Reading the Power Struggle in AAP

There is no way of discussing the ongoing crisis in AAP without being blunt and frank. The terrain of politics is, after all, a brutal and treacherous one. So let me put it without mincing words. The ongoing crisis in AAP is not just about ‘differences of opinion’ or ‘toleration of dissent’ but a power struggle. And before squeamish liberal stomachs start churning, let me also add – power struggles are not always only about power in and of itself. Sometimes they are, but quite often they have to do with alternative visions, imaginations and of course, contrary interests. It is only likely that every serious political party or organization will, if it has any life in it, be faced with a struggle over any or all of these matters, for what is politics if not about steering the party/ movement in the direction one understands to be the best course. And these alternative visions, imaginations, policies and interests are inseparable from the position of individual personalities involved. Individual ambitions are pretty much the stuff of politics and it is unrealistic to expect to see a politics without all of this. The will to power is not exactly a self-effacing virtue.

For this reason, factions and platforms are inevitable in all political formations and it is best to recognize them as legitimate entities and have open public debate, on matters at stake. These cannot be matters of concern to only a small group of leaders in the National Executive and Political Affairs Committee (in AAP’s case) or in Politburos and Central Committees (in the case of communist parties). So, if collective deliberations are important in the apex committees, they would do well to be preceded by a public debate among different tendencies within the organization. At one level, this means moving away from the party-form itself to the form of a platform or coalition, where the different groupings and ideological currents are honestly and openly recognized, as are the personal inclinations and angularities of each individual leader.

This longish preface should make it very clear that my concerns here have nothing to do with the usual liberal platitudes about ‘amicably and democratically’ resolving ‘difference of opinion’. A political movement or party is not an academic seminar. Every such struggle, in the final analysis, is a power struggle – so is the current one in AAP. And there can be no doubt that both sides in this conflict are deeply involved in it. Decoding the stakes in the absence of a clear public debate, apart from selective leaks in the press, is not an easy task. But it does not involve rocket science either. One can read the signs, one can read between the lines of the narratives from both sides that have emerged, howsoever partially, in the media. What follows below, though, is a reading quite different from the ones inundating the media about intolerance of dissent.

The Mise-en-Scene

I believe that ‘unity at all costs’ is not always the best option as it involves importing into the organization, methods and styles of ‘politics’ that are based on compacts between competing elites – of the kind that we have seen operate in Indian politics right from the 1990s – in which basically, nobody wants to rock the boat. This way the interests of both sides are preserved and politics becomes, once again, a treacherous game of behind-the-scenes bargaining. This was the deadlock that AAP (and its precursor, the Anna Hazare movement) broke by blurting out truths that everyone apparently knew but no one dared utter. To quote from an earlier post of mine (written on 13 October 2012) :

Suddenly, everybody is talking favourably about the man from the ‘outside’ who is refusing to respect any of the established protocols of protest and politics. More startling perhaps, is the fact that in the past tw0 days we have had senior journalists and political analysts suddenly telling us that they had known all along that there was a ‘post 1980 contract’, a secret code of silence, that never would the dynasty be attacked – indeed never would any aspiring dynasty be attacked. Everybody knew, says Dipankar Gupta in the Times of India, that the issue came up one and a half years ago – and we all do know that. Robert Vadra’s doings had already  been known. A senior BJP leader is even reported to have told a senior journalist that his party had indeed been in possession of the very same documents that Arvind Kejriwal brandished at his press conference. But, this leader went to say, “after an intense discussion, the leadership decided not to rake up the issue in Parliament even after submitting a motion in each House asking for a discussion.” Everybody knew – the parties, their leaders, the media persons, political analysts. And yet, nobody spoke out. All of them colluded, in other words, in suppressing the issue.

