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01 December 2013

Khaas Aadmi Party

The AAP's bluff of representing the ordinary citizen must be called. In time.

Arvind Kejriwal and other prominent faces of the Jan Lokpal (JLP) movement that caught the imagination of the nation in 2011 did the right thing in July-August 2012 by deciding to launch a political party of their own. First, under the present system, whatever laws a group of activists thinks the people of the country need can be made only by getting into the legislature. Second, the mistake of the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement of the 1970s could not be repeated; those who led the movement should not have passed on the baton to older politicians.

Political observers, however, began raising some valid questions right after the announcement of the intention. How could a band of people, howsoever well-meaning, who had a single-point agenda of getting rid of corruption by instituting an all-powerful lokpal (ombudsman), and who were apparently ignorant of other facets of governance, run a party that needed to have a say in all matters of the state? Kejriwal & Co must have been aware of this intellectual limitation of the band. So, eminent psephologist and member of a little known Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP) Yogendra Yadav, who was watching the proceedings of the movement from the sidelines, made a lateral entry into the group.


In the desperation to fill the policy void of the group, Kejriwal ignored the paradox that Yadav's ideas were quite antithetical to the general sentiment of the kind of people who had poured into the streets responding to the appeal of the mascot of the JLP movement, a simpleton, likeable Anna (Kisan Baburao) Hazare. Their class was middle to upper middle. They loved the good salaries they got from the corporate sector. Or they were leading comfortable lives as students under parents who were affluent enough to keep them unbothered about finances till they finished their years in formal education. A pinch of conscience that they had done little for the country made them take short leaves from offices and universities to raise the demand for a cleaner state: a state that would continue to allow money to flow, but where transparency and accountability of the executive would be so high that scandals like misappropriation of funds for the Commonwealth Games or jumping of the first-come-first-served queue in the 2G spectrum case would be unthinkable. They wanted to see an India that was wholly rich rather than one where a Suresh Kalmadi and an A Raja made a handful of rich men richer and pocketed a part of the proceeds. They were certainly not waiting anxiously for a control freak state, their fascination with the symbol of a draconian lokpal notwithstanding. They were more certainly not looking for an ideal socialist state of Yadav’s dreams.


But this is a cost Kejriwal had to pay because his IIT education and training in revenue services were not adequate to make him appreciate the importance of ideology. Whichever ideologue approached him first had the chance of making it to his core team. Yadav did. In the mornings that I spent with Kejriwal having breakfast at his house, in the long drives where I would be in a car with him, over the dinners that I had with him, in the corner room of the IaC and AAP’s office at Kaushambi, Ghaziabad, I realized this man actually did not mean that he hated to be dogmatic, and hence did not want to commit himself to any ideology. Actually, this man was too intellectually challenged to be able to fathom any philosophy of governance. You raise the issue, and he would instantly get irritated. “मुझे इस पर बात ही नहीं करनी! (I just don’t want to talk about it)” was his standard response.


In a morning of November 2012 when we were busy discussing the launching event slated for the 26th of the month, I was witness to Kejriwal dismissing a young woman from the Nav Bharat Party like that. The poor, energetic, young lady was trying to impress upon him the virtue of individual liberty and a free market.


Paraphrasing what Kejriwal said to the young woman in Hindi, I quote him: “I have seen a lot of governments. None is either left or right. They are all centrist. As and when we make a government, we have to toe more or less the same line.” This dismissive remark exposes two things. One, he simply does not know the subject he is speaking about. Two, he is going to offer India nothing new.


While this writer had no clue till October last year that this was the reality of Arvind Kejriwal’s intellect, I was unwilling to join the proposed party because of known position of Prashant Bhushan on the status of Kashmir. Of course, I knew Hazare and Kejriwal had distanced themselves from that position during the JLP movement. But how could I ignore the fact that Bhushan was a strong personality and would, hence, leave a mark in a party where everybody else was clueless about governance (unless its academic part was taken care of by Yadav)?


My close friend and senior journalist Sudesh Verma was optimistic. He thought the support base of the movement was so overwhelmingly rightist that the so-called socialists would have to fall in line. I grudgingly and pessimistically agreed to join the proposed party along with him in the second week of October 2012.


We had some pressing concerns to address, too. These philosophically blank people were stealing some of our longstanding ideas like decentralisation, state priority to health and education, removing government from the role of broker of petroleum companies... to name just a few. Since they spoke from a bigger platform, they looked like pioneers of these ideas, who were difficult to be accused of plagiarism.



Photographed from the writer's mobile, 5 Apr 2011
Further, while we considered the JLP movement a safety valve created in connivance between the government, the corporate sector and the media, we also believed that — like the Congress founded by AO Hume that went on to lead India’s struggle for independence — the IaC was no longer caught in a vice-like grip of its creators, especially after its talks with the government via the medium of joint drafting committee collapsed. This was no longer a Dadabhai Naoroji-style Congress; this was an MK Gandhi-styled one, it seemed.


Packed audience, but do they number 15,000?
As a strategy that you cannot deny to a political group, we were also ready to overlook its exaggerations like reporting the crowd at the Ramlila Ground to be of strength 1,00,000 when its capacity is 30,000 [The habit persists. There was a concert at Jantar Mantar on 23 November apparently to celebrate the party. When the programme was on, the party's enthusiasts began tweeting attendance figures of anything between 10,000 and 100,000 sitting at homes across the world or from the venue. The fact: The maximum capacity of Jantar Mantar is 3,000].

We had been working with KN Govindacharya since early 2011. The former RSS pracharak and BJP general secretary was a transformed politician. He found the BJP no less corrupt than the Congress. He was ready to invite the Sangh’s ire, too, with constant barbs against his former party. Most important for us, not one speech of his from a big stage or a friendly chat with him at home had any anti-Muslim, Hindutva content.


But there was one Sanghi hangover Govindacharya was suffering from. He never assigned work to non-Sanghis, convent-educated activists like Verma and me. Kejriwal looked more our type. We thought we would be more comfortable in the company of young people with new ideas.



Behind the Aug 11 stage: Where we first met
On our way to Kaushambi the first day, we decided we would accept any work offered to us without ifs and buts. Kejriwal could recall I had met him behind the stage at the Ramlila Ground in August 2011 (when he looked a confident man) and then in January 2012 (when he was dejected due to the poor response IaC had received the previous month in Mumbai).

Kejriwal asked what we had been doing all these years. We were carrying our curricula vitae. He identified us as journalists and asked us to head the media department. It included managing the social media and making press releases. Strangely, however, he did not turn up in the next meeting where he was supposed to pass on the message of his decision to his existing media team. Pankaj Gupta, who went on to become the party’s secretary, talked to us.


We were supposed to get on with the job right away. As expected, the team was not willing to cooperate. Not their fault. Kejriwal had not conveyed the message to the kids that they had to.


The “Final War Against Corruption” page on Facebook was messy, as is the “Aam Aadmi Party” page now. A young man made some attractive banners on Corel Draw, mostly with a quote of Kejriwal. The moment one of those images was uploaded, supporters of the movement would swarm all over it with congratulatory messages in Hindi, English, 'Hinglish' and what not. The immediacy and number of the responses were good indices of popularity. But if one in a hundred replies were to be a profound comment on policy, it had no chance of being noticed. Hundreds of more comments would soon push it to obscurity. The solution was a rule: Only one post per topic so that we had a one-stop destination to extract all valuable suggestions under a given subject from. The proposal was not heeded to, as the problems were three. One, it had the potential to thwart the banner maker’s creativity. Two, it would mean the media manager was accepting a new management. Three, which is the most important, does the party care for meaningful suggestions from the people?


Surprised by the question? Check the video (2 min 40 seconds onwards) where Kejriwal is roaming around the New Delhi constituency to ask its dwellers what he should incorporate in the local manifesto. After meeting many people, he seems to realise that the taxes in Delhi have been successively increased to such levels that most industries have left the capital; this, in turn, has created a scarcity of jobs. He would hence cut taxes drastically to make companies and jobs return to Delhi. I was elated to know the AAP national convener was getting over Bhushan’s idea of punishing the corporate sector. Alas, this point is missing in the party manifesto.


Back to October 2012, being assertive and wresting control of the media team did not make eminent sense to us, as we were more eager to meet the hassled people of the country out there at the pre-hustings. We told Kejriwal the boys were doing fine and needed no guidance. He was happy to know that. But before we could move to an activity that was more political, he called me the next day to tell he was not happy with the way the department was functioning. Curiously, however, the way he was absent on the day the boys were supposed to be told they would report to us, this time the boys were not present in the room; they couldn't get the message we were supposed to be in charge!


If we were encountering bad management practices, people who were once a part of the AAP’s IT team but are now estranged tell tales of utter rudeness. Kapil Rishi Yadav is one such person. He says Kejriwal told him, “Either you convince me, or be convinced, or get lost!”


Several other young boys and girls who had enthusiastically expressed their will to serve the organisation were treated shabbily. They are now closer to various members of the national council. Under the condition of anonymity — at least till the day of the polls, they would not like to come out in the open, protesting — they tell me, “Leaving the IT department to a bunch of sycophants that day was your biggest mistake,” adding, “You should have stood your ground, and then thrown it open to a pool of talents.”


