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26 February 2014

Kejriwal, The Manipulator

Surajit Dasgupta, a former journalist, was Aam Aadmi Party’s founding member and was also part of its National Council. However, he quit AAP much before the Delhi Assembly polls that were held in December 2013 due to certain differences over the working of the party. In an interview with Manisha Singh of Zee Media Corp, he spoke about the contradictions within the AAP, the reasons why he resigned from the party and also what he thinks of Arvind Kejriwal. Here are excerpts from the interview.

The full interview:

Why did you join Aam Aadmi Party in the first place? And what were some of the pertinent issues over which you disagreed with the party and due to which you subsequently left AAP? 
As an individual since 2010 and as a part of the organisation Youth for Democracy (Y4D) since early 2011, I had been fighting for the cause of vyawastha parivartan (systemic change). One of the patrons of Y4D was KN Govindacharya who had come out of his RSS shell and BJP past in 2004 to float his own organisation Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan. While Team Anna was reluctant to share their stage with him, every now and then they would meet him privately, steal ideas from him and mouth them from their prominent platform as if the ideas were originally theirs. We were sure they did not have the foggiest idea how to implement them. Second, we were disconcerted by the fact that, while the section of society that had poured into the streets for the Jan Lokpal movement was overwhelmingly right-of-centre, leftists were making a lateral entry into the party as policy makers. Y4D's president and vice-president, namely senior journalist Sudesh Verma and I, along with all our followers and workers joined the Aam Aadmi Party in the second week of October 2012 to keep the movement rightist and act as a counter-balance to seminar and television circuit intellectual Yogendra Yadav and separatist Prashant Bhushan.

Right from the beginning, we noticed a near-total absence of internal democracy in the new party. At the national convention held on 24 November 2012 where the party constitution was adopted, 23 individuals were imposed on us as members of the national executive and six of them were declared as political affairs committee members. There was no election held for the purpose. This took some 300 odd supporters of the movement that had converged at the Constitution Club by surprise, as the previous policy meets involving all of us were concluded with the decision that all office bearers would be elected via secret ballots. The remaining members were told that they would be deemed founder members as well as members of the national council that would meet twice a year. We were also told that we could recall the NE and PAC if their performance was not satisfactory. As the party progressed, members of the NC as well as the thinking section of the cadre found several decisions taken by the party leadership wrong or misplaced. They were decisions like dubbing the Batla House encounter as fake, parading clerics of different religions on stage to garner votes of their respective communities, not allowing competition in the market by disallowing FDI in retail, etc. Since an NC meeting was never convened, we could not officially convey our displeasure to the honchos of the party, let alone recall them. Initially, they used to respond to our emails, SMSs and BBMs. That door of communication closed after a few months. As such, Arvind Kejriwal receives calls only of VIPs and members of his coterie. Finally, what kept me in the party was Kejriwal's repeated assurance in public speeches throughout 2013 that he was neither a leftist nor a rightist, and that he would take the best solution from any political philosophy as deemed feasible. The manifesto released on 20 November 2013 proved he had been bluffing all along. The document was downright populist and socialist. I studied it thoroughly overnight and resigned from all ranks held in the party (founder member and member of the NC) in the morning of 21 November.

You resigned from the Aam Aadmi Party even before the Delhi Assembly elections. You have clarified that a sting operation CD featuring AAP leaders showing them accepting funds without proper verification was not the reason for doing so. You stand by it?
Yes. I stand by anything I ever say all my life. But I have something to add.

While I had resigned in the morning of 21 November last year and news of some sting operation was telecast not before late afternoon that day, the contents of the sting only vindicated the reason for my resignation: Lack of internal democracy. If democracy in the party had been practised sincerely, we would obviously have gone slow in expanding and spreading out, as several NC members would protest the inclusion of just about anybody in the party. Those caught by the sting came across as careless and ready to compromise on scruples even though they did not quite look like criminals on camera. Take the example of Shazia Ilmi. The stinger said she wanted to exploit Ms Ilmi's name and fame to settle scores with a rival. The proposal was so indecent, Ms Ilmi should have shooed her away then and there. But she entertained the stranger further, glaringly so after being assured of some donation. If activists like us were at the helm, such people who could slip on the first occasion of test of character would have no place in the party. There were several others, both in and out of the sting, that we were not happy about: Alleged ration mafia operator Deshraj Raghav of Uttam Nagar, Vinod Kumar Binny of Lakshmi Nagar whose office is on illegally occupied DDA land, Dharmendra Koli of Seemapuri who used to loiter around in the area as a lumpen with antisocial elements before he replaced his late sister Santosh Koli as the candidate for the said constituency, Praveen Kumar Sobti 'Bheem' whom we suspected to have been planted in the party by the BJP, Manoj Kumar of Kondli who was another lumpen, Rajesh Garg of Rohini whom some newspapers reported to be a blackmailer etc. The primaries conducted across the 70 constituencies were by and large farcical. Wherever a candidate was pre-decided, the active members' mandate was overruled.

