Arvind Kejriwal's AAP a shell of its lofty vision: Opportunistic party that decried Congress during political entry now seeks tie-up
AAP had been critical of both the BJP and the Congress leadership and if it joins hands with the grand old party to stop BJP, it would turn out to be the case of another 'unholy alliance' put together to counter the common rival
AAP did little to mend its ties with Congress when it batted to repeal Rajiv Gandhi's Bharat Ratna
AAP's alliance efforts with Congress in Punjab have also not yielded any positive results
Kejriwal's apologies to Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari, Kapil Sibal landed him in a rather sorry state of affairs
There have been tumultuous political journeys and governments that have abruptly fallen previously as well, but a political discourse like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is not just difficult to map, it's a challenge only somebody like an Arvind Kejriwal could have taken the risk of, given that he had nothing to lose when he entered the political fray.
However, what has panned out for the party — whose majority government is currently serving the national capital — in the seven years since its inception, is nothing short of a roller coaster ride which has seen more faces leave the party than join it.
AAP-Congress to join hands?
When on Wednesday, AAP leader Amanatullah Khan said that somebody had told him that people are going to vote for the Congress because the next prime minister will be from that party, he went on to say something which is new for AAP but not surprising given the current political scenario. Khan said that "if this happens, then we will also extend support to their (Congress') prime minister".
Even though both AAP and Congress have repeatedly maintained that there was no immediate possibility of an alliance in Delhi or elsewhere ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the parties may be mellowing down to allow each other a chance in the coalition universe. After all, Khan's remark comes just days after the newly appointed Delhi Congress chief Sheila Dikshit refused to rule out the possibility of a pre-poll partnership with AAP.
Dikshit in an exclusive interview with Firstpost hinted that the decision to not to ally with AAP could change if the situation demanded. “In politics, we cannot predict what will happen after two months or even after two weeks. Decisions are taken keeping tab with new developments in the field," Dikshit had remarked.
Meanwhile, until now, the AAP had been critical of both the BJP and the Congress leadership and if it joins hands with the grand old party to stop BJP, it would turn out to be the case of another 'unholy alliance' like the BSP-SP combine in Uttar Pradesh which was put together to battle the saffron party.
Just a few days back, amid a spat with the Congress over the Delhi's water and power tariffs woes, AAP leader Gopal Rai had said, “Despite disagreement within the party, a view emerged that we are willing to drink the poison of the Congress. But the way Congress in-charges have spoken, it appears that for the Congress, their arrogance is greater than the country." Rai said that the AAP-Congress alliance was a suggestion made by “like-minded leaders”. “Farooq Abdullah, MK Stalin, Chandrababu Naidu, Mamata Banerjee among others stressed that despite disagreements with Congress, we should fight the elections together in the interest of the country."
It was at the same media interaction that Rai denied any possibility of an alliance with Congress and announced that AAP would field candidates in all constituencies in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. The party is also planning to field candidates in Uttar Pradesh, as claimed by the party's Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh.
Similarly, Dikshit herself had earlier ruled out any possibility of talks of an alliance with AAP. “No, there have not been any talks and nor are there going to be any talks of alliance with the AAP," she had said. But as they say, in politics, equations change overnight and you should never say never, it seems the DPCC chief has learned that hard way after seeing the fallout of former president Ajay Maken with the Arvind Kejriwal-led party.
Ajay Maken's tiff with AAP
Maken was publicly at loggerheads with Kejriwal and co and one of the reasons for his exit as the DPCC chief was dubbed to be the fact that he was not ready to give the green signal to an alliance with AAP in Delhi. He had called out AAP for its inefficiencies numerous times during his tenure as the DPCC head, terming the party as "corrupt". Maken had said that no party worker or leader wants an alliance with the AAP at a time when the graph of the Kejriwal government is “declining fast” and that of the Congress “going up”.
“Arvind Kejriwal is the person who stood with the likes of Baba Ramdev, General VK Singh, and Kiran Bedi during the Anna movement. The party can go for a secular alliance but how can we have an alliance with those who spoke against the Congress in the company of Baba Ramdev and Kiran Bedi,” Maken had questioned.