This was just one side of the contract. The corollary was that the other players too would not be touched for any of their misdemeanors. To my mind, then and now, this break in the ‘normal’ routines of politics based on the elite contract was largely due to the persona of Arvind Kejriwal. In that post, written after the formation of the party, but before its naming as Aam Aadmi Party, I had also expressed some fears about the possible directions that this new entity may take:

It seems to me that this outfit, whatever the name it decides to call itself by, will be a harbinger of what seems to be seeking to make its appearance worldwide – a post-party politics and post-party democracy. The possibility that it might become a party and yet not be one, is interesting and new – though I am aware that there are many among Kejriwal’s confidantes who would like it to become a party right away. If these advisors have their way, we can rest assured that it will be the end of this interesting new experiment.

I may add now that among the ‘advisors’ I had in mind was also Yogendra Yadav, whose propensity to do politics the conventional way has been quite evident to some of us who have followed his public persona. Politics to Yogendra has always been party politics of the type that has dominated Indian politics for a few decades now and we have had occasional arguments on these and related matters. This attitude to politics is what has always made him comfortable with serving on UPA government committees and inside television studios, where he has spent a good part of his life and presented election analyses, defending ‘politics’ against the popular ‘antipolitical sensibility’ that found its most powerful articulation in the mobilization around IAC and AAP. It needs to be underlined that while this ‘antipolitical’ sensibility is often portrayed as a ‘middle class’ or even ‘elite’ sensibility, it is one that is equally widespread over all classes, especially the poor. This fact does not get adequately reflected in election survey data but any everyday conversation will reveal how common is the refrain  – ‘sab chor hain‘ – across the poor in particular.

It is interesting, however, that over the period since the formation of AAP (but in fact, right from the Anna Hazare days), a large mobilization of people was taking place in opposition to the government and since simply being in the movement attracted such vehement attacks from the government as well as from other political formations – this participation led to a politicization of a very different kind. With the formation of AAP and with the issues of everyday life, like water, electricity and gas prices taking centre-stage, as also with the exposure of Reliance Industries, a politics of the popular was clearly emerging that had no relation to any pre-given blueprint. The emerging politics of AAP, as we have observed on previous occasions, was post-ideological in a profound sense and stayed resolutely away from standard divisions of Left and Right. That was both its strength and its weakness. The fact that soon after its formation and its opening of the battle front against Reliance, AAP faced virtual blackout from the media, played no less a role in this politicization. The media too was now seen as part of the power bloc.

Meanwhile, events proceeded rapidly and within less than a year of its formation, AAP had to plunge into the Delhi elections and turn up eventually with 28 seats and the possibility of forming a government. Ill-advised though it was to have formed that minority government with Congress support, the fact that it was done after seeking the opinion of a large section of the electorate once again, opened up a space of possibility in terms of setting the agenda. It was the agenda set by that short-lived government of 49 days that eventually became the basis of the current electoral sweep of the party.

The fact that AAP had managed to stall the electoral juggernaut of the BJP in Delhi, had an immediate all-India effect as well. It added another dimension to the anti-corruption plank of the party and drew many hitherto skeptical sections as well towards the party. AAP supporters started springing up and offices were set up different parts of the country. It was all very exhilarating and as the parliamentary election approached, the clamour for turning AAP into an electorally credible all-India platform also grew. Social movements joined the party and contested on its platform across the country. Here the role played by Yogendra and other socialists in the party in terms of building bridges with these social movement groups was, it seems, quite significant. In an insightful article in the Jansatta (3 March 2015), Punya Prasoon Vajpeyi made an interesting and important observation about this development. He discerned a certain disconnect and tension between this new expansion – which brought in a certain kind of political rhetoric of the social movement/left variety – and the mobilization that had taken place so far on key urban popular issues. In my view, it was not an insurmountable tension but one that needed more time to nurture the dialogue between them. That process could have been quite transformative and over time things could have been sorted out differently. But by prematurely forcing a crisis at this juncture, that possibility too seems jeopardized. In any case, as Vajpeyi observes, once the election was over and Modi took power, most social movements too retreated into their own familiar territories. Thus the pressure to expand had certainly reduced and Arvind Kejriwal and his team decided to focus attention on Delhi.

