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05 March 2015

Yadav, Bhushan Shouldn't Be Complaining

They did everything to subvert internal democracy in the Aam Aadmi Party until the tables turned against them. In all likelihood, the party chief tolerated them for his own intellectual shortcoming and the fear that the duo would be dangerous as dissenters.

Their story of subterfuge is long. While one of them was initially admired within the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for disarming other panellists on television talk shows with a modulated intonation of voice, the other was hailed for his public interest litigations (PILs) against perceived corrupt people. But neither Yogendra Yadav nor Prashant Bhushan is popular in the party, not at least in the national council — the third line of command of which this writer was a part till 21 November 2013, when I resigned due to a manifesto of freebies and doles. In the ultimate analysis, such a manifesto that has persisted till 2015 would not have been possible if there was internal democracy in the AAP right from the time of its inception. Read on to know how.

Act I: The making of the AAP up to 24 November 2012
Political observers were asking a question about Arvind Kejriwal and others who hogged the stage throughout the Jan Lokpal movement. How could a band of people, howsoever well-meaning, who had a single-point agenda of getting rid of corruption using an ombudsman, 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. That class of society was middle to upper middle. They loved the good salaries they got from the corporate sector, but did not want the likes of Suresh Kalmadi and A Raja to thrive. That is, they wanted a regulated but free market and not a control freak state of a socialist’s dreams. Of course, inviting a free market advocate for guidance was hardly an option. Such thinkers in our country do not add up as astute politicians.

Importantly, these supporters were also fiercely nationalistic, with none having any love lost for Bhushan’s plebiscite-in-Kashmir fixation.

If such people had made the AAP, neither Yadav nor Bhushan could win an election in it. But they did not. A fast expanding party notwithstanding, the organisation was always top-heavy — not only in decision-making, but also in involving people in discussions and debates.

Act II: Humiliation of activists, back-door parleys of Yadav, Bhushan and Kejriwal’s coterie
Scores of activists were pouring in from all parts of the country in a hope to reform governance using the instrument of a new party that Kejriwal had promised after his hunger strike in July-August 2012 failed to elicit the then UPA government’s reaction. These activists, each with years of experience and hundreds of followers, were slighted by instructions 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 were busy in some political activity all this while. Whereas none of these ‘stars’ complained there was no democracy in the party in the making, none of the enthusiastic activists were allowed a peep into that world.

Sudesh Verma (now a Swarajya columnist and founder of the Debating India Foundation) and I, who had joined the party in the making on 8 October 2012, 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.

At Bhushan’s place that evening, Verma proposed a huge structure with vice presidents and general secretaries at least equal to the number of states of the country to channel people’s energy for reforms. He kept on insisting on a large number of office bearers the next day. But Kejriwal was fixated with the idea of a mere three posts: a convener, a secretary and a treasurer (till today, these are the only three posts in the party that the Election Commission has been notified about).

For the next few days, as we concentrated on drafting the party constitution at Kaushambi, we learnt that hectic parleys were still going on at Bhushan’s residence in Noida. Obviously, we were not invited. Back in Kaushambi when we raised the issue of organisational structure, Sisodia would say, “Yeh sab baad men tay kar lenge” (we will decide that later). Did Bhushan make news then, complaining that the party was undemocratic?

Kejriwal would sit in the presiding chair those evenings at the Kaushambi office, 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, “Yogendra Yadav bahut naaraaz hain mujh se” (Yadav is not happy with me at all).”

When we said individuals were not important, the party’s future head replied, while all were equal, some were more equal than the rest!

But why was Yadav upset? At the end of the 30 October policy meet, the JLP lot 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.

Finally, in the morning of 24 November 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 venue: Constitution Club, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Marg, New Delhi. 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. I had 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. My apprehension proved right on the national convention day.

Twenty-three nominated members of the national executive (NE) were paraded on stage, and we, the set of rest of the founding members to be known thereon as the national council (NC), were told we could raise our hand to object to any nomination. Boos and hoots from unidentifiable persons could be heard in the hall. But who would like to be identified as a dissenter on the very first day of the party? None raised a hand.

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. 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, too.

Composition of the rest of the NE showed how Kejriwal had managed to pacify Yadav. The wily former psephologist 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.

Yadav concluded the national convention perhaps with an inkling that the NC had not taken to his nominees kindly. In a bid to pacify the 300-odd members, he said the NC had the power to recall the NE if it turned out in a year that the latter could not perform. How he dishonoured that promise is part of Act IV.
Sudesh Verma seen with Arvind Kejriwal's then media manager Bibhav Kumar (now the Delhi Chief Minister's personal assistant) during an election campaign in August 2013.
Sudesh Verma seen with Arvind Kejriwal’s then media manager Bibhav Kumar (now the Delhi Chief Minister’s personal assistant) during an election campaign in August 2013.

About two months later, after attending the party office every day but finding no work to do, Verma returned to journalism. He was eager to campaign for the party again in August 2013, but could find no work other than following Kejriwal’s convoy.

Act III: Shalini Gupta, who?
Yesterday, former journalist and present member of the AAP Ashish Khetan tweeted:
Father son daughter trio of Shanti Prashant & Shalini wanted to have a vice-like grip on all party wings, from PAC to policy committee to NE.
It’s equally true, Kejriwal pampered the Bhushan family. Besides important meetings being held at the Bhushans’ houses in Sector 14 and Sector 43 of Noida — where Shanti Bhushan would pass strictures like a chaudhry of a khap panchayat — instead of the party office, the family enjoyed another privilege.
AAP's policy meeting at Shalini Gupta's residence in Sector 43, Noida, 11-13 January 2013.
AAP’s policy meeting at Shalini Gupta’s residence in Sector 43, Noida, 11-13 January 2013.