You have been AAP’s founding member and also a National Council member. You have said in the past that the party does not believe in decentralization in its organisation and concentrates power at the top? Can you elaborate?
Apart from the examples given above, incidents leading up to the national convention prove the point. Activists and supporters of the Jan Lokpal movement from all over the country were converging at the office of the proposed party in large numbers. They were given menial jobs like registering the details of walk-in supporters and advisers in a log book, attending phone calls, looking for guest houses for the visitors who would join us between 24 and 26 November 2013 etc. None of the known faces of the movement were part of this exercise, while none of those given menial jobs to attend to were made part of any serious political exercise. Verma and I were a bit more privileged than them. The two of us were invited to Prashant Bhushan's house and the party's war room at the Kaushambi office to advise the leadership on issues like party structure and constitution. There, Verma kept insisting on a large structure that would have vice presidents and general secretaries equal to the number of States of the Union of India to absorb and channelise the energies of people so eager to see a change in the country. I was supporting the idea vehemently. After two such rounds of talks, we were not invited to the subsequent rounds. Finally on 24 November we found out that the structure was kept minimal with only three office bearers: The national convener, secretary and treasurer. These three, along with the 23 members of the NE as well as the six members of the PAC, were short-listed behind closed doors by Kejriwal's coterie and Yadav. This was clearly a bid to keep power concentrated to a few on top, an antithesis of decentralisation.

Besides, party members from Madhya Pradesh told us after a few months that their State unit was ready well before the Delhi unit. Yet they were not allowed to contest in the State's Assembly elections, apparently because the credit of whatever success they could get would not go to Kejriwal. The way the city of Delhi was plastered with posters and banners bearing images of Kejriwal's face made it conspicuous that this man was interested in nothing beyond self-promotion.

You also accused AAP of indulging in communal politics for electoral gains. Why so?
The examples of the declaration of Batla House encounter to be fake and the act of parading clerics of different faiths on stage, who would pledge their respective communities' votes to the party, have been mentioned above. Furthermore, every time Kejriwal visited some religious shrine, he would make it a point to carry some photographers along who would then make the images go viral on social media. They also began making cells for different communities beginning with the Sikh Cell. This is not secularism. I subscribe to the dictionary definition of secularism, which says the policy need not be atheistic or agnostic, but it is such public conduct that the political party or government concerned appears unmindful of people's communal identities.

You have said that the AAP is like any other political party in the country? How?
Other than the examples of communalism and dubious methodology of candidate selection cited in the answer to the second question, one may try an experiment with the AAP's supreme leader. Befriend him and get close enough to him as an adviser. Convince him that a certain action or speech has the potential to fetch massive votes for the party. Even if the proposal is downright unethical, Kejriwal will accept it. Does expediency not sound a familiar story in politics?

Consider the party's election symbol. The jhadoo (broom) was selected not by accident but by design. They figured out that not all Dalits liked the Bahujan Samaj Party; the only loyal voters it had were the Jatavs. The jhadoo was hence selected to woo the Valmiki samaj. When a month before the Delhi Assembly election I expressed a doubt to Kejriwal that we might not win seats in Outer Delhi, he said he had given preference to Jats in that area and Brahmins elsewhere. This means he is as casteist as leaders of other parties. How can a person with such regressive thinking lead India to progress?

Now with cases like Kejriwal's plagiarism and undervalued declaration of assets, Manish Sisodia's misappropriation of funds for his NGO Kabir, both Kejriwal and Sisodia's CIA connection, Somnath Bharti's racism, high-handedness and past as a spammer of pornographic websites, etc (other than the high-command's act of distribution of election tickets to dodgy characters), even corruption is not a factor that differentiates the AAP from other political parties.

To make matters worse, Yadav is a former adviser of Rahul Gandhi and Bhushan is a known sympathiser of separatists and Maoists. How can this party be serious about fighting the Congress that it otherwise projects in poor light?

After AAP won a historic mandate in the Delhi Assembly elections, did you regret leaving AAP?

First, the mandate is nothing historic. It's strange that the media thinks winning 28 Assembly seats (less than majority) in a city-like State is a big deal, forgetting the achievements of the Telugu Desam Party and Asom Gana Parishad who, as débutantes, had swept Andhra Pradesh and Assam respectively and formed governments without any other party's support.

Second, I might have regretted leaving the AAP if I had ambitions of grabbing government power. I declared long ago publicly that I did not enter politics to contest in elections. I joined the AAP to keep it on the track of morality and help it build its cadre base till the time it was found to be pursuing the right goals.