The Crisis

At one level, this is being made out to be the key issue of contention between the two camps. It is almost as if Kejriwal wanted to simply stay in his ‘well’, shunning any move to expand outside Delhi. This is a misreading, deliberate or otherwise. In the year since the formation of AAP, Kejriwal had toured different parts of the country, setting up units. He also did take up the challenge of contesting against Modi from Banaras and his reappraisal of the ‘national expansion strategy’ seems to be the result of rethinking and drawing lessons from that experience. The conflict, therefore, seems to point to something else: It is in all probability tied to what I see is centrally Yogendra’s idea of politics – a politics whose be-all and end-all is elections. It is one thing to say that we want to expand to other states, but quite another to say that our very first intervention must be in the form of contesting elections with a view to making a bid for power. This conflation of ‘expansion of the party’ with ‘contesting elections’ appears to have become normalized. Chances were indeed, as Kejriwal apprehended, that this time round, if AAP had contested the Haryana elections, it would have lost miserably, jeopardizing even the Delhi election results.

The question then is of how to expand.  Do you expand only when you contest elections? There is after all a big issue of land acquisition that is agitating the Haryana peasantry (as elsewhere) and one could argue that one way of expanding would be to do the back-breaking work of building a movement before the next round of elections.

If contesting elections is the only mode of expansion being debated, I think Kejriwal might be right in not wanting to go that way. Let us not forget that in Delhi, he has built up over a decade and a half, a movement along with a small group of activists, away from elections and media glare. Initially, it was RTI activism around allocation of civic amenities in resettlement colonies like Seemapuri and for issues like effective functioning of the Public Distribution System. This was followed by the struggle against water privatization and the effective prevention of the World Bank-pushed plan. He and his fellow associates have faced goonda attacks, arrests, have toiled day in and day out – long before the Anna movement came to the fore and grabbed media attention. One of his team members, Santosh Koli, who was also the prospective candidate for Seemapuri in the 2013 election, was finally killed after a series of threats.

This long and patient work continued, and not in the style of revolutionaries who appear among ‘the people’ with already formed visions and programmes.

[An irresistible aside here: Sub-Commandante Marcos, a key leader of the Zapatistas, explains in one of his interviews that when he and his colleagues used to teach at the University of Mexico, as committed Marxist-Leninists they decided to go to the the Chiapas mountains to foment rebellion by mobilizing the indigenous population. Once there, they figured out that things were not quite as simple as they had imagined them to be. People had their own ways of making sense of the world and the revolutionaries had to learn a new language. Thus, says Marcos, began the tortuous process of unlearning all that they had learned, before they could make any headway with mobilizing the indigenous people!]

Returning to Kejriwal, then, here the struggle was also of finding a way. From initial steps, to forming an NGO to the mass mobilization of the Anna movement and finally, the forming of AAP – one can see the tortuous process of taking up issues and learning on the job, how actually working on the ground leads you from one issue to another, from one form of organization to another. The leader was learning along with the people he was mobilizing. Whatever ‘ragtag’ combination of people that came up around Kejriwal, have taken his lead because they have slogged together, struggled together and suffered together. Many of them gave up their jobs and took the risks of dedicating themselves to building a movement that did not yet exist. Contesting elections and being in continuous media glare was not what they experienced, but patient and often thankless work.

Then comes the ‘moment of the party’. Suddenly people who had so far only walked the corridors of power and inhabited media houses entered the party. Some are media creations and others, at least media savvy and well placed within Delhi’s power elite. They are articulate and suave. They can talk glibly. And they have one great advantage. They have immediate appeal for all those radical, left leaning intellectuals who were apprehensive about possible ‘fascist tendencies’ within AAP. Suddenly this lot see faces they recognize and trust, People Like Us, unlike ordinary AAP members or leaders who were unknown quantities, complete outsiders to the world of power in Delhi. The intelligentsia was now comfortable that it did not have to deal with the unknown. Many Facebook comments were explicit – “AAP minus Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan is fascism/ RSS/ BJP B team.” The people, of course, without intellectual vanguards, are always potentially fascist!