They cannot stand Ankit Lal and Dilip Pandey, two names newspaper readers may be able to recall, as they do appear in AAP-related reports once in a while. That’s of course a bit unfair. Both are likeable characters, with the first tending to go over the top in praise of the party head on Facebook, and the second managing the party’s Twitter handle quietly. If they were protective and possessive of the turf they had been operating on since the JLP movement, it was Kejriwal’s job to separate his cosy personal bonding with them from the professional task the department was supposed to do. He seemed to do that as if not wanting to do it: by being absent from the first meeting and then by telling who would head the department in absence of other members of the department.


Anyway, we came back to the media department but did not play spoilsport in the boys’ game. We thought we would concentrate on the press releases instead. That had a different problem. Notes prepared by Verma of 20 years of experience in journalism would be vetted by Gupta, a small-time NGO head!


There are other journalists who soon lost interest in these control freaks. There was a policy meet, 11-13 January. Some 60 odd ideologues, including experts not from the party, had to be invited. When I called Punya Prasun Vajpayi (out of the 10 people whom I had to invite on the party's behalf), he turned down the invite, saying he was interested in furthering Gandhi's swaraj and not Kejriwal's swaraj!

Elsewhere, as the need for a mouthpiece was felt, journalists from various parts of the country volunteered to help. Some were put off when Sisodia told them that his own pamphlet called Apna Panna must be promoted. After keeping the rest hanging around for a couple of days, Kejriwal & Co told them he was too occupied by thoughts of the Delhi elections to spare a thought for the mouthpiece.

About 70 fresh graduates of journalism were ready to work for the party. They were ready to report from all parts of the country in different Indian languages. The CVs of all who were ready to contribute for free were forwarded to Kejriwal with a copy each to Sisodia. After a while, this writer got the same response: no time to even think of a media wing of the party!

Eventually, a bunch of rank amateurs were given the job. They are running the party mouthpiece Aap Ki Kranti mostly by plagiarising content from other sources or by taking dictation from the high command.

Scores of activists were pouring in from all parts of the country those days. Let’s ignore some who were frivolous. They would come with the claim of benefiting the party with some out-of-the-world ideas. If the ideas were not instantly accepted, they would sulk and leave, cursing Kejriwal and the new, proposed party.


Most were serious, with decades of experience in activism and processions of followers behind them. Each promised to bring in hundreds of his/her followers whom he/she had cultivated over a long period of time. And each ran into a wall! The faction of the IaC that had decided to form a party had also decided they were experts in every field of work. Even if they were not experts, they had a right by default to head the respective departments.


Activists from across the country who had converged at the proposed party’s office were slighted by offers to do menial jobs like maintaining registers for visitors, attending phone calls and arranging for guests’ accommodation in the nights of 24-26 November. Kejriwal, Bhushan, Manish Sisodia, Gopal Rai, Kumar Vishwas, Sanjay Singh et al must have been busy in some political activity all this while; none of the enthusiastic activists were allowed a peep into that world. If every work of labour is dignified, one wonders why none of these ‘hallowed’ people shared a part of this dignity.

Verma and I were a bit privileged. On 29-30 October, we were invited to a policy determining meet that was being held at the Indian Social Institute, Lodi Road. During the lunch hour of the first day, Kejriwal requested us to attend a meeting at Bhushan’s residence that evening to give a final shape to the proposals that would emerge from some 60-odd ideologically driven activists who were brainstorming at the institute the whole day.


When the issue of organisational structure came up during the meeting at Bhushan’s place that evening, Verma proposed a huge structure with vice presidents and general secretaries slightly more than the number of States of the country (more in anticipation of a few more States surfacing soon). Since that morning, however, Kejriwal appeared fixated with the idea of a convener. That evening and the next, Verma kept insisting on a large structure to absorb and channelize the tremendous energy of people across the country who would like to change India through the instrument of this new party. He said we were supposed to fight other parties’ corruption, not their traditional structures which are fine even by the Election Commission’s standards.


For the next few days, the prominent faces of the JLP movement could not be traced. We learnt that hectic parleys were still going on at Bhushan’s residence. Obviously, we were not invited.


We were still a part of the team that was drafting the party constitution, though. We were needed especially for the philosophical part. As for the organisational structure, “बाद में तय कर लेंगे (we will decide that later)” was Sisodia’s response.


Kejriwal would sit in the presiding chair those evenings at Kaushambi, visibly distracted. Whenever between the debates, Sisodia, Singh, Rai, Verma or I would seek his consent to a certain part of the constitution others had just agreed upon, he would just mutter, “योगेन्द्र यादव बहुत नाराज़ हैं मुझ से (Yadav is not happy with me at all).” We said individuals were not important; let everybody be a part of the process. Kejriwal said some individuals were important, and they could not be ignored.


It can be fairly guessed why Yadav might have been upset. At the end of the 30 October policy meet, the JLP lot (Kejriwal, Sisodia, Singh, Rai, Vishwas) had cold shouldered his plan to turn into a national hero. He had proposed that, after the launch of the party, he would go on a nationwide yatra (walk) to propagate its message to the people. That plan of his to turn a poster boy was not sanctioned. How his displeasure was turned into satisfaction subsequently could be seen on 24 November that comes up next.


That morning when the party’s national convention was to be held and the party constitution adopted by it, more than a hundred activists who had come from faraway States were not let inside the Constitution Club. Fuming with rage, they declared they were going back to Anna.


Some 300 activists, Verma and I included, entered the Speaker Hall, the venue.


In course of the meeting with 60 ideologues on 29-30 October, I had repeatedly urged the group to follow a proper process of internal democracy in the party. A vital aspect was the manner in which critical issues would be voted in or out. I said only the secret ballot would be a fair process, as people did not like to be identified as dissenters when they wished to object to a decision. The apprehension proved right on 24 November.


As 23 nominated members of the national executive (NE) were announced, rather imposed on the group — that, Yadav said, would be referred to as the national council (NC) — boos and hoots from unidentifiable persons could be heard in the hall. But no one showed the courage to raise a hand in objection when the NE members were paraded on stage one by one, and Rajan Prakash (a past Sangh-affiliated journalist who is now the party’s candidate from Kirari) read out their CVs in brief.


Some people stood up in protest only when the names of Ilyas Azmi and Prem Singh Pahari were called out. Their record of having hopped from one party to another made all of us frown.


“क्या इन का सच में ह्रदय परिवर्तन हुआ है (Have these people really undergone a sea change in mentality)?” a backbencher cried. Azmi was in the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Welfare Party of India (WPI) and Rashtriya Inquilab Party (RIP). He had also extended support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) once. Pahari had arrived from the BJP.


Composition of the rest of the NE showed how Kejriwal had managed to pacify Yadav, whose ‘resentment’ was troubling him through the previous week when we were drafting the constitution. Yadav pushed his friends from the virtually dysfunctional SJP into the NE so that he could leverage their support during debates on policy. Many others in the NE were insignificant politically; if an Ajit Jha would be Yadav’s ‘yes man’, supported by Prof Anand Kumar, entrants like Christina Samy of Women’s Front, Tamil Nadu, and Habung Pyang, past information commissioner in Arunachal Pradesh, have so far not been noticed contributing either to the party’s policy or mass mobilisation campaign.


Out of the JLP lot, Kejriwal is ideologically non-committal. ‘Poet’ Vishwas is good at rhetoric, dud at substance. Sisodia is smart, but that’s all about him. Singh would probably fare better in a street fight rather than a talk show on television. The most frequently seen AAP face on TV, Shazia Ilmi, is naïve. No activist worth his salt in Haryana knows what Naveen Jaihind’s claim to fame is. Gopal Rai used to cool his heels below the stage during the August 2011 movement, after his fanciful Teesra Swadheenta Andolan found no takers. Current members of the AISA, of which he was once a part, say that the bullet shot he had sustained, which left him partially paralysed, had nothing to do with a political struggle; it was a result of some personal feud. He must be indebted to the party for his inclusion in the elite club. Mayank Gandhi tilts towards freedom of the market, but whenever approached with a request to speak his mind, he says he does not want to antagonise the rest of the leadership. That leaves us with formidable human rights lawyer Bhushan, whose leftism was evident in his interview with a newspaper where he said the AAP could someday ally with the Communist Party of India (CPI).


When I was disturbed by the constant tilt of the party towards populism, knowing Gandhi as a person whose economic thinking was close to mine, I shared my angst with him. He sent me a copy of a letter he had written to another founder member, Prithvi Reddy, which is as follows (unedited):

If you think deep, the kind of economic and social issues that we are espousing, are the exact ones I used to dislike. But, I am convinced that these are impractical and ,once and if, you are in government, you will be forced to take the appropriate route. I dont get worked up about these issues. My views are
  • There is status quo in the nation, every party is more and less following the same policies and no original ideas are coming in the public arena (unless they are propped by vested interests). Status quo is not acceptable in a nation where 40 crore people sleep hungry and there is so much disparity and injustice.
  • The licence raj is replaced by crony capitalism. The incestuous relationship between all - politicians, judiciary, bureaucrat, media, contractors and industry will always find a way to make corrupt money. The electoral system is the core of the problem and has an incessant need for this money. All the existing parties have tasted power with this electoral system and no one wants to change it.
  • The top-down decision- making needs to be over turned.
  • So, what is needed is churning, unrest and challenge to this status quo. I do not see too many hopes in the existing parties, for they have a deep interest in the continuation of the system.
  • While India against Corruption did lead to mass awareness, questioning and boldness in the populace, it was just a blip political landscape. Once, the movement lost steam, the churning would stop. And therefore formation of a political agitation is something we supported.
  • The extent of churning necessary is pretty torrid and therefore there is a need for some electoral successes and some major "bees" to be released in the static atmosphere. That may hopefully make a major dent and lead to rethinking, policy upheavals and systemic changes.
  • Electoral success in Delhi can be the litmus test for this. And the revolutionary ideas that Arvind has of ward wise free education and free medical can lead to lots of soul searching and re-prioritization by mainstream parties.
  • I am not too concerned about some of the documents coming out of our stable, thinking them to be maverick thinking that is theoretical right now, but will mold itself,once it hits against the rocks of reality.
  • I am not too worried about any one else's views on my position and usefulness. My mind and body is just a tool that is taking part in what I believe is the cyclic growth of this nation. Similar to Anna, Arvind, IAC or AAP - these are just tools and nothing more. Giving it too much importance is counter-productive and emotionalism.
Among the rest, how many in politics have heard of Yogesh Dhahiya, Ashok Aggarwal, Subhash Ware and Rakesh Sinha?

