The cracks are showing

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It is past midnight and a lone autorickshaw speeds along Lutyens’ Delhi. The chatty driver says that he is a Muslim from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh. His vote was one of those that brought AAP to power in Delhi. “But, we have seen the way they left us stranded after making so many promises,” he says. “Why should we vote for AAP now? No charges were proved against Modi… he deserves a chance to run the country.”

When it comes to AAP, what is making news are slaps from disgruntled autowallahs and the sensationalism created by the fledgling party itself. Beyond the headlines, much to the dismay of a public that expected AAP to be a beacon of change, the party has failed the litmus test of organisational democracy that it had implicitly promised.

In India’s political history, fighting over tickets is nothing new. The Congress, BJP, SP, BSP, etc all have internal feuds but the party high command or supremo takes the final decision and others toe the line. But, it is a new phenomenon that AAP candidates who got the tickets are returning them and quitting the party.

AAP began as a party that asked for support or choices based on a referendum. When party chief Arvind Kejriwal wanted to contest against CM Sheila Dikshit in last December’s Delhi Assembly election, he asked the public. The resounding approval was followed up with a victory for Kejriwal by a sizeable margin.

Hardly a few months after winning 28 seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly in its maiden election, AAP has digressed into the very same system that other national parties follow, leaving the public disillusioned.

This has led to the exit of leaders such as Ashwini Upadhyay, who had been with Kejriwal since 2005, when the latter was still an activist. Upadhyay was also a member of AAP’s national council. Another top leader to quit was national executive member Ashok Agrawal. They allege that AAP’s decision-making process has undergone a sea change. The reasons they cite range from difference in ideology and unnecessary posturing. But they all agree that a select minority is controlling AAP.

Upadhyay, a Supreme Court lawyer, joined Kejriwal’s NGO in 2005. Over a period of time, they also became family friends. In fact, Upadhyay was one of the founding members of the party. Last year, Upadhyay claims he was handed some documents that raised questions about the funding of some AAP members. He confronted Kejriwal with the proof, but because the party was busy preparing for the Delhi polls, Upadhyay let the matter slide for the time being.

After the election when AAP formed the government, Upadhyay confronted Kejriwal again. “Once or twice, Arvind listened to me but, after that, he kept postponing the discussion,” says Upadhyay.

On 8 March, Upadhyay went to Kejriwal’s house with a prior appointment but a volunteer stopped him at the gate saying Kejriwal was busy. “I knew then that something was wrong because we are family friends and have worked together for years. Why would my access suddenly be restricted? Later, Kejriwal appeared and accused me of putting pressure on the party for a ticket. I asked him to show me evidence of me having asked for a Lok Sabha ticket, because I have not even applied for one,” says Upadhyay, who was in the eight-member screening panel for distribution of tickets across India.

This is where the trouble lay. Upadhyay knew that there were 11,600 applications from across the country. “In Delhi alone, there were 1,700 applications but none of these people got the tickets,” says Upadhyay. “Those seven candidates who are contesting on AAP tickets had not even applied. It was all an eyewash. Despite its claims to the contrary, AAP is no different from any other party. The seven were decided by a handful of the leaders even before applications were screened.”

This was not all. Upadhyay alleges he found out that Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav met two Congress leaders at a hotel in New Delhi last November. One of them is a Congress candidate in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls and the other is a senior party functionary considered to be in the inner circle of the Congress’ highest echelons. Eventually, Upadhyay went public with this disclosure and was expelled by AAP for “anti-party activities arising out of greed for a Lok Sabha ticket”.

But, the chief problem was the political posturing over the Jan Lokpal Bill after the government was formed. “Jan Lokpal was becoming what the Ayodhya temple issue has become for the BJP,” says Upadhyay. “Even Prashant Bhushan didn’t agree with the manner in which they went about it though he would not say it in the open. We knew it required a constitutional amendment but Kejriwal was not interested in listening at all.”

Ashok Agrawal is a lawyer and activist and used to be a member of the lawyers’ union of the CPM, which he joined during his college days in Aligarh. After getting an invite from AAP, he joined the party as a national executive member. “The CPM was almost defunct and I joined AAP because it looked like the party that could make a difference,” says Agrawal. “But, it only serves the political interests of a few leaders who now take all the decisions.”

