AAP needs to be wary of promoting a personality cult: Bhushan

Prashant Bhushan; Senior AAP leader, lawyer and activist, in conversation with Hardnews
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

All is not well with the Aam Admi Party. First we heard murmurs of dissent over the distribution of tickets before the elections. Later, serious questions were raised about the leadership style of Delhi Chief Minister and AAP Supremo, Arvind Kejriwal. Since then corroboration of the growing cracks in the fledgling party are coming in fast and thick. In the National Executive meet there was no holds barred criticism of the organizational infirmities that have crept in the last few months. Kejriwal and his Deputy, Manish Sisodia, though, decided to skip the meet. Disturbed by the stasis, party Lokpal Admiral Ramdas wrote a letter urging leaders to resolve their differences. Hardnews caught up with lawyer, activist and AAP leader, Prashant Bhushan to ascertain what is going wrong with the party. Bhushan, who has kept himself away from public view, did not pull punches when he spoke to this reporter about the lack of accountability in the party, growing personality cult and the need for de-centralising power to the state units. Excerpts from an interview to be published in the March issue of Hardnews. 

How do you look at AAP’s spectacular victory?

I think this has not just been spectacular, but it has provided much needed oxygen to a lot of movements, NGOs and other political parties due to BJP onslaught against NGOs, movements, activists etc. But there is a flipside to it too! Because of the brute majority, there is a danger of party MLAs becoming more arrogant and the government becoming unaccountable. That has to be guarded against. We have to put in place robust systems of transparency, of accountability, of taking action against misconduct, misbehavior etc., by any of our MLAs or functionaries. Coming back to the landslide victory, it was a result of many factors. One was the growing resentment against the BJP in general because of the communal politics, anti-people policies, rolling back of land acquisition bill, rolling back the Forest Rights Act, MGNREGS, environmental regulations et al. Apart from that there was also resentment among the Delhi BJP rank and file against the capture of their party by outsiders like Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Similarly, Kiran Bedi was disliked for the same reason. Then there was massive hope and expectation from the AAP, because a lot of people believe that this is a different kind of party: it’s a pro-poor, pro-people, honest and transparent. And that is why the challenge is all the more greater to keep true to those principles and ideals on which the party was formed. This is what the people expect from us.

Do you feel that there could have been a better way of addressing incidents like liquor being found on a candidate or even the other incident where over Rs 2 crore came to the party fund through an unnamed source…

Yes, that shows that the party’s systems for accepting donations etc., are not robust enough and that we didn’t adhere to our own principles of transparency. Therefore, we clearly need to tighten our systems because these kinds of things should not slip through. This was clearly a lapse. Secondly, that incident about liquor etc., I think we need to be more pro-active ourselves and not wait and work on the principle of plausible deniability when one of our candidates gets caught. We can't adopt the same standards as other political parties who keep saying that look he has not been proved guilty in a court of law. We should have pro-actively investigated ourselves and as soon as we find that he/she is guilty of any wrongdoing then we should immediately take action. If we don’t do that then we will become like any other political party.

 

Even when it came to candidate selection, there were many issues. Another complaint was that there is no difference between the candidates of AAP and other parties for many of them came from the same kind of background, money and influence. Don’t you think that there could have been a better mechanism for it.

There were problems in the selection of candidates which is why we had to remove two of our candidates. One candidate fled within four hours of being selected. We didn’t adhere to the principles of transparency which we had announced for candidate selection this time. We need to set right these systems of transparency of accountability, systems of inner-party democracy, system of listening to the voice of the volunteers. We need to have a proper system of having transparent voting on certain things amongst the volunteers or members of the party. We have not been able to put out a list of members or list of volunteers anywhere. There is certainly a need for lot of reforms within the party’s systems which is what we have to do if we are to remain a different kind of party which is true to it’s original principles of transparency, Swaraj etc.

Is there any solid roadmap for these reforms which has been drafted in the national executive meeting or before that?

We have presented some in the national executive meeting which unfortunately could not be discussed for it was only a one day meeting. There was a marginal discussion on those suggestions.

 

Another criticism which we hear is that AAP has become a one man show led by Arvind Kejriwal…

Unfortunately, that is a growing impression about the party which we need to deal with. Unfortunately, in politics we have been witnessing too many parties falling prey to this personality cult and becoming dominated by one person. Clearly, this is not the kind of party which the majority of people had set out to make. So we need to really guard against this and put in place robust systems to ensure that there is proper democratic functioning of the party. We need to reform the National Executive, the Political Affairs Committee, we need to adhere to systems and processes most of which are enshrined in our constitution also.

Going back to CM’s inauguration speech from the Ramlila ground, he seemed to have made a snide remark directed against his own party members where he said that some members of the party have become arrogant after our last success and started saying that we contest from all over the country and then we had to pay a price for it… How do you look at that remark?

I think he was generally talking of arrogance within the party. Perhaps, it may have been a reference to him also. He said was we should not contest elections in any other state in the next five years, he gave that kind of indication. Now, in a party which believes in Swaraj and decentralization of power, the decision to whether contest eight elections, at least local elections within states should be left to the state unit. Everything cannot be decided centrally and that too by a small group of people sitting at the centre because the real stakeholders for that are the state units. They should be able to decide these things.

Do you see any reforms happening anytime soon in the party?

At least I am trying to do whatever is possible to ensure that those reforms are made within the party.    

 

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