Dinesh Waghela might have been noticed for his flowing white beard by some. Mukesh Kothari, a former NC member who left the party disgusted by the lack of accountability of its leaders, says, “This man is not taken seriously by his own family. He is taken seriously by no one I know of. He has no vision to transform India.”


When there are so many empty brains, a few beholden ones, some muted mouths, an exception who is timid, and the only one with knowledge (who is also vociferous) is a hardcore leftist, there is no prize for guessing what direction the party would take in politics. This is more so as the only voice among the others, that of Yadav, is a socialist, too. Who cares what the rest of the party, comprising thousands of people, wants? Kejriwal & Co did not care that the middle class that had poured into the streets in 2011 were not looking for a socialist party to transform India. They had seen enough of it till the 1980s.


So that there is no opposition to fanciful, obsolete, obscure ideas ranging from Indira Gandhi’s vintage to theoretical socialism of community ownership found only in textbooks, 300 thinkers of contrarian schools of thought were dumped into the NC. Ergo, on the very day of its inception, the AAP took a decisive turn towards the left, which was against the grain of the JLP movement that was largely supported by the middle class who wanted a free market, albeit with transparent observation of regulations. However, we kept quiet, hoping that the supporters’ base was so overwhelmingly right wing that a balance in policy matters would have to be maintained: to stem revolt, if not for anything else.


The hope was belied in the course of the past one year. The NC has not met even once in the last one year of the party’s existence, against the constitutional requirement of being convened twice a year. The world outside must note, the NC is simmering with discontent.


“Except a voice or two, those in the hall did not protest because we thought another meeting of the NC would be called soon and we would have the right to recall the NE,” says an NC member from Rajasthan, adding in despair, “But no meeting of the NC has been convened in this past one year whereas the party constitution mandates that the NC meet twice a year.”


The NC takes serious exception to Kejriwal’s Batla House faux pas and Maulana Tauqeer Raza blunder. It has reservations about the economic viability of the offer of freebies. “They never ask for our consent to any action they take,” each one of them complains. The member from Rajasthan says, “Members of the council posed various questions, offered advices, raised objections, but no leader responded.”


Equally disturbing is the fact that both the leaders and followers of this party start salivating at the prospect of celebrity endorsement. Is this supposed to be the character of a party purportedly standing for the common Indian? Bollywood actress Amrita Rao happened to endorse the AAP the day after the concert at Jantar Mantar through a tweet. And the party's gang of fans went ecstatic! Why does a party that claims to be of the aam aadmi start jumping up and down in joy whenever a Khaas aadmi or aurat endorses it?


This is the very mentality that made them invite a serial abuser of an entertainment channel — Rajiv Laxman of MTv — to campaign for the party, which went on to embarrass them and they had to apologise for it.


The story of being flattered by Rao's tweet is related, as is that of the concert led by Vishal Dadlani the previous day. As citizens, they all have the right to have political opinions. But what do these characters understand about politics and nation building that their advice to support a certain party to power should be heeded by the people? More so when some of them shower expletives in speech, use offensive words in parodies and make indecent gestures?


I dismissed the party’s euphoria over the coming of Laxman for campaign immediately on noticing it on Twitter by calling him “funky”. A founder member sent me a message via WhatsApp immediately: “I wanted to say the same thing, but couldn’t garner the courage to say it.” Anyway, the AAP fanatics were in no mood to hold themselves back.


Watching the way the party is shaping up from a distance, Avinash, a software developer who became a member of the party out of the hope that it could improve the conditions of governance in the country, notes, “For me, the AAP and Kejriwal came as a ray of hope in this grim political situation. I loved both as they took the problems head-on and never shied away from answers. For the last one year, however, it seems that things have started to change.


The concept of Swaraj (self-rule through the process of decentralisation) should have been observed inside the party structure and ought to have been visible to the people at large. That is not happening. Even though it is talked about by the AAP often, the decisions taken inside the party don't follow that principle — whether it’s in the case of candidate selection or in the case of policy directions.”


This is another professional who had tried to help further the party’s interests with his expertise and skills, but was thwarted by the incompetent coterie that wanted to keep all powers restricted to it. Being trained in his profession from IIT – Delhi, he took exception to the proposal that, in the process of developing the party’s website and mobile application, he would have to report to people who did not have half the clue as he did as to how the job is done.


Kejriwal had tried to pacify us in the evening of 24 November 2012, sending an SMS to Verma, assuring him and me of a role to play in building the organisation in the State of Delhi. I was not happy with my close friend. It seemed to me that he looked too politically ambitious, and that made the men of the JLP movement get into an impregnable shell. I called up friends based in different parts of the country to tell them what had happened and to solicit their advice.


Rajarshi Nandy, a technical writer and passionate theologian, made me see reason in Verma’s stand. I realised after several months lapsed the importance of a key position in a political party. If we had been in the national executive or the political affairs committee, we would not have allowed Kejriwal to turn communal or populist.


Then we joined the Delhi team. There too, giving two hoots to democracy, we saw that power was flowing top-down and not bottom-up. Instead of building wards, and then Assembly and finally the Lok Sabha constituencies, the party had given the charge of Delhi to 7 favourites who were manning one LS seat each.


In mid-December 2012, Verma appeared for an interview for a television news channel and joined it in mid-January. He says, “I had joined the AAP, wanting to help it in mobilising people. We had already done a lot of mobilisation for Youth for Democracy and also for the Anna-led movement. But I soon realised that AAP leaders were not interested in mobilisers. I would go to the party office and just be around, wasting time. This continued for a few months after which I left.”


“I realised that Kejriwal neither had the vision of institutionalsing democracy nor the patience to experiment. A high command culture has already set in. Those who can manipulate will thrive in this new party. Arvind knows how he was pressured to include undeserving people in the leadership. I can say so because the leadership was handpicked rather than thrown by a democratic process. If one has to do traditional politics, why do it via AAP? I don’t see it going far because of the hurry that plagues its leaders,” Verma concludes.


This want — of being a decision maker in a party or of creating a mass base for the party — is not the same as wanting to fight elections and grab governmental power. If ideologically committed people are not decision makers in a party, the party runs around like a headless chicken, chased by activists and so-called experts who come up with outlandish ideas every other day.


The story of the self-styled Bharatiya Aam Aadmi Parivar or BAAP is different. Greed was apparently the reason for its formation. It’s a bunch of disgruntled elements that were denied election tickets. If they had been allowed to contest on AAP tickets, every AAP ideology would have appeared fine to them. When some BJP supporters in the social media were celebrating the split of the AAP, circulating links of the breakaway faction’s Facebook page, I visited their posts and made mincemeat of their allegations of Kejriwal being corrupt.


I wrote to them on 2 August 2013:

हो सकता है कि आप के तमाम इल्ज़ामात सही हों, परन्तु क्या यह पार्टी नेतृत्व द्वारा की गई पहली ग़लती थी? जिन लोगों का राजनीति में कोई अनुभव नहीं उन्हें आये दिन वर्गलाया जा सकता है। ऐसा कई बार आम आदमी पार्टी के साथ हुआ और इससे पहले इंडिया अगेंस्ट करप्शन के साथ भी। ऐसी परिस्थितियों में विवेकशील सहयोगियों ने लगातार पार्टी/समूह के नेतृत्व को टोका और कई बार दबाव डाल कर उन्हें सही रास्ते पर ले आए।
इस समूह में ऐसे विवेकशील, चिंतनशील, सैद्धांतिक, ज़मीर की आवाज़ सुनने वाले लोग नज़र नहीं आते। ऐसा कैसे हो गया कि पार्टी के सारे दोष आपको तब दिखने शुरू हुए जब आपको चुनाव लड़ने के टिकट नहीं मिले? आज तक आप लोग कहाँ थे?
They protested. One of them, Abhishek Bhardwaj, wrote:
If someone wants to serve nation and mother land what is wrong to have a desire to fight election. If you are saying that fighting election is bad, why is Kejriwal fighting the election?
I responded:
I am not saying that. I'm saying how come everything about the leadership was alright according to you before the election season. If Ashish Malviya and you are right in saying that you had protested earlier, too, where is the proof of that protest? Written proof? Photographic proof? Audio proof?
I can show a hell lot of emails, for example, to show how I differed with the party leadership on quite a few points. I differed on the FDI issue. I differed on the question of secularism. And I also posted my displeasure on Facebook. At the same time I noticed that constant pressure on this party's leadership works. There are several examples of that, too. I'd started pressuring Kejriwal since August 2011 to form a party. He finally agreed in August 2012. The flagbearers of the Jan Lokpal movement was adamant about bringing judges under the jurisdiction of Lokpal. Several jurists convinced them it is akin to mixing the judiciary and the executive. It's better to deal with it through a judicial review commission. There was initially no demand to confiscate properties and bank accounts of criminal politicians. My persuasion introduced this provision as well as provided for prohibition of such candidates from fighting elections. There are at least 7 changes I can count in the vision document that were carried out under the pressure of party workers like us. In the latest controversy over the party's statement on the Batla House encounter, the party diluted its original statement following a furore among the cadre at the suggestion that the encounter was fake. Three days of intense pressure from us worked.
Note that all these are issues of principles, issues of policy. When you raise them, you get public support and sympathy. If you have kept quiet all this while and begun protesting only when election tickets were denied to you, you look like disgruntled elements even if your grouse over that limited aspect is valid.
My response gives an indication of the nature of things accepted by Kejriwal and that which is not. One and two, your proposal should be socialist as well as populist; perhaps some proposal from me would have been accepted if it had been a strategy to hoodwink Muslims and get their votes. Three, it should not affect the structure of the party decided between members of the political affairs committee behind closed doors.