Agrawal was angry over how tickets were distributed in Delhi but his main grouse was over the lack of delineated ideology in the party and the manner in which the party gave up on governing Delhi. “After the government was formed, even though I was in the national executive, I could not gain access to Kejriwal,” recalls Agrawal.

Afer AAP came to power, its senior leaders suddenly became inaccessible. Even the media was in a tizzy about how to gain access. Senior leader Yogendra Yadav, who gave soundbites over the phone until the election in between rallies, now had a recorded voice that forwarded calls to inept volunteers. Meanwhile, Kejriwal’s phone seemed wrapped in a muffler and locked away somewhere.

“To get through to them, one had to pass through several layers of people,” says Agrawal. “After talking to three persons, they would ask me to leave a text. Decisions were being taken without consulting us. Often we came to know from others that a particular decision had been taken. The party’s growing gap with the actual aam aadmi began then.”

When the question of ticket distribution for the Lok Sabha election began, AAP leader Sanjay Singh reportedly said in a meeting that there would be a due process. “But, Kejriwal said that there would be no process and they would decide who gets the tickets,” claims Agrawal.

In a recent interview with TEHELKA, the day after Agrawal quit AAP, Yadav had defended the mess of ticket distribution saying that Lok Sabha tickets were being distributed on the basis of several criteria, which was wider than in the case of the Assembly polls, taking into consideration popularity and the candidate’s face value.

Agrawal wanted to contest from Chandni Chowk, but AAP gave the ticket to journalist Ashutosh Gupta who quit his job with a news channel to join the party.

“I had no problem with someone else getting the ticket. But, I was in the national executive. They could have had the courtesy of informing me that they wouldn’t give it to me. That is all the courtesy that I expected,” says Agrawal, whose exit shows the diminishing of the socialist element in the party leadership.

In fact, none of AAP’s important decsions were discussed at the national executive meetings, alleges Agrawal. The decision to step down from the Delhi government was not decided by the party but by a handful of leaders.

“The same goes for all poll promises,” claims Agrawal. “In a closed-door meeting, Kejriwal said that in the case of power and water prices, he had only promised action based on an audit. Several leaders objected saying that posters had been pasted and pamphlets distributed about lowering water and electricity tariff. So there had never been any gameplan behind the promises and, finally, people feel cheated because nothing that was hyped was finally delivered and the party quit the government.”

According to Agrawal, AAP is now basically run by a few leaders who take all the decisions. These are Kejriwal, Yadav, Manish Sisodia and Prashant Bhushan.

Upadhyay has a different version. “In Delhi, Kejriwal calls the shots,” he says. “But there is an inside joke that in Madhya Pradesh, it is MAP or Manish Aadmi Party because Manish Sisodia takes all the decisions; in Uttar Pradesh, it is Sanjay Aadmi Party because Sanjay Singh runs the show there. Yadav takes all the decisions regarding Haryana and Punjab; Bhushan for Tamil Nadu, and in Maharashtra, it is Mayank Gandhi. Ticket distribution decisions for Bihar were taken by Amanullah Parveen, a former minister who quit the JD(U) to join AAP.

The Gujarat unit is headed by Dinesh Vaghela, who is considered close to Baba Ramdev. The Election Commission recently served a notice to Ramdev for using yoga to campaign for BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

Meanwhile, the induction of Ratilal Desai into AAP’s central campaign committee led to an exodus of party workers in Gujarat. Desai is an RSS man who was part of the kar seva team that led the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. It is not known for sure whether he participated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Recently, Kumar Vishwas, the party’s candidate from Amethi against Rahul Gandhi, made headlines for praising the RSS as a “disciplined organisation”. Prior to that, a rumour erupted from within the BJP that the right-wing party was going to poach a “senior AAP leader”.

The strangest case is that of former journalist Mukul Tripathi, who was contesting on an AAP ticket against Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid from Farrukhabad. Tripathi returned his ticket because he was unable to get AAP leaders to campaign for him. Tripathi reported had asked for Kejriwal and others to attend his rallies, but faced many hurdles. The last straw was when he was told that Kejriwal was not going to come unless he could guarantee a huge turnout at the rally.