In parenthesis, one should also state, of course, that not every one who has chosen to remain in the ‘Kejriwal camp’ is of the same type. There are those like Ashutosh who are quite problematic – and his motivated tweet saying that this was a division between the ‘ultra-Left that demanded referendum on Kashmir’ and those who believed in ‘pragmatic welfare politics’, only helped obfuscate issues, much to the glee of the left-leaning intelligentsia. It was ‘proof’ to them that what they had felt all along was being proved true. As it happens, this was pure mischief-making, for the Kashmir question has hardly been at issue in the current crisis. And of course Yogendra is not at all on the same page as Prashant Bhushan on Kashmir, given his frank espousal of Indian nationalism and an explicitly expressed distaste for the non-Socialist Left. Ashutosh is also the one who created mischief around Ashis Nandy’s statement on corruption in the Jaipur Literary Festival, completely distorting it and running it on the channel he worked in at that time.

There is also little doubt that AAP (and Kejriwal in particular) needs to urgently deal with a whole range of problems regarding decision making within the organization. The fact that the core team remains primarily a ‘boys club’ too, does no good for the quality of decisions arrived at or for the future of AAP.

However, the problem is not just that newer people from different backgrounds joined AAP. The problem is precisely that this almost immediately became a power struggle. Some of them were clearly not prepared to wait their turn to take over the reins of decision-making, confident in the belief in their own political and intellectual acumen. They were not prepared to wait to build up the movement/ party in their own states over some years, with patient and silent work. Had they done that, they would have also built up their claim to lead on the basis of actual work and not merely because of their supposed ‘intellectual acumen’. They were not prepared to wait and take the more difficult route. At least, some of their actions seem to suggest that.

Here is an extract from an email sent to several journalists in October 2013 by Yogendra’s personal assistant Vijay Raman (who also figures quite damningly in Dilip Pandey’s letter to the AAP Disciplinary Committee published by NDTV a few days ago). It is regarding the possibility of a syndicated column by Yogendra but actually says much more than that:

Dear  xyz ji, (name withheld) I am writing to you in follow up to our phone conversation. I am a part of a team of volunteers assisting Yogendra, given how busy he is with election work. We have been pushing that he resurrect his regular writing for newspapers, all the more now, in the hectic busy-ness of day to day campaigning – so he and we, his readers can remain connected and engaged to larger issues and ideas. I am helping put together a syndication that can help reach out his articles nationally as well as in regional languages. Would it be alright with you, if the monthly article he gives you is also shared with a couple of newspapers like say xyz and abc?  I am hoping that there would be no conflict of territories and this way we can maximize his reach . If you have a word limit or any other considerations please let me know. I would also request – although it is the least of Yogen’s concerns – that he be paid in line with his stature as a leading political thinker and the popularity of his writing.  It also helps given the pace of his politics, that this might be soon one day be his bread and butter. ...I, like many others have come to the Aam Aadmi Party largely inspired by Yogendra, hoping to promote his inclusive and insightful politics. Please call or email me for any clarification. regards Vijay Raman

This email (particularly the bits I have marked in bold) shows that within a year of joining the party, people were being inducted in an attempt to create an alternative centre of power within and outside AAP. The email is quite unique in making the claim that people like the writer had come to the party not because of the anti-corruption movement or Kejriwal’s work but rather because of the inspiration of Yogendra’s insightful ideas. As I said earlier, I seen no problem in this in itself, except that it is being railroaded in great haste, without doing the hard work that it entails. At the very least it would require you to put your own ideas into practice and show results. That way there could emerge a healthy interaction between two different perspectives and there would be something real to choose between. Some people it seems, did not have the patience for all that.