The AAP on its part, did little to mend its ties with Congress when it raised the issue of taking away Rajiv Gandhi's Bharat Ratna in the Delhi Assembly. The AAP passed a resolution in the Assembly to this effect and a controversy blew up when AAP MLA Alka Lamba, who was earlier a part of the Congress, resented against it. There were reports of Lamba being asked to resign from AAP which were later doused as mere rumours. But the episode was enough to dent the AAP-Congress ties further. Post the incident, Dikshit was quoted as saying, "The way they talked about Rajiv Gandhi in the Assembly... we were hurt by it and it was not right."
Following this, AAP also alleged that its office in Central Delhi's Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg was ransacked by the Youth Congress workers on 24 December, 2018 and had warned that such "action could lead to a reaction".
According to several media reports, in a meeting of the DPCC, headed by Maken in November 2018, a resolution was passed to oppose the alliance. However, top Congress leaders were of the view that the Congress, with AAP, could win 25 of the 30 seats in Punjab, Delhi and Haryana.
Kejriwal wants Congress' support?
However, post Maken's exit on 5 January, the murmurs of an AAP-Congress alliance have only gotten stronger with former party leader and senior journalist Ashutosh writing in an article, how Kejriwal has been constantly pushing for such a setup for over a year now.
In a piece that Ashutosh wrote for satyahindi.com, published on 1 January, he says that between AAP and Congress, it was Kejriwal who proposed the idea of the alliance first. "The truth is that Kejriwal decides what happens in AAP. And Kejriwal wants an alliance with Congress. He has been pushing for it for the past one year. Some other parties have also worked as communication channels for AAP and Congress.”
Ashutosh further wrote that a big impediment to this alliance was Congress’ Delhi unit under Maken. Another piece on the same website, published on the same day, analysed Maken's exit. “Congress’ Delhi unit kept telling the party high command that it shouldn’t get into an alliance with AAP since it is continually becoming unpopular in the capital," it read.
Rumours of a pre-poll alliance as an offer from AAP to Congress had started doing rounds in early 2018. Maken had tweeted in June 2018: "On 'so-called' offer of AAP to Congress for three seats, look at my reply to Kejriwal! When the people of Delhi are continuously rejecting Kejriwal government, why should we come to their rescue? After all, Kejriwal with team Anna supported by RSS helped in creating this monster of Modi!"
However, Ashutosh suggested in his article that an alliance could help the AAP-Congress combine win all the seven seats in Delhi, whereas a failure to join forces will split votes that are common to both parties i.e Muslims, Dalits and the slum dwellers. He also hinted at the possibility of a similar alliance in the 13 seats of Punjab, if the deal goes through in the capital.
BJP, meanwhile, was quick to mock the opportunistic nature of the would-be alliance. The leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly Vijender Gupta said the “failed alliance had exposed the AAP”. “This failed alliance has exposed the fact that the AAP was, is and will always remain just a Delhi party till it survives. All these alliances against the Modi government will see a similar fate in the days to come,” he said.
AAP chief Kejriwal, on the other hand, has been flip-flopping on his stand. Earlier, Kejriwal had responded in the negative when he was asked if his party would join the 'mahagathbandhan', a proposed grand alliance of the Opposition parties. "My politics is the politics of the people, the politics of development, the politics of welfare. Our politics is not the politics of gathbandhan (alliance)," he had said. However, later, Kejriwal shared the stage with Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition leaders at a massive farmers' protest in Delhi. Then on 10 December, 2018, Kejriwal also attended a meeting of 17 Opposition parties.
Kejriwal was reportedly urged to drop his anti-Congress stance by MK Stalin, who met him after discussions with Rahul. "Don't keep a negative stance against the Congress. The country needs a mahagatbandhan and you have a role in it," Stalin reportedly told Kejriwal.
However, at the same event on Wednesday where Khan gave signals of supporting Congress, Kejriwal yet again attacked the later. "If I felt the Congress could win, the AAP would give them all the seven seats (in Delhi) and leave the contest in their favour. The Congress cannot win even a single seat in Delhi," he remarked. Bringing out his anti-BJP, anti-Congress front in full force, Kejriwal said: "Neither Modi nor Rahul will become the prime minister. We will support anyone else who becomes the prime minister."