Tripathi has alleged corruption in the party because out of about 15 lakh collected, only 4-5 lakh was spent. He also said that AAP had fudged figures of the number of supporters in the constituency, showing it as more than 5,000 while it did not have more than 2,000.

Though AAP had put up a candidate against Congress president Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli, Fakhruddin, a retired judge, pulled out because he was on the electoral rolls in Jabalpur and Jangpura in New Delhi, which could not be changed as per his statement to the media.

Another person to withdraw from the fray is Rajesh Kadam, the AAP candidate from Jalandhar, who cited family issues as his reason for giving up the ticket. An AAP leader went on record saying that Kadam was asked to turn it in because the local party workers were opposed to his candidature since he was from the Congress.

In Gujarat, AAP general secretary Sanjeev Shrivastav quit citing differences with the rest of the party while treasurer Nama Doshi also went on a long recusal.

In each case, where a member has parted ways with the party, it has followed the trend of any political outfit. The member or candidate quits citing some seemingly genuine reason while AAP claims it expelled the person from the party or enforced a disciplinary measure.

Upadhyay’s queries suggest that Ford Foundation could be backing AAP because, as per his claims, the US-based foundation has pumped in a lot of money. Agrawal says that he will not be surprised if a major corporation is backing the party against the BJP and Congress. Both agree that Kejriwal is not open to criticism.

TEHELKA tried to contact Kejriwal and Bhushan for their reaction but received no response. Nobody knows for sure who the real decision-makers are and rumour has it that Yadav is not part of the AAP inner circle any more.

ushinor@tehelka.com


13 Questions for Kejriwal

AAP founder-member Ashwini Upadhyay has some uncomfortable questions for the former Delhi CM 

Photo: Prabhjot  Gill
Photo: Pushkar Vyas

DJB Scam: You had proof of the Rs 400 crore Delhi Jal Board scam since 2005. Instead of lodging a complaint against the then chief minister Sheila Dikshit, why did you pass on the documents to Congress leaders, the late Ram Babu Sharma and Ashish Talwar?

Ramdas Family: Why are the family members of Kavita Ramdas (who heads Ford Foundation’s India chapter) such as Adm Laxmi Ramdas, Lalita Ramdas and Sagari Ramdas part of the AAP strategy committee?

Ford Foundation: Why have you never demanded a high-level probe into the direct and indirect beneficiaries of Ford Foundation’s funding?

Kabir: How did Manish Sisodia receive Rs 44 lakh in 2005 and Rs 32 lakh in 2006 from the Ford Foundation when his NGO Kabir was registered only in 2007?

Foreign Funding: How much money did Manish Sisodia, Yogendra Yadav, Meera Sanyal and Medha Patkar receive directly and indirectly from Ford Foundation, Gulf and other foreign countries?

Volunteers’ Salary: Who has been paying the salary of the 500- 600 full-time volunteers at Rs 20,000-25,000 per month since October 2013?

Votebank Politics: Ashutosh becomes Gupta in Vaishya-majority Chadni Chowk; Yogendra becomes Yaduvanshi and Yadav in Hindu-majority Ahirwal and becomes Salim in Muslim-majority Mewat. Isn’t this a classic case of playing caste and communal politics?

Robert Vadra: IAS officer Ashok Khemka cancelled Robert Vadra’s land deal in Haryana and was shunted out for his efforts. Fellow officer Yuddhbir Singh gave a clean chit to Vadra and you gave him a Lok Sabha ticket. So, who is honest? Khemka or Singh?

Aman Deal: Is it true that you met Congress leaders in secret at Vadra’s Hotel Aman, where it was decided that AAP will contest 350+ Lok Sabha seats to divide the anti-corruption and anti-Congress votes?

Santosh Koli: During the Delhi Assembly polls campaign, you claimed that AAP leader Santosh Koli was murdered by the Congress and the BJP mafia. So, why didn’t you demand for or recommend a high-level probe?

NAC: Isn’t it true that you were lobbying for an NAC membership with the help of Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh, the late Ram Babu Sharma and Ashish Talwar in 2005?

Ashish Talwar: Why was former Congressman Ashish Talwar made the head of AAP’s Delhi state unit without appropriate consultation within the party?

Yogendra Yadav: Why does Yadav still meet Rahul Gandhi in secret? Why did you announce Yadav as the Haryana chief minister candidate without consulting the party?

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