And so, in no time, the guns seemed to have been trained against Kejriwal himself. The statement by Shanti Bhushan that Kejriwal should resign from the position of National Convenor and that Yogendra should be made the National Convenor, immediately raises the question – ‘why only Yogendra’? Kejriwal’s claim to be the NC is quite clear but if, for reasons of ensuring democratic checks and balances, there has to be a division of power, why is it so evident that the position should be ceded to Yogendra? That is what has perhaps raised the hackles of many people who do not belong to the charmed circle of the Delhi power elite. We must remember that Shanti Bhushan’s statement echoes the same thing said by Vijay Raman to a party activist earlier, as is clear in the letter by Dilip Pandey referred to above.

At the moment, I am not even entering to other more immediate issues that have been raised by the Bhushan-Yadav camp – like selection of candidates, the invocation of ‘Swaraj’ in letting state units decide on issues like contesting elections, or even on matters like the Bhushans’ egging on the egregious AVAM and the senior Bhushan praising Kiran Bedi as a better prospective chief minister than Arvind. My interest in this piece has been to focus on what seem to me to be crucial general issues for any party or movement.

A lot is being made now after the National Executive meeting that decided to ease out Yogendra and Prashant Bhushan, about Kejriwal ‘blackmailing’ the NE by stating that if they remain, he will quit from the national convenorship. Frankly, I do not see what other course of action is possible, once it becomes clear that attempts are afoot to take over the fledgling movement/party, by people with a completely different vision and idea. In that case, the only way – perhaps the final way – would have been, had these people managed a take-over, to go back to the people, the large mass of silent supporters. Effectively, that would have been the first step towards a split.

That extreme situation has been averted for now but if that were to happen, there is no doubt in my mind that not all the power elite put together can build a party or movement worth the name that can even win one single constituency in Delhi or anywhere. We can see this through the experience of all the communist (and socialist) parties in Delhi and other states. They have never grown beyond small sects. They have never managed even to save their deposits in any of constituencies they have contested, except for their strongholds in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and some pockets in some other states. And the story of the communist party/ movement in these states too bespeaks a similar history – the history of relentless and often brutal internal struggle against the usurping of the mass movements and struggles by mere ideologues. The movements in these states were built not on the basis of ideological programmes laid out by articulate leaders well-versed in Marxism-Leninism but through movements like the food movement or land struggles. What they required was political acumen and horse-sense rather than well laid out ideological blueprints. This is not to glorify ‘practice’ against ‘ideology’/ ‘theory’ but rather to underline a logic of politics that is often passed over in embarrassed silence. It is also to underline that this is actually another face of vanguardism whereby self-appointed elites take over and control mass/ popular movements.

Finally, to conclude, a piece of unsolicited advice to Arvind Kejriwals’ camp. There is a serious need to guard against the tendency to go on an overdrive and start a campaign to weed out all supporters of the Yadav-Bhushan camp. In fact, the party needs time to tide over the crisis and move slowly. It needs to seriously start an internal debate on the kind of organizational form and culture it wants to promote. Ultimately, of course, it will be the work of the Delhi government that will make or mar AAP – both in Delhi and elsewhere, in other states. That however, is only going to be the ground on which the future of the party can be built, but any attempt to ignore vital organizational questions can derail the process completely, irrespective of this ground.

31 thoughts on “Reading the Power Struggle in AAP

  1. ranginee

    Read the article. In a nutshell, it seems to say that ideologies do not help to win elections but strategies do. Also, it chides YY for showing haste in electoral politics as opposed to laying groundwork for the same. Even if I agree with all the points with what the author has said, I still have few questions? Why no dialogue was initiated between the warring groups even when PB showed his inclination for the same? Why tainted candidates were given tickets to contest polls? There was no attempt to thwart allegations of gender bias within the party. Why? The allegations of liquor distribution and illegal donations were not followed up. Why? Mr. Mayank Gandhi’s revelations indicated vindictive politics which is a warning in itself to the party workers and volunteers. Last but not the least, Mr. Kejriwal’s silence and absence from the crucial NE meeting was unwarranted. It will enormously restore faith in AAP if the party takes serious steps in addressing the concerns raised by PB. Otherwise, inspite of all the good work done by AK and his associates, the party is doomed to be just one of many and thousands associated with it move away from it like a forgotten dream.

