For the Aam Admi Party (AAP) to begin falling apart less than a month after its famous victory in the Delhi election will be a cause of surprise and disappointment to its legions of followers in the national capital and outside.
Surprise will be felt because it was believed that the party had learnt the right lessons from the suicidal tendencies which it displayed after its electoral success last year. The need for piping down was evident from Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s call for eschewing arrogance during his speech after being sworn-in.
Yet, it cannot be anything other than hauteur along with personal animus which pitted Kejriwal against the two stalwarts, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. However, it was a skirmish which was waiting to happen because the grouse of the two founding members against their chief was an old one – the innate authoritarianism of the seemingly humble leader.
In setting his house in order, Kejriwal displayed a previously unsuspected trait of deft manoeuvring by letting the AAP’s national executive oust Yadav and Bhushan from the political affairs committee by a majority vote while the chief minister himself stayed away. By demonstrating that the national executive will be able to read his mind in his absence, Kejriwal removed all doubts about his total control over the party.
To prove his point, the national executive also rejected his offer to resign from the party’s convener’s post, another manoeuvre which showed that he is learning the tricks of the trade – fake resignations and pulling the strings from behind to make followers in the party dance to his tune.
However, only the naive will believe that the eviction of Yadav and Bhushan marks the end of dissension. In a way, their departure is only a continuation of other farewells by important party members like Capt. G.R. Gopinath, Shazia Ilmi and Madhu Bhaduri and the marginalisation of others like Shanti Bhushan and Santosh Hegde.
All of them severed their links with the AAP because they felt that the party wasn’t democratic enough. The difference, however, between their departures and the ouster of Yadav and Bhushan is that the former psephologist and the Supreme Court lawyer are a great deal more canny than the others.
They are also unlikely to walk quietly into the sunset or join a rival party as some of the others have done. Instead, they are expected to wait for an opportunity for Kejriwal to stumble before launching a frontal attack in the name of saving the party.
They have already received some help from an AAP blogger, Mayank Gandhi, who has revealed the “secret” deliberations of the national executive, which had apparently made up its mind to punish the two dissenters because of the “irreconcilable” differences between them and Kejriwal.
How the differences assumed such proportions within weeks of the party’s stunning success is something which is likely to come out in course of time because, as Yadav has said, the truth will ultimately prevail.
On his part, Kejriwal cannot but miss Yadav’s and Bhushan’s plain-speaking advice which he may not receive from factotums like deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and others. But, as someone who appears to favour following his own counsel, the chief minister may not be too regretful. There is little doubt, however, that the party will suffer as it is reduced to be exactly the kind of organisation which Kejriwal used to criticize for their “high command” culture.
Ironically, a film, entitled “Dirty Politics” in which the well-known actor, Naseeruddin Shah, plays what he calls an “idolised version” of Kejriwal is currently in the making. However, by the time it is released, the image of the AAP leader might have undergone a change.
For the AAP’s supporters and the people of Delhi, the “ugly” internal battle of which Kejriwal tweeted is disheartening because it signifies the death of a hope that the AAP will introduce a more transparent era in Indian politics.
In a way, the AAP is the second “party with a difference” which has let its followers down. The first was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which promised a similar clean political environment in the 1990s before it became one of many in the great Indian political bazaar.
Narendra Modi has revived some of the earlier expectations from the BJP, which explains his remarkable success in the last general election before the AAP outran him in the Delhi polls by raising the popular expectations to even greater heights.
But, now, there is every possibility that the BJP will begin to claw its way back into popular reckoning in Delhi and elsewhere such as Mumbai and Bengaluru which the AAP is eyeing.
What the AAP’s travails confirm is the corrosive influence of power. Arguably, its unprecedented victory – capturing 67 seats out of 70 – went to its head. The excessive support extended by the voters was detrimental to its mental poise if only because it probably bolstered the overweening self-righteousness with which it entered politics by regarding all others as corrupt and worthless. Now, the party has been brought down to earth with a thump.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)