Because our long-standing demand of making health and education state priorities was socialist in nature, it was lapped up by the AAP. We had also demanded that, along with the institution of a powerful Lokpal, a charge-sheeted politician must be debarred from contesting elections and that his property confiscated and bank accounts frozen. It synced with Kejriwal’s rabble-rousing persona; so it was accepted too.


Before I proceed further, an explanation would be in place. I am going to cite from several email exchanges and a few more online debates that I was a part of. If one thinks I was merely an online activist, he could be shown scores of photographs that I took while building the party ward by ward.


The electronic exchanges became inevitable because of another thoroughly undemocratic practice of the closed club called the political affairs committee. The five odd ‘stars’ of the party do not attend calls from anybody except members of this club! They may also receive calls from some high profile journalists and celebrities. Who says it is an aam aadmi’s party?


Kejriwal did not receive a call even from Dr N Jayaprakash Narayan, in November 2012 when people thought the new party was interested in expanding across the country, say sources in the Lok Satta Party. The AAP’s yet-to-be-declared national convener texted JP instead of receiving his call, say people close to the latter. The head of the LSP must have felt slighted.


When it was not a matter of policy, but one of refining our language, my intervention was appreciated (one can note that the crassness of the MTv order crept in after they were no longer talking to me). For example, following the 16 December gang rape, the party issued a press release that went:

क्या भारत अपनीबहन-बेटियों के लिए इतनी सुरक्षा की गारंटी भी नहीं दे सकता कि वे सड़कों पर निर्भय होकर चल सकें? … आम आदमी पार्टी बलात्कार की शिकार छात्रा और उसके जैसी सैकड़ों मजबूर बहनों और बेटियों को इंसाफ दिलाने के लिए सड़क पर उतरेगी.
I shot back immediately:
जब तक औरतों को केवल माँ, बहन, बेटी समझा जाएगा या पूजा में देवी का दर्जा दिया जाएगा तब तक इस समस्या का हल नहीं निकलेगा। वक्त आ गया है कि भारत के लोग इस बात को भी मानें कि औरत साथी भी हो सकती है, दफ़्तर में सहकर्मी भी हो सकती है और किसी पुरुष की तरह एक अनजान लेकिन स्वतंत्र और मर्यादित व्यक्ति भी। अगर कोई औरत वेश्या है तो भी उसकी मर्ज़ी के बगैर किसी को उसे छूने तक का अधिकार नहीं। अगर वह हमारी माँ, बहन, बेटी या पत्नी नहीं या पूजा के स्थान पर लगी किसी देवी की तस्वीर या मूर्ति नहीं तो इसका यह मतलब यह नहीं कि उससे दुर्व्यवहार करने का मर्दों का अधिकार बन जाता है।
आम आदमी पार्टी के पत्राचार और अन्य साहित्य में नारी का वर्णन केवल माँ, बहन या बेटी के रूप में हो इससे मुझे एह्तिराज़ है। यह पिष्टोक्ति (cliché) है; इसका प्रयोग व्यवस्था परिवर्तन का नारा बुलंद करने वालों को शोभा नहीं देता। क्योंकि व्यवस्था परिवर्तन का एक अभिन्न अंग मानसिकता परिवर्तन भी है। इस दर्जे से महिलाओं की वश्यता (subordination) और उन पर देवत्वारोपण (deification) के सामंतवाद (feudalism) की बू आती है।
Yadav appreciated it. He wrote:
सुरजीत भाई, मैं आपकी बात से सहमत हूँ और शुक्रगुजार हूँ की आपने हमारी भूल की तरफ ध्यान दिलाया, उम्मीद है आप धरने में आएंगे।
Of course, I went to the dharna (sit-in demonstration). I also happily bore with blows of a colonial-era police’s lathis. I used to be so happy to be a part of the party back then. It did not matter that I was not an office bearer. The changes made in the vision document had indicated it was possible to keep the movement on track.

I told Kejriwal during a meet of the Delhi team in December that farmers’ plight could not be addressed without amending the APMC Act. God knows whether he could make head or tail of the suggestion. He did nod to it nevertheless (now I see that there is no mention thereof in the AAP manifesto).


In that same meeting, an activist from the Muslim-dominated Okhla village complained that he had no answer to the query of local residents as to what special package the party was offering to Muslims. Kejriwal snubbed him, “You think all the measures we are promising will benefit all Indians except Muslims? Is it health and education as state priority for all except Muslims? Will increasing the minimum support price for farmers not benefit Muslim farmers? …”


The head of the AAP has obviously taken a policy U-turn since then. It became obvious during the satyagraha he held to make people revolt against unfair electricity and water prices in March-April.


I protested right on the first day (23 March), when Shahnaz Hindustani, an activist from Rajasthan who is the inaugural speaker in all campaign fixtures of the party, made an outrageous announcement from the stage: “People ask me, ‘You are a Muslim. Yet you are a patriot, How come?’”


In the morning of 24 March, I shot an email to all members of the national executive in protest the next morning. A debate ensued as follows:

Dear friends,
I point out, with some distress, the invocations of religion in the speeches made from our stage officially. By speaking of the Mahabharata and Karbala (26 November 2012) and the Qur'an (23 March 2013), our orators are taking us along the same path of distorted secularism — appeasing all communities in turns, as if we were separate electorates — that has plagued the Indian nation state for the last 65 years. The party needs to emerge from this mindset, which was also betrayed during India against Corruption's August 2011 movement, whose epicentre was the Ramlila ground, where first Iftar was conducted ceremoniously in front of the stage and the next day, in a bid to 'balance' it, Janmashtami was celebrated! Yesterday, a speaker insisting he was a patriot despite being a Muslim was altogether unwarranted. Why is he suffering from a My Name is Khan kind of complex? Individually, let every member of the party be a believer, an agnostic or an atheist. But when one is using the party's platform, there should be total indifference to communal identities.
Those who got a copy of the mail lauded my intervention when I reached Sundar Nagri (I was in charge of the Seemapuri constituency then). Bhushan patted my back and encouraged me to keep pointing out mistakes of the policy makers, as and when they caught my notice.

Was that mere courtesy? The party leadership refused to mend its ways thereafter. On the concluding day of the hunger strike, Kejriwal paraded clerics of different religions on stage, each of whom declared that his community supported the party, as if all members of each of these communities were their slaves!


I was terribly disturbed. I shot off another mail on 6 April:

The practice of the distorted version of secularism continues unabated from our party platform in the form of parading padres, maulanas, swamis on stage. This is the road the Congress has travelled with disastrous results for the nation. By adopting the same means, can we reach a different end? I don't understand why we need 'contractors' of religious communities to declare from our stage that 'their people' are with us. For one, 'their' people did not send them elected to us. And what has religion got to do with the city's water and electricity supply?
Only Prof Anand Kumar liked it. He wrote:
This is a very important suggestion from you that we should be careful about remaining within the citizen-centric framework for our Party activities. The practice of political balancing has to be de-learned. Your polite reminders about the correct way of approaching the people in our work of mobilizations are very appreciable.
With best wishes...
The sentiment did not reflect in the constitution of committees that were to look into possible means to change the way the country is governed. It was not a problem that the party made a community-specific committee. Some communities indeed face some typical problems not observed in the midst of others.

The problem was with the AAP’s erroneous understanding of the fundamentals. The name of the committee for Muslims figured under the topic, secularism!