  2. SK

    You say:
    “The conflict, therefore, seems to point to something else: It is in all probability tied to what I see is centrally Yogendra’s idea of politics – a politics whose be-all and end-all is elections.”.

    And then you go on to say:

    “[T]here is no doubt in my mind that not all the power elite put together can build a party or movement worth the name that can even win one single constituency in Delhi or anywhere. We can see this through the experience of all the communist (and socialist) parties in Delhi and other states. They have never grown beyond small sects. They have never managed even to save their deposits in any of constituencies they have contested, except for their strongholds in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and some pockets in some other states.”

    So are elections important in the scheme of things are not?

  3. Aditya G

    First of all thank you for seeing this argument for what it is, a difference over form of politics.
    But then you seem to ignore the circumstances which led to the formation of, first the IAC and then AAP. For all their anti establishment bluster, they did receive fawning media coverage. It is true that this withered after a while, you cannot ignore all the free and often uncritical publicity they received.
    Secondly, Gandhians always have a tendency to be self-righteous. As if they are the only ones who can and do know the truth. Just look the Anna hazare’s saintly authoritarianism. Ak also suffers from this messiah complex. True he has done a lot of hard work, but his self regard is off-putting. Such people are prone to arrogance. Indeed AAP’s holier-than-thou behavior brought them some well deserved criticism. But they only seem to have accepted criticism after their first attempt at government.
    Although I feel that the scale of their latest victory, has revived all of their previous smugness.
    Thirdly, you talk of haryana elections. The reason why YY seems to want to expand there is that now presumably AAP knows how to win elections. And that means the mobilization of working people. Because we must remember that voting patterns in the recent elections were inflected, some might say definitively, by class interests. So if mobilizing working people on the basis of their class intrerst wins elections, what’s wrong with expansion?
    Most important is the issue of ideology. It has fashionable recently to talk of post-ideological politics motivated only by ‘popular’ interest. This might win elections but the fact of the matter is society is itself (as you put it) a power struggle. Single issue parties may win cross class support especially on issues affecting everyone (corruption) but politics and government is more expansive than a ngo. In the end when the chips are down, such parties have to choose. And on evidence of the election, it seems that AAP has chosen.
    I have to say I was surprised by your anti intellectual stance and defense of a nonsocialist left(whatever that means). Adopting a coherent programme would do far more for aap than self-righteous bluster. Not everyone can be an activist on the ground.

    1. Bhattacharyya

      The author is absolutely right in exposing the hollowness of most of ‘left leaning intellectuals’. People see them as lazy opportunists who come to be piggybacked on movements – exactly what Yogendra is doing. People never identified themselves with these ‘intellectuals’. If someone is not an activist on the ground, he/she simply cannot decide when and which election to fight. This is more obvious because resources are limited. To say that AAP has a ‘formula to win election’, shows ignorance of realities- specially of a bigger state like Haryana. AAP is fighting election in Punjab, as a part of expansion strategy which is a careful step. AAP has a far more coherent plan, which is pragmatic, easy to understand and pro-people, which left intelligensia never concentrate on- they seem to like confusion more! Volunteers and supporters knows AAP by its plan where from they derive their energy. AAP has got many ambitious leaders who want a pie from the resources and electoral benefits which diligently gathered by Kejriwal. If he wants to use them judiciously – he becomes dictator! I used to be a admirer of Yogendra, but even as a lazy armchair activist, I do know Yogendra is not the main force behind AAP! We cannot replace the handwork done by Kejriwal and his group with Yogendras beautiful arguments. To me the bigger question is, why Yogendra wants quick results showing his certificates acquired from media/power circles. He has been given responsibility to build farmers movement. If he can do this dirty work, he can be accepted as leader. Else he is a waste, and better be thrown out from AAP. As a political analyst, Yogendra is good, but as a risk-taking, fast learning and innovative mind, he and Bhushans cannot compare Kejriwal. Yogendra knows, if he is thrown out, he will have to analyse Kejriwal for rest of his life, thats why he is keeping a reconciliatory door open!