This act of desertion for the sake of ideals is not a first for me. When I was Y4D's vice president, the second most powerful person in the organisation, and we were supporting some independent candidates for the MCD elections, I left the organisation a few days before the elections because the cadre was violating the model code of conduct of the State Election Commission. I would plead with them to behave but the size of our crowds had turned too big, unwieldy and unruly to be governed. So I quit. The president and other leaders of our movement then pleaded with me for three continuous months and promised me that they would never compromise on ethics, and only then I joined Y4D again.

What do you think of AAP convener and its most famous face, Arvind Kejriwal?
He loves being the centre of attraction. At some point of time way back in the past, he must have been a restless citizen finding several things wrong in the country and wanting to set them right. But he has lacked patience throughout. He alleges that corruption is rampant in the Indian Revenue Services, but he did not persist with the job as I-T deputy commissioner to correct the system from within. He associated with the Missionaries of Charity but lost interest in it after finding Mother Teresa draw all the attention. He joined Rajendra 'Waterman' Singh, but left when he did not get media spotlight for whatever little effort of cleaning the rivers he put in. His list of shoots and scoots is long.
During Kejriwal Government's 49 days, mainstream media questioned his U-turns
and social media lampooned his volte face

Next to impatience is his ideological cum administrative illiteracy and ignorance of macro issues. A glance through his book Swaraj makes it clear his thinking is of municipal or panchayat level that involves issues like repairing neighbourhood roads and street lights (now it is also alleged his book is a plagiarised version of Bharatiya Raj Vyawastha). A seasoned and honest journalist can easily expose him by posing questions whose answers demand deep knowledge of statecraft. On all such occasions, he either tries to get away with rhetoric or says the question is not important or leaves the interview mid-way! His government did not succeed because the bunch of people who became MLAs and ministers simply did not know what to do. And while the promise was of vyawastha parivartan, not one step that the AAP Government took can be called a step towards changing the system, be it transferring Delhi Jal Board employees or launching an anti-corruption helpline (that almost every State has) or reducing the rate of electricity supply through subsidy or offering 666 litres of water free to every household per day [The electoral promise was to reduce electricity rates by forcing the distribution companies to show the right costs. It was not to continue paying them the old tariff while hoodwinking the people into believing they have been relieved by reducing the rate for up to 400 kWh consumption through money they have already paid through taxes. Even the free water promise made in Kejriwal's election speeches did not have the riders of penalty for consumption greater than 700 litres and necessity of pipelines and meters].

Let it be known that the Batla House statement was issued when activists of Okhla drew close to the party's national convener. In the subsequent three days that we drew close to him again, he was forced to retract the statement. This means Kejriwal does not have any conviction of his own.

Finally, the man is known for manipulating facts for political convenience. This includes claiming that he was an I-T commissioner while he was actually a deputy I-T commissioner, and turning the Ambanis into a pop hate figure while Mukesh Ambani's company has only 10% access to India's oil reserves and the price demanded by it is in accordance with the recommendations of the C Rangarajan Committee instituted by former Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy and not his successor Veerappa Moily. People love to hate the Ambanis; so Kejriwal turns the industrialist brothers into a punching bag even as Yadav says there is no harm in accepting donations for the party from the industrialists they wantonly defame. Kejriwal also suppresses the fact that one of the last executive decisions he took was clearing Rs 372 crore subsidy to Anil Ambani while he did not provide for the amount that would relieve the thousands of fellow agitators who agreed, on his appeal, to default on payment of their electricity bills [in any case, even that order of selective relief has been squashed by the Delhi High Court]. The latest is the claim that Transparency International (India) reported that the number of cases of corruption in Delhi had declined during the AAP rule while the said agency denied they had undertaken any such survey or study.

Your comment on the way and the issue on which Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Delhi CM?
I had predicted during the days when the AAP was not sure whether it should form the Delhi Government that the only thing they would do, whether in or out of government, was create spectacles in the streets. That is exactly what they did. After stepping into the corridors of power, Kejriwal & Co realised governance was beyond them (as has been reported by bureaucrats working under them recently); they also realised fulfilling the electoral promises they had made was impossible. They tried to deflect public attention from their incompetence and agitating temporary employees of DTC and temporary teachers by staging a dharna (sit-in) near Rail Bhavan.

Second, Kejriwal as chief minister had almost committed a political hara-kiri by declaring he would not contest in the Lok Sabha election. The party couldn't afford it as he was its biggest crowd puller. He had to take a U-turn, which he is now infamous for, and he did it. The alibi of the BJP and Congress MLAs not allowing the Treasury Benches to table the Jan Lokpal Bill (actually the Delhi Lokayukta Bill) is a red herring. The AAP was so insincere in this regard that it did not even include the programme of tabling the bill in the agenda of the day inside the Assembly House.