This is how I reacted, beginning 30 April:

May the people please know the credentials of the persons in the list above who have not been a part of the Jan Lokpal Movement, and the factors that led to their inclusion in the respective committees?
What is the party trying to achieve by speaking of secularism and minorities in the same breath? Do the benefits of sections C1 - C5 and D1 - E3 exclude the 'minorities', because of which two separate sections C6 and C6a had to be created to address them? This, by the way, was a question Arvindji had thrown at a volunteer working in the Okhla area, who had demanded 'special packages' for the community that is dominant in his Vidhan Sabha constituency (this conversation took place in the first week of November 2012 in the PCRF office in Kaushambi, which is now our party office). Are the 'minorities' capable of thinking only about themselves, and not the remaining Indians, because of which they do not find a place in other committees?
Most importantly, how do we plan to reach a different destination by traversing the same path as that of faltering political parties before us and the British Empire that looked at Indians as separate electorates? Even if we have a plan, is that intellectual or academic exercise discernible for the masses at large that are expected to distinguish between the likes of the Congress, SP, BSP, JD(U), JD(S) etc on the one hand and the AAP on the other? I guess not. At the hustings, the BJP can quite easily club us with them and make itself look distinct in the whole lot. The psephologists among those I address can figure out what that implies in terms of election results.
The party turned defensive about its position this time. Yadav wrote:
Surajit bhai, I have followed your mail and appreciate your vigilance in ensuring that we do not turn into a standard hypocritical party when it comes to secularism. Indeed we need to be watchful. we have to avoid three ways of being secular: there is Congress secularim which is often about selective appeasement of minorities and overlooking their real and substantive issues, the BJP secularism which wants to reduce the formal equality before law just to a formality and make the Muslims a second grade citizen and the communist secularism that treats anything religious as untouchable. We need to evolve a principled approach that can relate without any guilt to religious and cultural symbols and discuss the material and community related difficulties of any community whether it is majority or minority.
On the Committee on Muslim Affairs, the simple reasoning is as follows: we have special policy groups looking at the condition of various social groups who are known to be be disadvantaged. so we have groups on women, urban slums, dalits, adivasis. it is in this spirit that we have a group on Muslims, but not on Sikhs or Christians. The Muslims are not just a minority, they are (according to the data published by the Government and a report placed before the parliament)disadvantaged social group: their education, economic and employment profile places them at par with or below dalits. This is a good reason to have a group to look at their issues.
Hope this clarifies.
On 1 May I responded:
Yogendraji, a question remains unanswered. Why do our Muslim friends figure only in the committee for Muslims? Are they incapable of thinking about other Indians? Also, going by your reasoning, the category should have been named "Social justice and Muslims" rather than "Secularism and minorities". The nomenclature shows we, as Indians, continue to distort the meaning of secularism/laïcité and wantonly subscribe to the distortion. Hindus and Muslims alike will trust such a party/government to deliver justice on occasions of dispute that demonstrates that it does not view Indians through the religious/communal prism. Secularism means being non-religious. And that is distinct from being irreligious, a synonym of immoral. The second is a canard spread to malign the noble philosophy so that politicians continue to play footsie with one community at a time like the British did (today it's euphemised as "sarva dharma samabhav"). I am not asking my party to follow France to ban pagdis or Iceland to proscribe minarets. Neither am I pleading with you to emulate the CPI that had issued a show-cause notice to Indrajit Gupta for getting his head tonsured following his father's death. These are instances of Stalinism, not secularism. I only pray my party stays aloof from religious/communal considerations in public view, while its individual members continue to be theists, atheists or agnostics at home.”
Yadav wrote back:
Surajit bhai,
There are two separate entities here. One is a Policy Group on "Secularism and Minorities" that is looking at what should be our version of secularism and how should religious and linguistic minorities be treated in a secular state. The second is a Task Force exclusively devoted to the Muslim issues. This is exactly like our structure on the caste question: we have a Policy Group on Caste and reservations and Task Forces on Dalit and Adivasi issues.
You seem to be convinced that Secularism is synonymous with French style laicité and religious is synonymous with communal. I hope that the party would have an open mind about these questions. Since you take a lot of interest in academic literature, I would like to draw your attention to the academic literature on this which suggests that the french may have something to learn from the Indian model.
Yours…
Shalini Gupta [Prashant Bhushan's sister] wrote:
Although the formal definition of secularism is worldly not spiritual, not specifically relating to religion, I like to think of secularism as equal respect for all religions and part of that equal respect means addresssing historical injustices or inequalities so that we can have a level playing field.
So for me secularism and minorities can and does go together so I am not seeing any disconnect.
I think the larger question is whether as a party we truly believe in secularism, that is equally respect all religions or are trying to use the concept for political mileage or simply making a sham. This is a question of "intention" which can never be answered through verbal debate but only proven through ‘action’.
I was not satisfied. My next mail went:
Yogendraji,
I have called the French model Stalinism and not secularism. So how could I possibly be a supporter of that model?
I addressed Gupta thus:
Shaliniji,
Treating all religions/communities as equal is an excuse for what is called in Hindi bandar baant. You treat one community, and the other one expects that the next time it will be its turn to be offered some privileges. And as you go about balancing the favours, each community complains that it has got less and the other has got more! So you have a situation where all communities are found forever sulking. This has been the bane of the Indian model of secularism, which is no secularism at all. Secularism does not translate to treating all communities as equal; it means treating all citizens as equal irrespective of their respective religious identities. It's a hands-off approach, for which we need not look down upon religions with contempt like the communists, much as the communist parties have been considered by far the most secular of all political parties until they lost their distinctiveness due to support to UPA-I and, more so, the act of banishing Taslima Nasreen, which made it look like an extension counter of the Congress.
As for action, I have already registered my displeasure at parading clerics on our stage, who have claimed their respective communities' support to our movement, as if members of their communities were their bonded labourers/slaves. Such an action was, in essence, like genuflecting before the Shahi Imam or instituting an Atal Bihari Vajpayee Himayat Committee before elections.
Finally, I repeat, I have no objection whatsoever to addressing the concerns of Muslims under our project of social justice. In fact, I shall extend all-out support to such endeavours. My case is that it should not be masqueraded as secularism.
Yadav did not agree. He wrote:
Surajit bhai, I drew upon your letter that uses secularism/laïcité as synonyms. I thought laicite stands for French style secularism.
Shalini ji can respond to the second part of your question. But as I said earlier, you might wish to refer to Rajeev Bhargav's body of work on secularim that argues that Indian secularism has its distinct identity and that is not necessarily a problem. That of course does not mean that a lot of hypocrisy that takes place in the name of secularism need to be defended. We have committed some mistakes too and you have been right to alert us to this.
Thanks for this conversation.
I acknowledged his response:
Thank you, Yogendraji, for your patient responses. I will identify the fora where I can engage with Rajeev Bhargav.
I did mention laïcité. I believe French secularism was on the right track until the post-François Mitterrand regimes messed it up by interfering in the citizens' faith-related practices. The secular state I advocate does not conduct raids on church-goers like Stalin's government, nor does it frown when a cross dangles outside the shirt of a passer-by as it has been since the Nicolas Sarkozy days. When it sees people indulging in faith-related practices, it simply looks the other way, considering it to be none of its business. It is this aloofness that, I firmly believe, will endear a party or a government to the masses and no community will doubt its intention of delivering justice on critical occasions. Treating all communities as equal, on the other hand, will be akin to allotting separate quotas to different communities, after which each one of them is left with the scope of complaining that others' quotas are 'unfairly' bigger in size. That, in turn, will be used against us when we try to settle disputes. The losing party in a given case will accuse us of being communal and, if we cite other instances where that aggrieved party had won the case, we will look like continuing with the colonial legacy of separate electorates — at times favouring Hindus, at times favouring Muslims!
When I realised my arguments were not acceptable to the party leadership, and that it had made up its mind to pursue the Congress’s — if not the Samajwadi Party’s — version of secularism, I made the debate public on my Facebook page. This was to tell all who believed I was in politics to fight a righteous battle that I had not betrayed their mandate.

One such believer, Thomas Mathew, who hails from Kerala and works in Bengaluru, said, “I would like Prof Yadav to point out five differences between his idea of secularism and the Congress's idea of it. It's one and the same.”


Sanket Sunand Dash who hails from Odisha and works in Hyderabad wrote, “I feel religion and the concept of religious minority is redundant in India. Muslims are another endogamous group like Rajputs, Yadavs or Jatavs. Hence, instead of religious secularism the focus should be on the broader concept of ethnic neutrality.”


Kanishk Kumar Sharma from Bihar, working in a government office in New Delhi, wrote, “Surajit ji, you might have a vision of economic liberalism and the true secularism (the current version of secularism may be called poly-appeasement) but, by and large, the AAP is not offering substantially different ideas so far… Some resemble socialism, some others poly-appeasment. In this scenario, I and many would like to prefer to stick to their respective favourite parties beacuse I can't see the AAP breaking any voting bloc of either the Congress or the BJP en-masse.”


This makes eminent sense. It’s not a matter of ideology alone. The public impression the AAP has created of itself will fail to carve its niche wherever it goes. It may claim to be different from an SP, a Janata Dal (United) or a Trinamool Congress by virtue of finer points, but the electorate at large of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal cannot appreciate such intricacies. And that is a big tactical blunder Kejriwal committed by inviting Yadav and outsourcing policy to him.


The party continued with its policy of multi-communalism, undeterred by the corrective suggestions members and supporters kept sending to it. Making the injustice meted out to riot victims in 1984, it made a Sikh Cell within the party. I asked immediately, “Do Sikhs alone care for Sikhs? Were non-Sikh humane Indians not pained by the pogrom of 1984?” When the party leadership did not respond, I made the question public again.


Ziya us Salam, who works with The Hindu, agreed: “One man's sorrow has to be the sorrow of others, too.”


Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s Rizwan Ali wrote: “इसी का नाम राजनीति है, सर (This is politics, sir).”


And then someone quipped the AAP would spend all its life making one ‘cell’ each for all the castes and communities of this diverse country. Rajeswari Ranganathan wanted to know when the party was going to constitute a cell for the Iyers from Palakkad, Kerala.


