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Shazia Ilmi and Kumar Vishwas: AAP's political bakra strategy

For months on end, Vinod Binny made front page news making wild accusations about the AAP leadership, but to little avail. No one gave much credence to a two-bit politician perceived as throwing a tantrum about being denied a ministerial berth. But now the people airing similar grievances are more credible and more revealing.

 Shazia Ilmi and Kumar Vishwas: AAPs political bakra strategy

Representational image. PTI

Over the past couple of days, some of the best known names in AAP have sounded the bugle of rebellion. On Monday, Ashok Aggarwal, member of the National Executive committee and one of its founding members, quit claiming that "the party is functioning like a private limited company" run by "a group of elite individuals" who are promoting their personal ambitions "at the cost of that very aam aadmi vision."

Come Wednesday, the lead headline of the Times of India reads, "AAP founders resent rise of elite group." This time, it is Shazia Ilmi and Kumar Vishwas who are unhappy with the political affairs committee and its ticket distribution. While Ilmi denies being upset about not being allotted a Delhi seat, she has refused to run against Sonia Gandhi from her allotted seat, Rae Bareli. Vishwas reportedly has "concerns over choice of candidates and also being offered little or no support in Amethi."

Of course, there has been much backpedalling since then, and Yogendra Yadav in his usual suave style is trying to wave it all away as a case of frayed election-time nerves:

"No political party can escape this phenomenon of protests and dissent when the number of seats exceeds the number of aspirants. We are a young party and because we are politically inexperienced, our volunteers can't seem to distinguish between candidates suitable to become a sarpanch (village head), MLA and MP… But yes, we need to have a consultative mechanism to identify any disagreement within the party before it comes out in the open."

Except neither Ilmi nor Vishwas have been denied a ticket, as such. So this isn't a case of aspirants outnumbering the number of seats. What they are complaining about is the decision to willfully sacrifice their electoral prospects at the altar of AAP's brand.

Ilmi who lost by a mere 326 votes in the Assembly elections would have been strong prospect if she ran in Delhi. She doesn't stand a chance of even putting up a decent fight in Rae Bareli against Sonia. As an AAP source told ET:

"She wanted to contest from one of the seven seats in Delhi, but finally the party chose other people, who are essentially outsiders, over her," said a close aide on the condition of anonymity, referring to former journalists Ashish Khetan and Ashutosh, who were recently fielded as candidates from New Delhi and Chandni Chowk seats, respectively."

In other words, Ashutosh and Khetan were given seats where AAP enjoys enormous support while Ilmi has been asked to play sacrificial lamb. It is very poor reward for her valiant efforts in the Assembly election. And her refusal to run from Rae Bareli has been met with equal indifference, with Sanjay Singh saying merely, ""It's her decision if she doesn't want to contest."

Vishwas arguably has been reveling in the media attention that came with running from Rahul Gandhi's constituency. And it is likely the reason why he agreed to it. But the refusal to invest any effort in making sure that Vishwas can -- at the very least -- put up a credible challenge raises questions about AAP's sincerity.

Kejriwal may not have been taken seriously by pundits when he chose to run against Sheila Dikshit, but surely his canny psephologist-adviser Yadav must have long known that he stood a decent chance of victory. Dikshit was weak and on the run. A well-planned and funded campaign by their number one leader would bring her down. But neither is the case with either Rahul or Sonia. The choice of Ilmi and Vishwas as their rivals reveals Arvind Kejriwal's bold contention that his party will target the biggest politicians as mostly symbolic -- an empty gesture of setting up paper Davids sure to lose against their allotted Goliaths.

And all this while Kejriwal himself refuses to run against Narendra Modi unless he contests outside Gujarat. Besides, his coy denials about his Lok Sabha candidacy are a clear indication that he is keeping his options open -- including the option of running at all if the chances of taking down Modi in, say, Varanasi are ultimately judged to be slim. But if Ilmi can be asked to run from Sonia's citadel of power, why shouldn't Kejriwal make an equally suicidal run from Modi's home state?

Also notable is the fact that Yogendra Yadav himself is not running against Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda's son Deepender in Rohtak, but is taking on BJP candidate Rao Inderjit Singh in Gurgaon. Yes, Singh is a three-time MP but he has also recently defected from the Congress party, which makes him a perfect target, as AAP member Ramesh Yadav points out, "When you look at Haryana, people here are fed up with the Congress rule, which has continued for a decade. And BJP, despite its new catch Rao Inderjit Singh, doesn't have any significant presence in the state. So AAP has a clear advantage here."

There's an unmistakable double standard when it comes to AAP tickets, where some leaders and their candidacies are considered more expendable than others. Bad faith aside, the decision to sacrifice the likes of Ilmi and Vishwas is inexplicable for a party that has few recognisable faces, and plans to contest 400 seats. Surely, these candidates would stand a better shot of winning if they were pitted in other constituencies and against less prominent candidates. Why sacrifice them on principle -- especially when the principle itself seems to be purely pro forma.

No party can thrive while treating their most loyal leaders as political bakras. Ilmi rightly refused to play along. No doubt, many others will follow. And they will be far harder to dismiss than a blustering and bumbling Binny.

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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2014 19:52:09 IST