In almost the whole of 2013 when I was a hyperactive member of the AAP, a non-member woman used to be among the first to respond to my mails. I generally questioned the leaders on economic policy and secularism. When the Vyapar Udyog Mandal was formed, I questioned whether it would play a role like the RSS’s Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, lobbying for local traders. When Kejriwal paraded Muslim and Christian clerics on stage, and they announced that their respective communities would vote en masse for the AAP, I protested again.
pic 3
My Facebook post after a disgruntled element of the party blackened  Yadav’s face in March 2014. Shalini Gupta is seen behind Yadav.

In all such cases, Shalini Gupta would be among the first to react. Her locus standi was that she was Bhushan Senior‘s daughter and Bhushan Junior’s sister. Gupta was not a member of the party. Yet, 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”.

And till the time such indulgence was on, the Bhushans never complained the AAP was being run by Kejriwal’s “personality cult” and that the organisation had no inner democracy.

Act IV: Charade of democracy on 31 January 2014
Yadav’s worst assault on the spirit of democracy surfaced this day.

The AAP’s constitution makes it mandatory for its NC to meet twice a year whereas the meeting was not held until 31 January 2014. The party high command was actually apprehensive of a ruckus, as the majority comprised right-of-centre thinkers while the heads were making all sorts of leftist, casteist, populist and communal gestures.

I had resigned from the party more than two months before that, but the founding members had not removed me from their mailing list. I was privy to every development inside the party also due to their phone calls full of grievances.

Media told the world after that day that former IFS officer Madhu Bhaduri had left the NC meeting in a huff for having been denied the opportunity to move a resolution condemning Somnath Bharti’s ‘raid’ on African women at Khirki Extension, Malviya Nagar. It did not report that the whole house barring the 23 privileged NE members had burst in frustration.

Beginning that day, NC members vented their frustration via emails, and some even washed dirty linen in public. Quoting just one such mail should suffice. It had three PDF attachments describing discrepancies in voting procedure in the meeting.

A motion to amend the powers of the national executive had been moved. “Amendment no. 6 and 7 were then put to vote — by raising hands to register objection — that was reportedly passed by 136 to 59 votes,” read the mail by NC member Shimla Shri who alleged that the numbers were fudged. Such a motion required 2/3 majority to be passed. That meant if those opposing the motion equalled or exceeded 69, the motion should have stood defeated. The deponent alleged that the actual number of votes against the motion was more than 69, but the counting was manipulated to bring down the figure to 59. The letter bore signature of Allahabad High Court Bar Association’s spokesman Salil Srivastava as a witness.

“Even the count of 136 was reached in a dubious manner. It was originally 121. Staring at an imminent defeat of the motion, 15 members of the NE were rushed from the stage to add to the total,” informed then party spokesman from Uttarakhand, Satish Sharma.
pic 4
Screenshot of Shimla Shri’s letter

Yadav allegedly stopped voting midway, making the whole exercise farcical. The NC members were asked to raise their hands for objection and not for support. Supreme Court lawyer Changez Khan and High Court lawyer Arvind Tripathi were given the charge of counting the votes. When the dissent count reached 72, Yadav reportedly intervened to declare the figure was actually 59 and pronounced that the motion had passed. More hands were still in the raised position. On hearing Yadav’s pronouncement, they yielded.

Several such emails accused the AAP national executive of hatching a conspiracy by convening the NC meeting to put a stamp of democracy on the NE’s act of usurping the NC’s powers. The NE had also feared the NC would veto many of the party’s Lok Sabha election nominees. That veto power was snatched from the third ring of command, too, using the amendment.

A big section of the NC had been contemplating recalling the NE. They complained Yadav manipulated the proceedings of the 31 January meeting in such a manner that this proposal by the majority of NC members could not be moved amid much furore.

Where on earth was Yadav’s love for democracy that day: 31 January 2014?

Having thus rode roughshod over the party’s workers, Yadav and Bhushan now come across as rank hypocrites, crying foul over a prevailing ‘personality cult’ in the party that threatens to marginalise them. Where was their belief in democracy when they were establishing their position in the party not through elections but by prevailing upon Kejriwal behind closed doors?

Has Kejriwal been quiet all this while because of Shanti Bhushan’s ostentatiously donated Rs 2 crore? Or, does he feel angering a litigious Prashant and a lobbyist Yogendra would be dangerous for his party, particularly because they are rich with insider information?

Even if they patch up, the bitter aftertaste of (a) Yadav planting stories in the media — which the whole journalistic fraternity knows him for — and (b) Kejriwal’s assistant Bibhav Kumar recording a conversation with a Hindu correspondent (now with The Indian Express) where she reveals that Yadav was her source, have ensured that feuds will resurface and recur in the future. But that is not important. The point is hypocrisy of both the sides of the dispute.

Kejriwal is wary of building a large organisation with hundreds of office bearers whereas Yadav and Bhushan know well they can neither win elections inside the party, nor make the party win elections conducted by the EC at the states or the Centre. All this lamentation over lack of democracy is baloney.

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