A national council member from Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, who does not wish to be identified till the Delhi Assembly elections are over, said, “We normally make a headway wherever we campaign, but every now and then a stupid, communal comment from Kejriwal comes — sometimes calling the Batla House encounter fake, sometimes meeting riot accused Maulana Tauqeer Raza — and we have to spend days on end defending the party instead of attacking our political rivals.”


There was another disturbing aspect to the story of acceptance of guilt of misinterpreting secularism. A ‘lesser’ activist Shahnaz could be criticised for his communal speech. Communalism by the ‘big bosses’ couldn’t. Wrong to say it’s a khaas aadmi’s party?


There was a long debate on the issue of foreign direct investment in the retail trade, too. And my pro-market arguments were misconstrued as an anti-business sentiment! Here is a copy of the debate.


On 11 May, the news of formation of a traders’ lobby in the party made me concerned. I wrote to what had begun looking like the new party’s ‘high command’, a term used typically to refer to the Congress’s first family:

Dear leaders of the movement,
Yesterday I sent an SMS to some of you asking what the AAP Delhi Vyapar Udyog Mandal was supposed to do. Is it going to be a trading/business class's lobby within the party? In the event of our forming a government, is it going to pressure our finance ministry the way the RSS's swadeshi lobby is known to pressure all BJP governments' budget proposals? None of those addressed responded to the query. I hope someone in a position of responsibility responds to this email.
The business class is politically organised across the world. It is we, the hapless consumers, who have no political platform anywhere. Who is going to address our woes? Since ours is a unique political organisation that is trying to redress genuine grievances of all, should we not expect an Upbhokta Adhikar Mandal (Consumer Rights Cell or Wing) in the least?
Shalini Gupta:
Dear Surajitji, The AAP leaders can respond with the official answer to your question.
However to me your question seems less of a question and more of a statement, a statement where there is an assumption of negative intent on the part of the trader community. If we assume that all traders will only be interested in lobbying for inappropriate personal interests, are we not falling in the trap of the same bias that the aap is accused of, that it is biased against industry and business. No political party can survive with this bias because one cannot imagine a state where there is no trade or industry, no business owners, only workers.
Can we not imagine that there can be honest traders and honest businesses? Can we not imagine that the business community too would be interested in clean business which can only happen if there is clean governance? Why can the business community not be an honest part of this new vision? Why are we using the models of the present reality to project into the future, The vision of the future that we are trying to create is so fundamentally different from the present that none of the current models can work for the future.
This is the same kind of bias that many people have about politics and politicians that we are trying to change. So why can't we change the way business is done as well as how politics is done. And why can't the business community be our partners in honestly wanting this change, working for it and making it happen?
Kejriwal’s SMSs are monosyllabic: “Ok,” “sure”, “great” etc. Emails from his BlackBerry are one-liners. This time, his answer was longer:
I completely agree with Shalini. Whereas on one hand we are forming traders' wing wherein the only thing we r promising is an honest environment to do business (and strict action against those who flout norms), we have also formed our worker's wing to protect the interests of workers.
Prithvi Reddy, a pro-market founder member of the AAP, misunderstood me, too:
Thank you Arvind and Shalini, we have alienated a lot of people by branding entrepreneurs, traders and businessmen with a brush of suspicion. This is not acceptable.
You need honest people who can create wealth and resources. More so in a country with so much poverty .We should not mislead people into thinking we can live on love and fresh air!
I had to make them realise being in favour of the market was not the same as allowing lobbyism by an interested group:
Dear Arvind ji, with due respect, businessmen and workers may be on either side of the debate on labour rights. As far as the debate on quality and price of products and services is concerned, the people who are pitted against the businessmen are not workers, but consumers.
Second, traders' political forum and labours' political forum are not unheard of. My question was whether there will ever be a political forum to protect consumers' rights.
If there is any negativity in my query, it's because of a pattern I
have seen through the world history of governance and party
management. It's NOT because I suspect the people who have formed the Vyapar Udyog Mandal are foul.
...
The negative impression about us that our detractors spread is not that we are anti-business; it is that we are anti-market. The two are not the same. Being anti-market means being anti-competition/anti-consumer/anti-choice. This has been a history of ‘socialist’ governments: not transferring the whole industry to government, alright, but limiting access to it to a handful of fat businessmen who would never let new-age entrepreneurs in.
Recent history: You all may have learnt about Bengal politics from the media; I have been an eye-witness of Jyoti Basu dining and wining with Russi Mody. From old newspaper reports, many of which are archived in their websites, you will also get to know how deal after deal in West Bengal went to either the Tatas or the Goenkas.
The argument on definitions: On the other hand, capitalism, which apparently or allegedly we love to hate, does not limit competition to such a motley group. In fact, freedom of the market has never been tried in India. By strict definition, the likes of Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi are not capitalists; they are cronyists. When is cronyism possible? When government has the power of discretion in certain sectors. Capitalism means no government. So, if government has withdrawn from certain sectors, why will businessmen of those sectors approach it? If they don’t, how can there be cronyism?
Our position: By issuing several statements against FDI in retail — while also saying at a point of time that the AAP would conduct a nationwide referendum on the issue — we have bolstered the idea that the interests of a certain section of the business class will be protected, while the consumers will have less choices; in other words, the customers will be saddled by the monopoly or cartel of Goels, Guptas, Agrawals etc who buy, for example, dal at Rs 15 a kg from the farmers (who are forced into it by the APMC Act) and sell it to us at Rs 80-100 a kg. This is akin to protecting the interests of some 5 crore people of primarily a certain caste who own the mom-and-pop stores while not giving two hoots to the concerns of 10 crore odd OBCs and Dalits, who are employed without even a semblance of an appointment letter and standard employment benefits — but who could be absorbed in store-keeping, sorting, cold storage, transportation etc of a sophisticated retail chain — and 110 crore farmers and ordinary customers like us. This indicates that the pressure of that lobby, which is known to suffer from a phobia or paranoia of foreigners*, has already started working on us even before we have reached anywhere near forming a government.
* [Refer to the case of Ramesh Chauhan, then owner of Parle Soft Drinks, who rushed to Atlanta to sell off his leading brand Thums Up (then with a market share of 66%) to the Coca Cola Company, after suffering a nervous breakdown by the sight of Pepsi’s arrival. He did not even try to compete, despite such a massive market lead, a position from which he could have made life miserable for Pepsi!]
Where we are right but must calibrate our response: Of course, international retailers like Walmart and genetic crop sellers like Monsanto are evil. You are wholly right in condemning them. But they are not the only players around. Please do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. And I have no love lost for the foreigners. But why aren't our businessmen improving the sector? Because no businessman does that without feeling the pressure of competition. Please raise issues like making business easier for them; reducing the rate of interest on borrowing, for instance. Please also secure local retailers’ business by demanding that their foreign counterparts cannot operate on a floor area of less than, say, 5,000 sq ft. This would rule out the space for franchisees that can play on the scale of our local players; the big players will then not pose a threat to the small ones as no one rushes to a big departmental store, look for a parking space for the car, every day to buy grams of turmeric, cumin, coriander, or a few kilos of vegetable, meat etc. Also force the government to review and increase the limit of in-sourcing from 30% to 70%, which must be audited every year rather than the current practice of doing it once every five years that gives the bigger retailers a long rope for manipulation.
Measures such as these will keep all the three sections — 5 crore traders, 10 crore employees and 110 crore consumers — happy.
Electoral concerns versus ethics: We cannot ride roughshod over the last section of Indians (despite their huge numbers) just because they are not united and do not have a political platform, while the united minority may serve as a vote-bank and, possibly, also our financiers (the BJP will claim big shares of these pies, mind you)! Most importantly, the modern, urbane, educated youth that made the Jan Lokpal movement a stupendous success, who understand and appreciate the economics I have explained above, and who are appearing unsure about our intentions of late, will return to our fold.
The party’s patriarch, Shanti Bhushan, also father of Prashant and Shalini, thought of cooling down the discourse. On 12 May, he sent me quite a sensible mail:
There is no essential conflict between industrialists, traders, workmen and consumers. All of them are required for a good economy. An industrialist has to be assured of a reasonable return on his investments. A trader also renders important services to the community and has to be assured reasonable profits for his efforts and risks. A workman has to have good wages that will assure him a good standard of life which would enable him to provide a reasonably comfortable life for his family and good education for his children. The consumer is also entitled to be treated fairly and not to be taken for a ride by any other stakeholder. It is the duty of the state to play a proactive role and arrange all this by a proper exercise of its legislative and administrative powers. This would be true governance.
The locus standi of Shalini Gupta is curious. She was often the first to respond to my mails, while she was not even a member of the party. She would poke her nose in the party affairs because Kejriwal entertained her intrusion. She was introduced to the party as an ‘expert in organisational matters’, though her bigger claim to inclusion was certainly the fact that she was Bhushan’s sister. An undeniable proof of this being a Khaas aadmi’s party!”

That was the last time members of the political affairs committee took interest in being answerable. I could have continued with the party despite all my interventions getting rejected one by one if the high command had at least left this channel of communication open.


NC member from Indore, Madhya Pradesh, Prahlad Pandey says, “Internal democracy in the AAP is weak,” adding, “But for the sake of Delhi elections, we have to keep mum.”