Kejriwal has been advocating that any vote polled in favour of BJP will only be advantage BJP and nothing more. "They apparently speak against Modi, saying even the Congress was better than him. It is a ploy to shift votes to the Congress and if that happens, the BJP will win the Lok Sabha polls," Kejriwal reiterated at the public gathering. AAP ministers have been maintaining that any vote given to Congress would be a waste as the fight is only between AAP and BJP.
The bone of contention between the two warring parties is believed to have been the number of the seats the Congress wants to contest in the National Capital. Of the seven seats in Delhi, the AAP is not ready to cede more than two seats for the Congress, according to a PTI report.
The huddle in Punjab
Meanwhile, AAP's alliance efforts with the Congress in Punjab have also not yielded any positive results after the party failed to breakthrough in the Assembly elections, though, it is the principal opponent in the state. Earlier in January, Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had said, “Till now there is no question of Congress allying with the AAP as the party does not have its presence in Punjab.” Even Kejriwal has been critical of the Punjab government accusing it of betraying people and ignoring the demands of the Dalits, backward classes and the poor in the state.
In June 2018, AAP faced major embarrassment and drubbing from Singh when the Leader of Opposition in Punjab Sukhpal Singh Khaira triggered a controversy by extending support to hardliners demanding a referendum on Khalistan by 2020. Khaira said that those who are demanding the referendum are living in independent countries and that the demand is the outcome of the injustice which was meted out to Sikhs during in the last 34 years in India.
Reacting to Khaira's statement, Singh had slammed the party and asked Kejriwal to clarify his stand on the referendum. Singh also demanded to know whether Khaira's statement had the backing of AAP's central leadership. This was significant considering Kejriwal himself was accused of hobnobbing with pro-Khalistanis while campaigning in Punjab in the run-up to the Assembly elections in 2017, Singh alleged. Khaira's resignation was sought but AAP later recused itself from his views. Kaira eventually resigned from the party citing Kejriwal's "dictatorial" leadership.
The many 'not-so-aam' exits
Talking of resignations, AAP has been bridled with exits of prominent members. Several founding leaders of the AAP either left the party or were sacked since its inception in 2012. Leaders like Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan who were part of the 2011 anti-corruption crusade headed by Anna Hazare which led to AAP's formation were unceremoniously removed in 2015 for "anti-party activities". Post which, reports of Kejriwal's dictatorial approach in running the party came aplenty.
In fact, one of the recent members to leave the party, Punjab MLA Baldev Singh cited Kejriwal's "dictatorial, arrogant and autocratic style of functioning" as the reason for his exit on 16 January. He said that the party has "totally deviated" from the ideology and principles on which it was formed after the Anna Hazare movement. Baldev said that he was "deeply shocked" when Kejriwal led AAP "unceremoniously and undemocratically removed an honest Khaira from the post of LoP, without taking Punjab MLA’s into confidence".
In November, 2018, Khaira, along with Kanwar Sandhu, was suspended from AAP for indulging in "anti-party" activities. In July 2018, he was removed as the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Punjab Assembly after he criticised Kejriwal for tendering his apology to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia. "Your meek apology to the drug-tainted former minister Bikram Singh Majithia further revealed your double standards in politics," Baldev wrote in his resignation letter to Kejriwal.
Interestingly, Baldev also lashed out at Kejriwal for "flirting with the Congress" and called it "another example of sheer political opportunism" on the politician's part.
Before Baldev, when Ashutosh left AAP on 15 August, 2018, it was widely reported that had been upset with the party leadership ever since he was denied a Rajya Sabha ticket. Kejriwal's decision to nominate businessman Sushil Gupta and chartered accountant Narain Dass Gupta for Rajya Sabha along with Sanjay Singh didn't go down well with leaders like Ashutosh and Kumar Vishwas, reports said. However, Ashutosh had cited "personal reasons" for his departure and hasn't interacted with the media since.
