The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) this week disappointed its volunteers and supporters by acting as petty and as thuggish as other Indian parties. Its leadership under Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal pushed out two of the party’s most respected members from an influential party body. The two men, scholar Yogendra Yadav and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, had offended Kejriwal when, in the most polite and respectful terms, they asked the party to observe the principle of devolution of power. Currently, Kejriwal is Delhi’s chief minister and the party’s national head (something which even Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not and something Sonia Gandhi never was). This violated the party’s one-man one-post principle, according to the two, and this is of course irrefutable.
The media got a whiff of the controversy, though apparently in some form or the other the issue had been bubbling away for some time, and there was pressure on the party to do something. On March 2, Kejriwal tweeted twice to address the problem. He wrote: “I am deeply hurt and pained by what is going on in the party. This is betrayal of trust that Delhi posed in us. I refuse to be drawn into this ugly battle. Will concentrate only on Delhi’s governance. Janta ke bharose ko kisi bhi halat mein tootne nahin doonga. (I will not let the people’s trust be broken).”
This conflation of ‘us’ and ‘I’ was typical. Who had betrayed this trust? According to Kejriwal, those demanding, politely and gently I repeat, that the AAP not become a tyranny. All through this time, while claiming he would not be drawn into the matter, Kejriwal left it to his boys to attack Yadav and Bhushan. These included the former journalists Ashutosh (famous for weeping on television over one story) and Ashish Khetan, who was so carried away by his master’s brief that he had to later apologise for his language on Twitter.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going and Kejriwal got going, running away on a 10-day break. He was asked to remain for the meeting to decide this matter of ‘indiscipline’ but chose to let his lieutenants deal with Yadav and Bhushan. A report said Kejriwal was putting himself above the fray but that is untrue as events were to show. A blog post by one of the AAP members who was moved by the injustice to Yadav and Bhushan then revealed what happened at the meeting. Kejriwal’s Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia, heard a proposal from the condemned men that the policy body be reconstituted without the two men (and expanded to include others). The other option was that the body remain in the same form but the two men would switch themselves off and be inactive. Both seem reasonable compromises.
However, the meeting took a break in which reports said Kejriwal was consulted on the phone. A vote was taken and the two men were dismissed by a narrow vote. The Kejriwal camp assumed, in the Indian style, that this was the piling on of humiliation. They were wrong. The two men behaved in the most dignified manner and refused to take their complaint to the media. This swung all sympathy towards them, but the real problem for Kejriwal lay elsewhere. The ugliness and bitterness has damaged the party’s most priceless asset — its base of volunteers that separates it from other political groups. These volunteers are from the middle class and not insensitive to the sort of thing that they were witnessing. They were anguished and let their emotions be known, Twitter and Facebook being particularly good for this sort of thing.
When the Kejriwal group realised their mistake, they finally shut up. Ashutosh and Khetan stopped the kind of aggressive tweeting they had been indulging in, under instruction from Kejriwal no doubt. The chief minister has remained silent as well, but he will be forced to eat his words and address the issue when he returns. That he should have been threatened by Yadav, one of the party’s most eloquent (in my opinion also its most knowledgeable) leaders, shows a troubling side to Kejriwal. The incident also demonstrates that a totally opportunistic person like my friend Shazia Ilmi was right. She said, on leaving the AAP and joining the BJP, that it was dictatorial in many ways. We laughed at her then, but who can say today she was wrong?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2015.