He is distressed by the fact that when his team put in place a full-fledged State unit across the districts, and expressed the will to contest in the Assembly elections, they were told by the high command that they couldn't participate in elections unless teams were formed up to the booth level! "This was a target not even Delhi, with the whole party's focus on it, could achieve, and our MP is much larger than the national capital," Pandey laments. The whole team was dejected.


Evidently, the party that cries about the need for decentralisation from the rooftops does not feel the need to decentralise its own power structure first.


Several other founder and active members of the party say they will raise this issue within the organisation after the polls. Expect mass-scale resignations, too.


Sarita Jain from Jaipur pleaded with this writer desperately to stop making any noise before the elections. “सर, बस दो दिन और रुक जाइए (please hold it for just two more days),” she said, assuring me that all the NC members will raise the issue of lack of internal democracy after the Delhi elections. Enamoured with Kejriwal’s ‘integrity’, Jain could not relate to the experience of my close encounters with the AAP national convener that I shared with her over the phone.


Those who have left disagree. Kothari says, “This party is cheating the 120 crore plus people of the country. Their agenda is no longer what we had set out in this journey for, responding to the call by Anna.”


I think as much. And, to me, not opening up now means cheating all those people we had convinced to vote for the party. The party was worth supporting when it was a means to lead the country to brighter days in the future; when it has ceased to be any different, there is no moral obligation on the righteous members to safeguard its interests.


“The AAP is now dominated by the कचड़ा (garbage) of the Congress, BJP, BSP, SP etc. Contrary to the party’s claim that these were good people who were feeling suffocated in bad parties, they are all rejects of those parties,” thunders Kothari.


Citing the example of Asaram Bapu, whom he calls “Aish-o-Aaraam Bapu” (saint of lavishness and indulgence), he says this is an age where saints can turn sinners; sinners cannot turn saints. The era of Ratnakar-to-Valmiki transformation is long gone, he asserts.


This contention gets an overwhelming support from the Uttarakhand unit. They suspected misappropriation of the donations collected for relief after flash floods at Kedarnath. That was several months ago. It is inexplicable why they did not howl in protest. A few merely resigned from the respective positions in the State unit that they had been appointed to. The actions did not cause even a flutter at the Kaushambi headquarters of the party.


Vijay Paliwal from Kota, Rajasthan, who is still in the party, says, “Not even 2 per cent of genuine people are left in the party. The leaders of this party are surrounded by a coterie that keeps feeding them with wrong feedback.”


A thinking activist has no place in this party, Paliwal says, citing the manner in which Sisodia reacted to the news of resignation of Nutan Thakur from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, who left the party after witnessing that it was reacting to a sting operation exactly the way older parties that the AAP defames as corrupt do: Shooting the messenger.


They did not bother even when the matter was no longer intellectual. The first time many members and volunteers suspected the leaders were up to something fishy was in September. A former member of the Congress, Deshraj Raghav, had taken up membership of the AAP the previous month. And he was now the party’s candidate from Uttam Nagar.


He was a corrupt man, suspected the local volunteers. They tried to persuade the Singh-led team to change the candidate. The allegation against him was that he illegally owned several ration shops.


The issue first caught my attention when supporters of the BJP went the allegation go viral on Twitter. I saw some AAP supporters pleading Raghav’s innocence forwarding this report in The Hindu.


That was funny. The report clearly cited the Lokayukta saying that the chief minister and food & supplies minister could not be dragged into this case. The AAP supporters were, however, touting this as a clean chit to the accused!


Such utter stupidity of the party’s fan base was witnessed again in November. The Election Commission, following a sting operation on eight candidates and members of the party, observed that conducting and airing sting operations during an election season did not violate the model code of conduct. The fans took the observation around the town claiming the commission had found these targets of the sting innocent!


This case was actually more serious. Until the Election Commission snubbed them, the party leaders were making the same claim on television, in tweets and Facebook updates.


Back to l’affaire Raghav, I asked the party leadership on 22 September how I could defend our position. A copy each of the mail reached Kejriwal, Sisodia, Bhushan, Yadav, Gupta, Singh and Rai. None responded. The next day I heard Sisodia and Vishwas say on two Hindi language channels that the charges were baseless.


That was not enough for us. How was it baseless? How could we explain it to the innumerable people who were raising uncomfortable questions? Why, instead of a detailed clarification, the spokespersons, when they finally opened their mouths after initial reluctance, just said that the PAC had examined all testimonials of Raghav and that all allegations were baseless. Could such a statement inspire confidence of the cadre? Doesn't it sound like an S Gurumurthy giving a clean chit to a Nitin Gadkari (following allegations about his Purti Group)?


Within a day, complaints from the Uttam Nagar workers of the AAP spread like wildfire among the rest of the cadre. They alleged that more-than 2/3rd majority of active members with voting rights had rejected all the candidates proposed for the seat. Then some of them were removed from the party and some new were brought in, which was followed by a fresh round of internal election that saw Raghav emerge as the candidate. Sanjay Singh, seen and believed by all to be the party’s campaign manager in Delhi, denied the charge.


How could the case against Raghav before the Lokayukta be the political rivals' conspiracy? The case was initiated much, much before the accused joined the AAP. It is true that Sharma and Raghav have been mutual enemies for about a decade, but the origin of the fight, as they local residents report, was too petty to be relevant in big-time politics; the two reportedly fought over letting out a neighbourhood park for the purpose of a wedding ceremony some 10 years ago.


Rather than coming clean on the affair, the party pushed a bunch of sycophants ahead for defence. It was not competent enough to ward off the disturbing questions. A frustrated Lal of the party’s IT team thundered on Facebook. He said those who were not satisfied by the one-word clarification — “baseless” — by the spokesmen could leave the party.


That infuriated the volunteers and supporters. Many among the latter deserted the party for ever. Those from the former group, including active members who had tried every internal mechanism to force a change in the decision of the 'high command', started protesting publicly. They sat on strike near the Uttam Nagar Metro station. Immediately, all leaders of the party joined a chorus with Singh to vilify the protesters. They were touted as agents of the Congress or the BJP!


This counter-allegation from the party was untenable. Even if the charge was true, it was the party leadership that had paved the way for it. If Raghav could come from another party, why couldn’t others? And if the charge against Raghav made him loyal to the party, how could the protests by workers make them spies and saboteurs?


Another man who is seen once in a blue moon in the party’s Facebook photographs, whom I do not wish to name because no one can relate to him, began disturbing me with late night calls since then, trying to convince me the party was blameless. That evening I told him his explanation had no import; the allegation was too serious to be not handled officially; only a detailed press release and more detailed explanations from spokespersons on television would do.


Minutes later, copies of Raghav’s affidavit were uploaded on the party’s Facebook page. It, however, raised more questions than answers.


On the one hand, the party was saying that the accused had for long convinced it of his innocence. On the other, under our intense pressure, when he was forced to submit an affidavit claiming to be clean on 25 September, the date on the document was 25 September, too!


Moreover, most pages of the affidavit did not bear his signature or the notary’s stamp. Then, he swore by his children that he was innocent, which was not legal phraseology that could find its way to the affidavit. Is "मैं अपने बच्चों की क़सम खाता हूँ" the language of a legal document?


It could well be that the BJP’s Achal Sharma was trying to frame him by producing an old response to his RTI application that showed several shops against his name. Further, it is true that he owns no ration shop now. However, his submission (on oath) that those shops belonged to his siblings — with whom he claimed he had had no relations for the last 30 years — was false. The fact as told by residents of his neighbourhood is, he returned all the shops in 2009. This meant that the old RTI response Sharma was bandying about was true as of 2009, but that Raghav has no ration shops was true as of 2013. On the basis of the facts of 2009, he is certainly culpable of perjury: an affidavit is a statement on oath, and he had lied in it.


The question the Lokayukta posed to Raghav during the hearing on 27 September is disturbing us all. If the Congress's Mukesh Sharma is a dubious character who is (another among the dramatis personnae) conspiring against the accused, as the defenders have been alleging, and as has been alleged by Raghav, too, what kind of a character remains a close associate of a dodgy fellow for 30 long years?


Finally, the matter was hardly of Raghav's guilt or innocence. It was the unseemly sight of the whole party leadership coming up in his brazen defence. Why was the party leadership adamant on his candidacy, knowing well that an election is a battle of perceptions? Does a man who indulges in petty fights in his neighbourhood further the AAP’s brand image or value? This question made many workers suspect some money had exchanged hands on the top of the organisation. Everybody still believed Kejriwal was spotless. They, therefore, thought the persons who had been what it seemed corrupted by Raghav must be deemed indispensable by Kejriwal because of which he was helpless, because of which he couldn’t withdraw Raghav’s candidature or take action against those who were allegedly bribed by him.


The protesters in Uttam Nagar ultimately went on to float their independent candidate from the constituency.


It was not always that the high command was wrong. Auto-rickshaw drivers, who had come all out in support of the AAP, spreading the party’s message across the city by carrying its posters on the rear of the vehicles, are now angry because their peer, Bhaag Singh, was asked to step down as the candidate from Kalkaji.


This writer received an explanation for the action from a members of the screening committee. The auto-rickshaw driver was raising bills worth Rs 20,000 per week against expenses he had reportedly incurred in feeding fellow campaigners. When the party said it could not afford such high expenditure on food, Bhaag Singh said it was nothing; he should also be compensated for the dehadi (daily wage) he had been missing on account of the campaign that is keeping him away from his livelihood. This temperament was certainly not becoming of an AAP candidate. He had to be removed.


