhi in 2010 to prepare for the civil services exam, but found himself drawn to the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare, which later led to the formation of AAP.
His rise was swift, with Pathak picked to manage the campaign for AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal in the 2013 Assembly elections. Kejriwal pulled off a stunning upset, defeating Sheila Dikshit, and ending her 15-year reign of Delhi.
With the AAP government falling within 49 days, the Capital went into another election, and this time Pathak was promoted to the position of Delhi co-convener. In the 2015 polls, AAP won an astounding 67 of 70 seats.
Pathak was then given the charge of Punjab along with Sanjay Singh for the 2017 Assembly polls, with AAP marking its debut in the state.
“When he and Sanjay Singh went to Punjab, there was no cohesive organisation to speak of. It was a collection of people who were at loggerheads with each other. To begin with, Durgesh focused on putting that in order. While we didn’t win that election, the roots of the organisation were strengthened,” said a senior leader who did not want to be named. AAP emerged as the main Opposition party in 2017.
Soon after, Pathak was given the responsibility of managing the party’s campaign for the now-delayed MCD polls. As AAP attempts to make inroads into more states, Pathak, as the party in-charge of Himachal Pradesh, which heads into polls later this year, is expected to play a key role.