While finalising candidates for the Delhi Assembly elections in 2015, Arvind Kejriwal made a conscious choice: To go for candidates with winning potential rather than credibility. It did not matter to him then whether they had criminal records. He needed people who would be obliged to him and would not bother him with uncomfortable questions on intra-party democracy and core founding principles of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). There were the issues of cutting rival power centres in the party to size and funds too.
In a bitter letter to Kejriwal, senior leader of the party and then member of the party’s public affairs committee Prashant Bhushan had mentioned how the party was cutting ethical corners while distributing tickets to a “large number of political entrepreneurs who had joined the party only for political opportunism.” These people, the letter said, had no ideological commitment to the party, no record of public service and "whose sources of wealth weren’t explained".
According to a report of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in February 2015, as many as 34 percent of the 67 AAP members in the Assembly had criminal records. As the party continues to grapple with grave charges surfacing against its MLAs and ministers – Sandeep Kumar is the third minister after Jitender Tomar and Asim Ahmad Khan to be sacked in 18 months – another part of Bhushan’s letter is proving to be prophetic.
"... If you go with these kinds of candidates, then even if you win, the further compromises that you will have to make, will be such that they will completely destroy the USP of the party, which is of being a clean, transparent party, wedded to alternative politics. And instead of winning by using these kinds of candidates, it would be better to lose the elections by going with clean and honourable candidates."
Such people have started destroying the party. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his deputy Manish Sisodia and others who matter in the party cannot escape blame by saying “Look, we take swift action when we receive complaints against our MLAs and ministers. We have been maintaining high level of probity in public life unlike other parties.”
Now, with allegations of misconduct, criminal and otherwise, surfacing every few weeks can Kejriwal and others absolve themselves so easily? Please note, we are not even asking what happened to the party which promised to be a cut above the rest and with moral principle of public service at the core the exemplar for others. It’s simply because there’s no point.
It’s a choice that Kejriwal made and he has to pay the price. If he thought good work would eventually paper over the visible lack of character in the party, it has not happened. The good work has not been good enough either. The party has started losing what Bhushan would call its USP. With the leadership not looking keen on a quick course correction, it would be interesting to watch how sharp is the fall going to be for the AAP in the coming days. The process might have started.
Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung has ordered a scrutiny of around 400 files cleared by the Delhi government. The panel entrusted with it is likely to find lapses, some with financial implication, in some of them. Then there’s the matter of issuing liquor licences which could emerge as a big scam. While the Delhi government claims only six licences have been issued by it so far, Yogendra Yadav, now leader of Swaraj Abhiyan which would be soon launched as a party, has come out with a list of 399 licences.
Obviously, something is amiss here. We are not talking of a scandal yet, but if there’s hint of one the AAP no more has the cover of inexperience. The track record of several of its members has certainly made it open to suspicion.
Is there a way the party can redeem itself? It’s for Kejriwal to ponder.