Previously, the dissidence and discontent within AAP was exposed further with Ashish Khetan's resignation. Khetan, who has been associated with Kejriwal since 2013, had said that he wanted to focus more on his career as a lawyer but, according to media reports, Khetan wanted to contest the 2019 elections from the New Delhi parliamentary seat but his demand was not accepted by the leadership and he was upset about the same.
AAP's Political Affairs Committee (PAC) suspended Karawal Nagar MLA Kapil Mishra in May, 2017 after he went public alleging corruption charges against Kejriwal and Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Kumar Jain. Mishra claimed that he was an eyewitness to the exchange of Rs 2 crore between Kejriwal and Jain, a claim rubbished by both. Mishra has since declared a 'Twitter war' with Kejriwal and his team and actively tweets its criticism.
AAP's best-known face in Maharashtra and youth leader, Mayank Gandhi also resigned from the party in November, 2015. Gandhi had alleged that Kejriwal was "hell-bent on destroying" the organisation. The Maharashtra unit of AAP was disbanded following its "reluctance" to act against Gandhi for his rebellion.
Founding member, Yogendra Yadav, who had also been an important member of Hazare's anti-corruption protests in 2011, was sacked in March 2015 for 'anti-party activities' and expressed his displeasure openly. "I am not surprised as from the past few days the matter was moving in such direction. Though I also cannot deny the fact that I am hurt by it. How would you feel if someone drags and throws you out of your own house," he had said on his ouster. Along with Yadav, another founding member and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan was also expelled. Bhushan hit out at former party colleagues and said that "those who have expelled us face serious charges themselves". He accused the leadership of hooliganism and dictatorship while alleging that Kejriwal is “ruthlessly stifling voices of dissent”. A third founding member, Anand Kumar was also shown the door along with Yadav and Bhushan and went on to join the duo's non-political movement 'Swaraj Abhiyan'.
Another member who was thrown out of the party for 'anti-party activities' was Ajit Jha. However, the first member to call Kejriwal a 'dictator' was Vinod Kumar Binny who was denied a ministerial berth by Kejriwal. He quit the party in January 2014 and later joined the BJP. Apart from Binny, Shazia Ilmi also left AAP to switch to BJP. Ilmi too was one of the founding members of AAP but quit the party in May 2014, saying it has deviated from its core values. The journalist-turned-politician had said that "lack of inner democracy" triggered her resignation. "There is a crony clique that runs the AAP," Ilmi said in a press conference after resigning.
Another member Anjali Damania resigned from the party after a TV channel aired a sting operation of Kejriwal allegedly trying to buy out Congress MLAs to form a government in Delhi. "I quit... I have not come into AAP for this nonsense. I believed him. I backed Arvind for principles, not horse-trading," Damania had tweeted.
Captain GR Gopinath who founded India's first low-cost carrier Air Deccan in 2003, quit the party in May 2014 citing growing differences within the party leadership and criticised Kejriwal for "shoot and scoot" politics.
Others in the list of dissidents who have parted ways with AAP include Kumar Vishwas, Ashwini Upadhyay, Maulana Qazmi (referred to the party as a "fraudulent entity"), Surajit Dasgupta, Nutan Thakur, Maulana Maqsood Ali Kazmi, SP Udayakumar, MS Dhir (said that Kejriwal didn't deserve a second chance), Madhu Bhaduri and Ashok Agarwal. Bhaduri had quit the party claiming ill-treatment of women party leaders. "I have just one issue, and that is humanity. And women are humans. In this party, women are not considered humans,” she had said in her statement. Whereas Agarwal had said that the party was functioning as a “private limited company” and was becoming “directionless”. In a letter to Kejriwal, Agarwal wrote that he joined the party for its “strong principles” but now the “goals for which it was created for were getting lost”.
However, unperturbed by the series of exists, Kejriwal on 20 January hit out at those who left the party, calling them "opportunists" who were greedy for posts and tickets. "Our political opponents started saying AAP has begun to disintegrate. Nobody in the country has the courage to disintegrate the party," he said. "Congress, Akali Dal and BJP have tried their best in the last five years to weaken the party but God has been with us. Those who have left AAP were not worthy of staying in the party. They were opportunists and were greedy for tickets and posts. They tried to break the party. God wielded the broom and all bad persons are now out," the party chief said.
