The AAP purge

Published: March 10, 2015 - 16:45 Updated: March 17, 2015 - 18:38

Party convener Arvind Kejriwal’s ouster of left-leaning Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav shows he wants the party to be populist, not ideological

Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

It did not really take time for the cracks to show up in the Aam Aadmi Party after it resoundingly won the Delhi state elections. It took precisely a fortnight!

Barely had the new government settled in, chatter of serious differences between AAP CM Arvind Kejriwal and two other prominent faces of the party—lawyer Prashant Bhushan and academic Yogendra Yadav—began to appear in the media. What had gone wrong with a party that had stopped the rampaging and resurgent BJP in Delhi and roused such high expectations from the people with its promise of ushering in alternative politics?

AAP is a work in progress. With its phenomenal grassroots network it may have lodged a fantastic win in the Delhi polls, but there was little clarity on how it should position itself ideologically and what kind of management structure it should have. Hints are being dropped by Kejriwal’s supporters that he was being threatened with an expose by Supreme Court lawyer Shanti Bhushan, one of the party promoters and Prashant’s father, if he did not give up his supremo status to Yadav. The threat was apparently made in a letter that Bhushan sent Kejriwal last year. The matter may have got buried in the short term during the run-up to the Assembly elections, but resurfaced after AAP came to power. Both Yadav and Prashant were adamant that the party should not promote a personality cult and therefore Kejriwal should give up the post of convener of the party after becoming CM.

Worse, they also tried to occupy the high moral ground—suggesting that the party lacked a system to prevent electoral funds coming in from dubious sources. They were referring to the controversy over four cheques of `50 lakh each that were given to AAP last year, which attracted a fusillade of allegations from the BJP and the Congress who took pot-shots at the fledgling party’s claim of practising clean, accountable politics. Media investigations had then revealed that the cheques had come to the party from dodgy companies whose owners were unknown. In their interaction with the media, both Yadav and Prashant displayed unease over the infusion of such funds, making many wonder whether they knew more than had been put out by the party in the
public domain.

Moreover, insiders say there were differences on the distribution of tickets during the Assembly elections and the other camp thought that Kejriwal’s camp didn’t heed their demands for transparent distribution. Earlier, even during the Lok Sabha elections, there was a barrage of complaints to senior leaders about one of Kejriwal’s close lieutenants in UP. Many claimed he was asking for money from prospective candidates. “We were not able to find any concrete evidence against him. But there was considerable evidence against his aides,” a senior leader told Hardnews.   

There was so much bad blood in the party over these issues that Kejriwal became insistent that Prashant and Yadav should be eased out of the political affairs committee at any cost. Expectedly, the 20-member national executive voted them out by a close margin (11-8). Interestingly, in the media, the attack on the duo came initially from former journalist Ashish Khetan, who was inducted into the party by Prashant. Evidently, even their supporters know where the power centre lies. “He has become power-hungry,” a source close to Prashant told Hardnews. Khetan was recently appointed Vice-Chairman of the Delhi Dialogues Commission.   

Obviously, almost half the members disagreed with the ouster of Prashant and Yadav as they felt it would hurt the image of the party. In fact, during the run-up to the national executive meeting, Twitter was trending with #unitedAAP as party workers pleaded for the top leadership to stick together. Outside the venue of the meeting, which was not attended by Kejriwal due to ‘health reasons’, hundreds of ordinary party workers were present with placards urging unity in the organisation.

While it is evident that Kejriwal was deeply uncomfortable with Prashant and Yadav for, first, making him look sullied as the recipient of dodgy funds and, second, as intellectually inferior, there is more to it.

Signs of the direction the party was headed for were amply visible when Kejriwal took oath at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. In his speech, he promised he would stay in Delhi and would not try to be politically ambitious by going across to other states. In some ways, he drew the red line for AAP for the next five years. Kejriwal also pointed out that misplaced ego had made them contest the parliamentary elections as they had mistakenly believed themselves to be politically stronger than they were. AAP candidates lost their deposits in 490-odd parliamentary constituencies. The debacle, we learned later, is believed to have broken Kejriwal.

Much of the blame for this wrong tactical move has been laid at the doorstep of Yadav, whose day job was as a pollster. He is believed to have claimed that there was about 22 percent support in Haryana and it could translate to a decent number of seats. When the results came out, Yadav himself came a poor third and the AAP vote in the state was found to be barely 4 percent. Later, Yadav wanted the party to contest the Assembly elections in Haryana, his home state, but the AAP leadership refused. The counter argument presented by Yadav supporters was that the party suffered due to Kejriwal’s decision to resign as CM of Delhi. The BJP had used this issue to demolish Kejriwal and AAP as untrustworthy.

What has remained unsaid is that the major support to India Against Corruption—the precursor of AAP - came from the Sangh Parivar and its front organisations. Then, the purpose was to demolish the Congress on the issue of corruption. In the Delhi elections of 2013, the Congress was devastated by the manner in which its support base comprising minorities and the poor swung to AAP. At that time, AAP used to seek votes for itself for the Delhi Assembly and for Narendra Modi for the national government. No contradiction was perceived. Even the AAP website did not conceal their manifest comfort in working alongside Modi as PM.

Expectedly, in the parliamentary elections of 2014, the vote for change—driven and shepherded by the RSS—went to Modi and what a win it turned out to be! The role of AAP in de-legitimising the Congress and even destroying it electorally in Delhi and other places cannot be underscored.

In the 2014 elections, AAP was a beneficiary of the collapse of the Congress and hence a welcome alternative for all those becoming uncomfortable with the way many Hindu outfits were interpreting the imminent coming to power of the BJP. Burning of churches, communal riots in Delhi and re-conversions of Christians were making the liberal section in Delhi that had voted for the BJP to oust the Congress decidedly uncomfortable. AAP won 67 of 70 seats, decimating both the BJP and the Congress.

Now, Kejriwal wants to mould the party according to his vision as a non-ideological organisation that focuses on urban governance issues. He does not want to be weighed down by concerns of secularism and the like as he does not want to antagonise the majority community; instead, he wants to concentrate on bread and butter issues. His attempts to purge leftists is a bid to put together a post-ideological party that believes it can find solutions to the people’s problems by providing quality governance.

It is unlikely if such an approach can succeed with the fault lines that exist in our society. It is difficult to believe that those whose politics revolves around ratcheting up religious and cultural issues like Praveen Togadia and Azam Khan, for instance, will bother about Kejriwal’s vision of society. Be that as it may, AAP is going through a major churning and coming days will make it clear whether Kejriwal can run the government and the party with the relatively mediocre team he has put together.


Click to read : AAP cracking up!

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This story is from print issue of HardNews