In the winter of 2015, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was in peak election mode. A civil society movement against corruption had evolved into a political party and, for the first time, had given the national capital a truly triangular electoral contest.
During the campaign, Kejriwal referred to the Indian democracy as jantantra – the rule of the people. To hold people together, in 67 out of 70 seats, isn’t easy. Collective angst against identifiable enemies like corruption can align with a single man’s conviction and promises. But to hold a party together, its members — who generate thought capital around its ideals — need to be able to evolve without having to leave it.
On 15 August, Ashutosh left the Aam Aadmi Party and on Wednesday, Ashish Khetan tweeted about his departure from active politics for the sake of focusing on his legal practice. Party sources speculate Khetan may be heading to the US to pursue an LLM degree anytime soon. While posts on Twitter make it seem like the two former journalists moved on amicably and for personal reasons, it is a fact that neither was considered for a Lok Sabha ticket in 2019.
Knowing fully well that such claims could surface, Khetan tweeted a newspaper clipping that cites the reason for his exit as the denial of a Lok Sabha ticket from the New Delhi constituency, and dismissed it as an extrapolation.
Last year, businessman Sushil Gupta and chartered accountant ND Gupta were given Rajya Sabha tickets. The former quit Congress in November 2017 and immediately joined AAP and the two are now headed to Parliament to represent AAP. The possibility of AAP's cadres being demoralised because of the opportunistic entry of those who can finance the party’s plans in Delhi and Haryana is a fair conclusion.
Khetan had contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 from the New Delhi constituency and had lost to BJP's Meenakshi Lekhi. Ashutosh, on the other hand, had contested from the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency for AAP and had come in third.
When senior ideologues Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan moved on from AAP and formed Swaraj India, the narrative around their exit was the sycophancy surrounding Kejriwal and the departure of AAP from its egalitarian ethos. The drifting away of younger leaders, who worked longer within the party while it was in power to build and oversee delivery of promises, can now weaken the young party's ability to implement its ideas.
In 2014, Ashish Khetan, along with Meera Sanyal, Adarsh Shastri, Preeti Sharma Menon and Roshan Shankar, pitched a research project on Delhi for a blueprint which could solve Delhi's intractable problems. Invitations were sent to domain experts, researchers, scientists and bureaucrats from India and around the world to engage on a 70-point agenda. Sources within AAP say that the advisory body called the Delhi Dialogue Commission, which democratises leadership and makes the party horizontal in its organisational structure, wouldn’t have been possible without Khetan’s valuable insights. DDC’s 21 tasks included Dilli Dehat (rural Delhi), mahila suraksha (women's safety), and jhuggi jhopris (JJ clusters).
In Ashutosh’s case, the indications that prabharis would be given Lok Sabha tickets and that he wasn't made a prabhari or given a Rajya Sabha ticket, may have led him to find other promising avenues. Ashutosh had used AAP as a vehicle to channel his goals for a democratic civil society. He was a strong anti-caste and liberal voice within the party and stood for individualism amidst collectivism.
This came out especially when Sandip Kumar was caught in a sex tape controversy and Kejriwal was about to take a moral stand. It was Ashutosh who stood up to protect him, stating that private and public life are separate and that there isn't any criminality in the act. It was also his strong view that AAP should contest in Goa. Another person leading the party in Goa was Pankaj Gupta, who is now a Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha prabhari and in the race for becoming the Lok Sabha candidate.
Sources within the party confessed that the financial strain that comes from becoming a part of a political movement is a reality for many at AAP. One more theory floating within the party is that the ongoing turf war between the Delhi government and the L-G has drained many of the party’s senior leaders. Khetan was also heckled at the Delhi secretariat along with Environment minister Imran Hussain by a mob, soon after the alleged assault on Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash at the chief minister's residence.
Unlike Kapil Mishra, MLA from Karawal Nagar, Khetan and Ashutosh have announced their distancing from AAP gracefully and without lashing out at the party or the man who heads it. However, the voluntary withdrawal of the two intellectual heavyweights before the completion of AAP's first tenure and a year before the 2019 Assembly elections can leave behind a vacuum which will not be filled up easily.
Updated Date: Aug 23, 2018 16:22 PM