This still raises the question, if the party is not ready to support the poor in their political campaign — even after receiving generous donations worth crores from well-wishers — how can it ever do politics of the aam aadmi?


Insularity to alerts: Early November, I alerted the party by writing to Kejriwal, Sisodia, Singh, Yadav and Prakash about a possible attempt to sabotage its chances in Wazirpur. (The first four appeared to be in control of the campaign, and the last was in the screening committee that had short-listed the possible candidates from all constituencies):

This is to alert you about a possible attempt of sabotage in the said constituency.
As you know, our NGO Youth for Democracy, which had joined the Aam Aadmi Party in October 2012 when the party was yet to be named, is pretty active in the Wazirpur area, especially in its slum and resettlement colonies. I just received a call from Y4D's workers in the area that our party's activities are almost non-existent in their neighbourhoods, contrary to our high visibility in the rest of Delhi. They are suspecting that our candidate Praveen Kumar Sobti 'Bheem', who once worked in the BJP under their present candidate Mahendra Nagpal, projected his candidacy to you to actually help his former party where his real loyalty lies. They allege that he is deliberately going soft on the campaign so that we don't cut into the BJP's votes.
Please investigate the matter and take necessary action based on your findings.
Neither did any of the five recipients of the mail acknowledge the mail, nor was ‘Bheem’ interrogated.

Haughtiness: The party did not care even when people volunteered to help without merging their organisations with the AAP. In the beginning of the year, followers of Baba Ramdev were complaining of Kejriwal’s attitude manifest in his belief that he could win Delhi single-handedly. People like me did not find their grouse realistic. None of the other systemic change proponents was politically visible enough in the city-State to be taken as a serious contender for alliance and seat-sharing.


It was problematic when the AAP’s IT team and cheerleaders turned puffed-up. On 1 October, LSP head Narayan issued a statement from Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) that he appreciated the alternative platform the AAP had successfully created in the national capital. So that the voters who were looking for an alternative to the BJP and Congress did not get divided among parties that were promising change, his party would not contest in Delhi; the AAP had his party’s moral support.


The message was unambiguous. No way did it sound like a statement from a seat sharer. Without getting the message right, however, the IT team again jumped into the fray denying there was any alliance with the LSP. Members of the latter were stunned. They had expected appreciation from the AAP for the fact that a man of repute was speaking positive of the Delhi experiment. Instead, their leader was made to look like lusting after some of the 70 Assembly seats in the capital!


Now I come to the issue of collapse of internal communication, which was observed in this regard as well.


On 14 November, I received a call from a rural leader from Haryana who wanted to mobilise people in support of the AAP in outer Delhi, where the locals could relate to him and were likely to heed to his request of voting overwhelmingly for the party. I texted Kejriwal immediately:

Advocate Satvir Singh, mobile number ***********, who has his own party in Haryana, wants to help AAP mobilize people and make them vote for us in Outer Delhi.
He supports all efforts of alternative politics. So he wants to support the AAP. He wields enough influence among the rural people of Delhi. But if our party is not interested, then he will field his own candidates in Outer Delhi.
There was no response from Kejriwal. I sent the same message to Durgesh Pathak who was heading the team of booth management. He acknowledged the text with an “ok”, but Advocate Singh was never contacted.

Epilogue: While it had become clear long ago that there was space in this party only for two kinds of people: Either you have to be a television star (like Yadav) or a famous lawyer (like Bhushan) to be in the decision-making group, or you have to be a mindless worker who does not care for political and economic policies. There was no place for a thinker who was not a star or a worker who also happened to be a thinking person.


However, one hope was holding me back. In one interview after another, Kejriwal said he was not wedded to any ideology, and that he would take solutions to problems from any source available: left or right. The whole world outside had by then declared the AAP as just another socialist party. But paying heed to their plaint, howsoever plausible, would have meant I was quitting on the basis of a perception (despite being in a better position than them to know what the party’s supreme leader actually believed in).


Scores of journalists had shared with me their unease when they witnessed, in 2011, Kejriwal making plans to manipulate the media. They said he was a wily politician and not a genuinely aggrieved Indian, who was moved by the plight of ordinary citizens at large, and so he thought of taking on the system, penetrating it and changing it. But, to me, the wronged lot making an effective political strategy against the wrongdoers was not wrong.


Dividing the people was, however, a different ballgame. And that was a facet of Kejriwal — fallout of the haste he was in to win Delhi in 2013 and New Delhi in 2014 — that I forever felt uncomfortable with. While having breakfast and dinner with him, and also during a few long drives with him, I had the opportunity to sneak into his mind.



Sudesh Verma with Bibhav, AAP's media manager
Kejriwal said, for example, while I drove him from Shadipur in west Delhi to his house in Kaushambi one night of June with Verma (the adjoining picture was taken that evening) in the car, how whipping up caste and religious sentiments was essential to victory in an election. But I had not entered the party as a stinger or some party’s agent who would switch a recorder on the moment he started speaking along divisive lines. Who would believe me if I said Kejriwal was casteist and communal? Anyway, this divisiveness disheartened me so much that I stopped on-field campaigns forthwith.

I resigned when the AAP manifesto left no room for speculation as to what direction the party was headed. It was a published document. And it showed he had taken no right-of-centre idea; all the measures proposed were either leftist or downright, impractical populist, belying his year-long promise of being open to rightist ideas as much as the leftist ones.


The problems I see in the manifesto:

  1. Lokayukta's jurisdiction: Unlike the Lokayukta Act of Uttarakhand for which the IaC had supported the then government of that State, the one that can be made in Delhi cannot offer relief to the residents of the national capital because most of its woes are due to corruption of Central Government employees who cannot be prosecuted by the Delhi Lokayukta.
  2. Secularism violated: interference in Wakf matters, incentives to small scale industries only when run by Muslims;
  3. Bad economics: (a) Kejriwal says some 'experts' gave a presentation to him after which he was convinced water could be distributed for free as, they told him, the Delhi Jal Board's profit was more than its cost. You profit only because people pay. If they don't, let alone profit, you will not even have income. (b) In the pre-manifesto campaign, the AAP never said that the users have to pay for the whole amount of water consumed if it exceeded 700 litres per connection per month. This is taking the people for a ride.
  4. Not much fund for welfare: The Union Government can move funds from draining, non-welfare sectors like Air India, ITDC hotels and sundry businesses to health and education. Where will the State Government of Delhi get the extra funds required for prioritising health and education?
  5. Labour laws inviolable: A muhalla sabha of Delhi cannot terminate the services of teachers of the local school found lax in duty.
  6. Fooling society: What will be the legal status of the women's commando force? What if one such neighbourhood troop kills a man it apprehends? What if one of these troops uses the authority to settle personal scores? Will the women 'commandos' enjoy immunity from prosecution? Will this force be sanctioned to a semi-State like Delhi at all by the Union Government?
  7. Compromising with corruption: Does the AAP approve of the bribes that exchanged hands that made Delhi's unauthorised colonies emerge? Is the party offering insurance to the dwellers of these dangerously built houses of substandard material, with live and badly insulated electric wires dangling over the heads?
  8. Not right: The only right-of-centre idea that Kejriwal had been speaking of for the past one year has not been included in the manifesto: drastically cutting taxes to make industry return to Delhi.
  9. Bowing to traders' lobby: If this party manages to form the government, it will realise the coffers are empty. Foreign Institutional Investors can flee any time. Delhi badly needs Foreign Direct Investment in the retail trade that cannot be withdrawn easily. More important, why should an AAP Government favour a small, monopolist, anti-competition trading class to the disadvantage of the large consumer class, more so when its apprehensions about Big Retail are unfounded?
  10. Unemployment: There is no roadmap to employment generation.
Resigning after 8 December, the date when the election results are declared — where I do not expect the party to win a good number of seats, let alone form the Delhi Government — would lead to a situation where I would be accused of issuing sermons to a loser. They would say the same policies would have been found good if the party had won. And if it manages to win a few seats, the party’s adversaries can equally say that I stuck to the power despite my ideological and principled opposition to its functioning style because I wanted a share of government power!

When I spoke of the haste that the party is in on Times Now, Yadav pretended not to understand the problem. He burst into some versical flourish that was plain rhetoric, lacking any substance. Anchor Arnab Goswami could not relate my reason of lack of internal democracy to the sting operation that he was more interested in debating that night. The fact is, if Kejriwal & Co had not been in such a hurry, there would not have been such members and electoral candidates in our midst who could be trapped by a sting operation where the stingers were dropping enough clues to suggest they were decoy and not real. More importantly, the proposals from the stingers were so indecent that further conversation with them should not have been entertained. Due to lack of inner party democracy, sensible members could not check the speed of the AAP's spread, as a result of which stupid as well as corruptible people have sneaked in.


I know, though I am an insignificant activist, this article would be touted as a reason for the party’s abysmal show at the polls. However, to the number of people I had persuaded to vote for the party, the message that I am no longer with the party must be reached. Now they are free to choose the party they think is the least evil out of the BJP, Congress and AAP. Creating a lesser evil was never my mission.


Observing things from a distance, Rahul Chimanbhai Mehta of the Right to Recall movement says, “The AAP is wasting thousands of crores of activist-hours by creating just one more party, which will be no different from the Congress.”


Scores of members of the AAP, frustrated by its style of functioning, are venting out their ire in private conversations. As and when they are ready to come out in the open, more quotes will be included in this account

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.