On the morning of March 4, there was remorse on Twitter. The night before, the shouting brigade of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by Ashish Khetan and Ashutosh, was demanding answers from party seniors Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. Khaitan had earlier tweeted: “Father, son daughter trio of Shanti, Prashant and Shalini wanted to have a vice-like grip on party....” But that morning, he apologised and offered to delete the tweets. It was also learnt that Prashant had sent a message to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal that morning and was awaiting a response. Was conciliation in the air? But in the Kejriwal camp, ahead of the crucial national executive meeting of the party, the mood was belligerent. Nineteen members of AAP’s highest decision-making body turned up; 11 voted to boot Prashant and Yadav from the political affairs committee (PAC), eight were for keeping them. They had to go. Here’s how it all unfolded.
Until a year ago, Prashant, Yadav and Kejriwal projected a yaari that had struck a chord with the public. These leaders were different and wore their integrity on their sleeve, people had come to believe. But a recorded conversation between a journalist and the personal aide of Kejriwal published in The Indian Express on March 3 shattered the image. The conversation with the journalist had been recorded unknown to her; she is heard revealing that Yadav was the source of her critical story of the party. This was taken as proof of Yadav indulging in anti-party activities.
It is not the scope of this article to debate the sting or questions of journalistic ethics as regards revealing a source. A long-standing credo among reporters is that they will go to jail but not reveal a source. This article focuses instead on how bickerings have shattered the unity in AAP, and on how Prashant and Yadav took a fall.
In the days following AAP’s dismal performance in the 2014 general elections, a comment from one of AAP’s co-founders, Shanti Bhushan (father of Prashant), had taken everyone by surprise. “Arvind Kejriwal is a great leader and a great campaigner, but in my opinion he lacks organisational ability. He does not have the kind of competence which can spread the message of the party all over India...,” the senior Bhushan had said. He’d said there was no inner-party democracy in AAP.
Says an AAP member, “This was a shock to all of us, who were still coming to terms with our defeat. If he had an issue, he should have aired it within the party.” There were others who felt Bhushan senior was voicing the concern felt by Yadav, who it is well known, wanted AAP to contest the assembly polls in Haryana. He had been working hard in the state and AAP’s Haryana unit had been keen to contest the elections. But Kejriwal wanted to focus on Delhi. His rationale: a drubbing in Delhi would finish AAP. Also, around that time, AAP MLAs in Delhi had wanted to continue as MLAs although Kejriwal had resigned in February 2014.
Many saw a design in Bhushan senior’s comments: he was seeking a change of guard. “It was a terrible time for all of us and the call taken by the national executive not to contest elections elsewhere did affect Yadav, who had been working hard in neighbouring Haryana,” a source told Outlook. Did Yadav seek a larger role for himself, maybe as national convenor of the party? “It’s really beneath my dignity to answer the question,” says Yadav. “Twice, both Prashant and I have insisted that Arvind should continue as national convenor.”
Further murmurs of dissent began to be heard during the selection of candidates. A local Delhi unit was created to clear the names of candidates, who were to be first cleared by the PAC, of which Prashant and Yadav were members. A source said differences cropped up when Prashant did not agree to endorse 19 candidates. The matter went to AAP’s ombudsman, which removed two candidates and decided that 12 were okay.
It was around this time that the senior Bhushan openly endorsed Kiran Bedi, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate. Was he waiting for Kejriwal to lose the elections? This was the question everyone was asking. Prashant’s silence only exacerbated the distrust. While internal surveys showed a slender lead by AAP, it was a survey done by a marketing professional from Mumbai that came as a shot in the arm for the party, as it showed a thumping majority for the party. On February 10, 2015, the only men missing in the happy frame were Prashant and Yadav.
But the questions raised by Prashant and Yadav need answering. Both have been pressing for an ethical mechanism to look into complaints against candidates; greater autonomy for state units; and ensuring internal democracy. The larger matter of whether the party is open to dissent and criticism within will be answered by how the party treats Prashant and Yadav. Both had offered to step down from the PAC ahead of the national executive meet on Wednesday. But by late evening on March 4, it was clear they’d have to willy-nilly step down from the PAC. Will they continue in the party? It remains to be seen.