The real Kejriwal

The Aam Aadmi Party is shorn of its tag of being a party with a difference because of the undemocratic tendencies that have developed in it.

Published : Apr 15, 2015 12:30 IST

A supporter carries cut-outs of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during a ceremony to launch an anti-corruption helpline in New Delhi,  on April 5.

A supporter carries cut-outs of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during a ceremony to launch an anti-corruption helpline in New Delhi, on April 5.

THE murky goings-on in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which began to surface in the second half of February and led to the ouster of two of its founding members, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, from the apex decision-making body, the Political Affairs Committee, on March 4 hit a high at a chaotic meeting of the party’s National Council on March 28. The National Council, to which Arvind Kejriwal had handed over the task of choosing between himself and the Bhushan-Yadav duo, expelled the latter from the National Executive of the party. Two other members of the executive, Prof. Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha, who had been trying to bring about a rapprochement between the warring factions, were also expelled. All those who even remotely appeared sympathetic to the Bhushan-Yadav duo were shown the door. This included the party’s Lokpal, Admiral (Retd) Ramdas, who had made public his displeasure at being prevented from attending the National Council meeting, and Rakesh Sinha, a National Executive member, who protested against the treatment meted out to the Lokpal.

Having ousted all dissenting voices from important party forums, that too without giving them an opportunity to put forth their point of view, Kejriwal has now become the undisputed party high command. Although he believes “all is well in the party”, the “high command and party supremo” culture prevailing in the party now has shorn it of its sheen and the tag of being a party with a difference.

Caught in the messy affair are the people of Delhi, who had only a few weeks ago catapulted the AAP to power, giving it one of the highest electoral victories in the country. The government put itself on a collision course with the municipal corporations in Delhi, resulting in over 35,000 safai karmacharis striking work to protest against the non-payment of salaries. They chose a novel way to protest: unloading truckloads of garbage in the middle of the road. Between March 28 and April 4, Delhi’s roads turned into garbage dumping grounds even as Kejriwal insisted that the State government would not pay the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled corporations which were dens of corruption and that if the safai karmacharis were not paid their salaries, it was not his fault.

However, by April 4, good sense prevailed, and following a partial understanding between the corporations and the Delhi government, the safai karmacharis called off their strike. While Delhi roads may get cleared of the garbage in due course, the question is whether the AAP will be able to shake off the muck that has got stuck to it.

End of an idea?

Political observers wonder whether the infighting in the party is the beginning of the end of an idea that was loftily named Aam Aadmi Party. Here was a party which claimed to be free of the high command culture, the supremo syndrome, and the boss-is-always-right attitude, which have been characteristic of political parties in India.

But in the first flush of success, the AAP shed all pretence of being different and went about muzzling voices of dissent which raised questions about the compromises made for its electoral success. There were signs of some attempts at rapprochement as members of Kejriwal’s coterie, Ashutosh, Ashish Khetan and Sanjay Singh, who had earlier led the attack against Yadav and Bhushan, were seen confabulating with them.

Even as track II diplomacy was on, two audio tapes were out in the public domain. In one of them, Kejriwal, after the party’s fiasco in the Lok Sabha elections, was heard discussing with an AAP legislator, Rajesh Garg, how he should try and break the Congress legislative party and gain support from a faction for the AAP, enabling it to form the government in Delhi. In another, he was heard using abusive language against Bhushan and Yadav. From then on, it was only downhill as the duo was accused of making the tapes public.

‘Murder of democracy’

The party’s National Council meeting on March 28 turned into a farce, with many genuine members not being allowed inside, dissenting voices being shouted down in the meeting, and a resolution being passed to oust Bhushan and Yadav from the National Executive and all other party posts. The resolution was put to vote after Kejriwal delivered a story of treachery and betrayal by the duo. Bhushan and Yadav were not allowed to speak. All this while, Kejriwal supporters lined up on the road outside the venue shouting, “ Gaddaron ko bahar karo ” (throw out the betrayers). Both Bhushan and Yadav described the entire exercise as a farce and as “murder of democracy”.

Significantly, the party, which in February 2014 quit the government citing the non-passage of the Lokpal Bill as an excuse, asked its own Lokpal, Admiral (Retd) Ramdas, not to attend the meeting “in order to avoid confrontation”. When he protested against this in a letter to Kejriwal, he was sacked. The official reason cited was that “his term was officially over”.

Rakesh Sinha, a National Executive member who protested against the treatment meted out to the Lokpal, was also shown the door. The only woman member of the National Executive, Christina Samy, who objected to the manner in which the entire episode was handled, resigned from the party.

Even those who were not active participants in the tug of war but were “perceived” to be close to the Bhushan-Yadav duo were not spared: Atishi Marlena, party spokesperson, was removed from her post without being given any reason.

After the latest events, which Bhushan described as a “Stalinist purge”, many have been left wondering about the future of the AAP. “This is essentially a clash of two visions of the party: the long-term vision of the party, as advocated by Bhushan and Yadav, and the short-term compulsions of delivery, as practised by Kejriwal. But any party can be a success in the long run only when it keeps a balance between the two; otherwise it may not last for long,” said EAS Sarma, a party sympathiser. Sarma, a former bureaucrat, who was involved with developing the idea of swaraj in the AAP, said he was disappointed and would like to wait and watch which way the party went.

But no matter how much Kejriwal would want one to believe that “all is well within the party”, a lot will now depend on the course of action followed by the Bhushan-Yadav duo who have given no signs of backing out.

Both of them, speaking independently to Frontline , made it clear that they would like to hold consultations with AAP volunteers from across the country to decide their future course of action (see interviews). While in Delhi, Prof. Anand Kumar is already busy holding consultations, in Punjab, Dharamveer Gandhi, the party’s Lok Sabha member from Patiala, is holding deliberations with volunteers. Similar deliberations are to be held in Chandigarh on April 7, to be followed by one in Gurgaon on April 14.

Talking to Frontline, Yogendra Yadav said in view of the bitter experiences so far, they would like to “wait and watch” before taking any decision. “There will be no rushing into another political party,” he said. Both he and Bhushan, however, said their initiative to continue working for “ vyavastha parivartan [systemic changes] without adopting unethical means” would continue.

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