Interestingly, Hazare himself has criticised Kejriwal in the past saying that "he has lost credibility".
The L-G tussle
AAP on Thursday said that it will be approaching the Supreme court on its issues with the Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal. The Kejriwal government is claiming that they are not able to make decisions because of the delay in the judgements and wants to know who has control over the administration of the anti-corruption bureau.
In July 2018, the apex court ruled that the Lieutenant Governor does not have independent decision-making power and the real power must lie with the elected government. The court ruled that Baijal could not adopt an "obstructionist" approach in sorting out differences with the Kejriwal government. The Dipak Misra-led bench also said that Baijal and Delhi ministers must settle matters by discussion and that the relationship between Centre and the state government should be healthy.
The decision came days after Kejriwal and his ministers spent nine days in a "sofa dharna" at Baijal's house, demanding that he step-in to end the IAS officers' "boycott" of the AAP government.
The officers' protest was triggered by the allegations of Delhi's top bureaucrat, Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash, that he was attacked by AAP lawmakers at a meeting called at midnight by Kejriwal at his home in February 2018. AAP, meanwhile, had accused Baijal of abusing his powers and blocking all decisions taken by the Delhi government.
The power tussle between the Delhi government and the LG started within months of the AAP taking power in Delhi in 2014. At that time Najeeb Jung was the L-G and he was dragged in a court battle between the Delhi government and the Centre. Arguments followed on transfer and appointment of bureaucrats, the power of which rests with the L-G. Kejriwal protested vehemently when the Delhi Police Joint Commissioner MK Meena was appointed as the new chief of ACB by Jung. Following this, there was controversy over Swati Paliwal's appointment as the DCW chief, for which, Jung alleged his permission wasn't taken.
In December 2015, CBI raided the Chief Minister’s Office and Kejriwal blamed Narendra Modi and Jung for it. After several rounds of allegations and counter-allegations and discord over almost all decisions taken by both the parties, AAP moved Supreme Court. Kejriwal called Jung "Hitler" in the process and eventually, Jung resigned on 22 December, 2016.
However, Kejriwal had similar issues with the new L-G Baijal as well. In December 2017, the turf war between Kejriwal and Baijal reached Parliament, with a Rajya Sabha member claiming that the chief minister was being treated like a “peon”. The AAP government argued that the L-G has been taking many executive decisions and a “harmonious interpretation” of Article 239AA of the Constitution was needed to fulfil the constitutional mandate for a democratically-elected Delhi government. It accused the L-G of making a “mockery of democracy”, saying he was either taking decisions of an elected government or substituting them without having any power.
Kejriwal has repeatedly raised the issue of his safety after claiming a threat to his life on being attacked with shoes/slippers, eggs, ink, stones, chilli powder and slaps. He now has Z plus security but recently an unidentified person had threatened the Delhi chief minister on call claiming that he could be "harmed soon".
Earlier in January, the CM's office had received an anonymous email threatening to kidnap Kejriwal's daughter. In 2016, a person had called Delhi Police's emergency number 100 and threatened that AAP chief will be shot dead as soon as he enters Delhi.
Apart from this, Kejriwal's apologies to Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari, Kapil Sibal and more landed him in a rather sorry state of affairs.
AAP was also in the news when the central government removed nine of its advisors including advisor to deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, Raghav Chaddha and Atishi Marlena. AAP's East Delhi candidate Marlena dropped her last name and there were reports of her doing it under party pressure because her surname sounded 'Christian'.
However, despite all this, the party is confident of a good show in not just the Lok Sabha elections but also of sweeping Delhi again. And as of now, the party may or may not place the 'broom' in 'hand' for doing the same.
Kejriwal also guaranteed that Gujarat's tribal advisory committee would be headed by a person from the community instead of the chief minister, as has been the case in the state
Arvind Kejriwal also said that Congress has lost its relevance and there was no point voting for that party as its leaders end up joining the ruling BJP
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's invitation to attend 'World Cities' Summit was cancelled by the Singapore government after he missed the 20 July deadline of acceptance