How in your opinion will AAP fare in 2014 Lok Sabha polls?
It will have a limited effect. It may get a few seats in Delhi. It is getting media attention disproportionate to its wherewithal. This coverage may have some effect in other cities where it may not win seats but can garner enough votes to deny victory to some candidates who could win in its absence. It will fail to make a mark in the villages.

There are significant differences between Delhi and the rest of the country. First, due to maximum impact of the Jan Lokpal movement on the national capital city, we could very quickly build a cadre base here. My former colleagues who head various State units of the AAP say people are approaching them for membership, but not volunteering to devote time for party work. Unless a party has people to manage booths, which we had in Delhi, its chances of success in elections are slim. Second, students and NRI volunteers have all gone back home after 8 December 2013. Third, outside Delhi, only a few centres like Mumbai and Bengaluru feel an impact of the social media. Even there, the party stands discredited due to reports of its maverick conduct in Delhi. Most importantly, no one in his/her wildest dream thinks this party can win 272 Lok Sabha seats. Since it has declared it will have no pre-poll alliance, it leaves us with the only possibility that it, along with constituents of the so-called third front, which cannot win 272 seats either, will need outside support of the Congress to form the next government, which people of the country by and large are in no mood of seeing because 10 years of UPA rule has devastated the country's economy. Reckoning that their votes would thus be wasted or would thus perpetuate Congress rule indirectly, voters will shy away from the AAP.

You are being seen as a BJP/Modi supporter now? Is it not political opportunism?
No party can take my support for granted. I had joined the AAP for the sake of ideology. Supporting the NDA's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is the best bet for Indians for reasons explained in the last answer.

Mind you, I differentiate between the BJP and Modi. Not every leader in the BJP wants to see him as the next prime minister. Some lazy leaders must be counting their chances of being the choice in case the party falls short of majority and the allies put forth the condition that they would extend support to a BJP-led government only if someone other than Modi were made the prime minister.

Next, the Gujarat Chief Minister's track record shows that he can fix the problems that plague the BJP. For example, Hindutva-brand rabble rouser Praveen Togadia was a public nuisance until about a decade ago. Modi's politics has cut him to such size that no crowd is seen receiving him when he arrives at the Ahmedabad airport. The BJP MLA from Daskroi, Babu Jamna Patel, known as a real estate baron, had objected to the town plan that had a map of a vital road passing through his property. Modi overruled his objection for the greater cause of convenience of the town's citizens. He did not mind demolishing temples when they came in the way of Surat's plan.

Muslims of the State, paying the highest zakaat and going to Haj in the largest numbers, are very happy with Modi's reign under which their children are going to mainstream schools and aiming at well-paid jobs and businesses rather than fooling around in the streets. Having researched for a month (after leaving the AAP) for a book written on Modi by Verma, Narendra Modi: The Gamechanger, I know he was unduly vilified for the riots of 2002 by his political rivals, their friendly journalists and the NGO brigade now discredited for planting fake witnesses [Verma had left the party in January 2013 and joined television channel NewsX as its news editor]. No chief minister, State administration or party could have stopped that horrendous riot involving mobs of strength between 5,000 and 15,000 each at a time when almost the entire population had lost its composure and sense of right and wrong. This was a State with a poor people-to-police ratio and long history of communal strife. The police and Army still apprehended many rioters, fired and killed many, with Hindu casualty exceeding 200. State complicity is where there is no casualty on the side of the majority, as it happened not only in 1984 in Delhi but also in several other States throughout the history of independent India. The courts are exonerating Modi case after case.

The judicial commission of inquiry formed to look into allegations of the State Government favouring some companies has cleared it of the charges. The businessmen heading small, medium and large scale industries I met across Gujarat are happy that bidding happens online. Land owners are happy that no PPP project comes up unless they are satisfied with the project. Social indices are now improving at a rate faster than the national average as one finds in the articles of Bibek Debroy and Surjit Bhalla. The Union Government-appointed expert committee formed to inquire into the allegation that the State had not compensated and rehabilitated the people displaced due to the Sardar Sarovar Project, which had on its panel the venerable N Jayaprakash Narayan of the Lok Satta Party, has found that Medha Patkar's charges are bogus…

On the one hand, we have institutions of authority, from courts to Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team to Union Government-instituted commissions of inquiry and committees, who examine hundreds and thousands of deponents and witnesses, who have found Modi innocent on one count after another. On the other, we have the propaganda of some journalists who hardly accommodate five quotes or interviews of cherry-picked people per article. Who sounds more credible?

Most important for me are the speeches Modi has been delivering since the time he was declared the NDA's prime ministerial candidate. The speech addressed to the BJP national council members on 19 January 2014 is the closest to my idea of India. Its contents are very close to our idea of vyawastha parivartan. If he does not walk the talk, it will hardly take me time to turn his staunch critic. I wish that does not happen, but if it does, I will resume my fight for vyawastha parivartan as an activist.

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