Hail Mr Authoritarian

Illustration: Dwijith CV
Illustration: Dwijith CV

Noted historian Ramachandra Guha has a pithy way of describing the latest turn in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). He says that instead of moving anywhere regarding an alternative form of governance based on cooperation and consensus, the upstart party has steadily slid into a pattern of “sole proprietorship”. Rather than utilise the intellectual core of the movement to carry it forward, Arvind Kejriwal has been undone by a peculiar death-wish that has resulted in several instant casualties within the peer group. The AAP convenor and Delhi chief minister’s unquenchable thirst for total hegemony threatens to rip apart the entire edifice of the party.

“What the AAP saw as manifestations of the rot in the political system — lack of accountability, probity and transparency as also endemic corruption — now seems to have become part of its own self,” says a senior leader who feels distinctly uncomfortable with the way things are turning out to be in the once promising alternative for those not enamoured with either the saffron brigade or the Congress.

“The nature of the issues that have been thrown up by the latest free-for-all is unlikely to go away even when Kejriwal may be enjoying a brute majority,” says one of the latest discards, Rajesh Garg. He adds that if Kejriwal continues to “compromise on the basics, he will face the music sooner than he reckons.” As has been apparent for the past three weeks at any rate, a series of exposés has shown that AAP suffers from the same ills that it claims bedevil the other parties. From horse-trading to giving party tickets to persons of dubious background, the party has been hell-bent on making a spectacle of itself.

Writing in a mainline daily, former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi unambiguously states that what AAP needs are conscience-keepers, not gatekeepers. Similar views were echoed by activist Medha Patkar in her statement to a wire agency, where she said that “the scenario in many states, exhibiting inconsistency with decisions at the centre, [which] also seemed to be creating lack of certainty as well as confusion among the cadres and decision-makers, time and again, was also a result of lack of communication.”

The unfolding crisis has dismayed many AAP supporters. “I voted for AAP and development. But I find the emerging culture within the party of ousting voices of decency and fair play unacceptable. I fear that they too may end up being like the other political parties,” says Vijay Kumar, who is preparing for his banking exams. “If that happens, it will have a cascading affect across the country and will certainly upset the possibilities of any other political revolution in the future.” Vijay is one of the thousands of young voters who not only voted for the party in the Delhi Assembly elections but also campaigned for it in all possible ways. This lot of voters-cum-volunteer base of AAP feels cheated amid the ongoing period of mudslinging. Keeping them aloof from any major decisions taken by the party has aroused a mixed feeling of frustration and helplessness.

When AAP swept the Delhi election, it also swept several debatable issues under carpet. As Yogendra Yadav has been constantly saying in recent days, “ultimately the truth prevails” and such vexed issues too have come to the fore again. Kejriwal’s 49-day stint with governance was followed by a trail for power. AAP has already accepted that it had tried to form the government in the state with ‘political realignment’ post the 2014 General Election despite its petition for conducting election in the state in the Delhi High Court.

This was not the first instance when Kejriwal has behaved like a power-hungry Machiavelli, an insider said. He has been engaging in brinkmanship by insisting on the ‘either me or them’ paradigm. Even his address during the national executive meeting where he said, “We are here for victory, not defeat,” showed his readiness to compromise with anything and everything that can get him close to power.

“Kejriwal has two faces, one that he shows to the voters and the other that is hidden. In practice, he is shrewd and calculative. He wants to cling on to power by hook or by crook. His 49-day government was a saga of tanashahi (dictatorship). His power play within the party, removing the internal ombudsman and not allowing him to attend the (national council) meeting and handpicking party office bearers for crucial meetings in a manner that suits his ambitions clearly reveals his thirst to remain in power,” Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay tells Tehelka.

The AAP rule book has undergone a virtual transformation with Kejriwal’s approach towards power, which has ensued that the ends have become more important than the means. “This political struggle is like the Mahabharat. We might deviate and try other means, but our ultimate goal is swaraj,” says an AAP MLA. Yadav, whom insiders now see as a ‘foe’, had always maintained the line that the party shall not compromise on the manner in which it sought to achieve its ends.

AAP initially boasted of being a model party in terms of communication between the leaders and the volunteers. But, now, that seems to have broken down, with the volunteers feeling that the gap between them and the leaders has widened. Forget about hearing suggestions and addressing grievances, now the party even lacks a national platform where its volunteers can voice their concerns.

However, in the words of another AAP MLA, who was once also a volunteer, “The party has grown larger, so it is not possible for Arvind to meet and talk to the volunteers the way he could earlier. But there is a new, more decentralised system in place now. The Delhi-based volunteers can raise their concerns through their respective MLAs.” When asked about the situation in other parts of the country, she expressed her inability to comment on it. Unfortunately, volunteers outside Delhi have to bear the brunt for the mistakes of the top party leadership based in the national capital.

Though AVAM (AAP Volunteers’ Action Manch) has been discredited by the AAP due to its alleged connection with the BJP, it certainly reflects the ferment within the party. Disaffection within the volunteers has come to the fore in Maharashtra in a big way.

“No individual is bigger than the party. Even Indira Gandhi had to realise that to her dismay,” recalled Prashant Bhushan in his interaction with the media. The question that is uppermost on most minds is whether Kejriwal has the capacity to internalise the basic lessons in consensus-building and democratic functioning. The dominant feeling is that a veil of secrecy coupled with apparent vendetta will take the upstart nowhere.

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