  4. AAP needs cadre building. Yes, there will be struggle for that as well – as to who controls & leads the cadre building effort within the party.

    Perhaps, this sounds like going the BJP or the CPM route. But that need not be true.

    Cadre building is essential to avoid the Congress-type conglomeration. Also, Cadre-building can essentially focus on building inner-party democracy.

    Another important element that AAP desperately needs is term limits on every office bearer, including the founding members. Term limits will force the party to build second and third rank leadership (and, hence, avoid the kind of problem that was explained by Antonio Gramsci – the gap between the leaders and party rank & file starts to grow as the movement expands and grows.

    Human beings are social animals and we in the sub-continent, especially Indians, are political animals! Hence, we need to establish mechanisms by which we do not destroy our movements through politics of power grabbing.

  5. Navneet

    In Aditya Nigam’s quest for broad generalisation to prove that “an ideologue/intellectual is out to usurp the party” some facts fall by wayside-

    1. Yogendra has said that we can choose elections to fight based on our strength and resources. Organisation building and fight for issues concerning people must continue. Autonomy and strengthening of state units have been his persistent demand. A street-fighter that Arvind is but he can’t be present everywhere.

    2. Yogendra is raising his voice against the land ordinance not only in studios which author reminds us that he is prone to. He has been in the fore front in farmer’s protest against land ordinance in Haryana “on the ground”.

    3. Author reminds us the principled fights which Arvind waged but he forgets that those very principles and ideals are threatened now in the hands of a clique surrounding him.

  6. V

    A lot of what is being said here makes sense. But then implicit in this is the claim that YY (and PB) are basically lying in all those interviews when they claim that they had no intentions of unseating Arvind Kejriwal from the position of NE convenor.

  7. sharmila

    y times in other contexts but from the other side. It’s really surprising to me aditya chooses to make these arguments ! Really this kind of a hatchet job on YY reminds one of the anti-intellectualism of the nandigram singur days – where again intellectuals were told off for not understanding grass roots politics and strategy and CPI(M) has done a classic hatchet job like this on those within who dared to raise their voice on grounds of ‘overambition’. Really overambition as opposed to what ? Do we really need to make these anti intellectual stances glorifying some notion of grass root activism ?? – a AAP was as much about the YY’s s ,their and others background work as about AK . Politics is about ambitions – YY , PB and AK have all worked hard in their own ways to bring up AAP against all the odds and make it the phenomenon it is today and i’m sure they’re all ambitious . And they are bound to be differences in visions and perspectives- the sign of a political party coming into its own is how does it handle them . What about issues of internal democracy ?? A 12member committee on the behest of the new autocrat decides to publicly humiliate 2 members who’ve stuck thru thick and thin , absurd allegations are made and charges are thrown around ,no debate or discussion on the substantive issues about inner party democracy , or about how to handle differences on perspectives . AK ,like this absurd silent ruling patriarch , chooses to not even face them and abscond from a meeting where his ‘faction’ does his bidding and all we can think about is YY ‘s personal ambitions and make dubious arguments glorifying political strategising of a certain kind right at the inception of governance by a party who claimed to be different ?
    YY and PB’s personal ambitions have nothing to do with the questions of principled party politics , ethics and inner party democracy being raised here .

  8. Sanjeev kumar

    This is a clash between the status quoist Middle class interest(social welfare) and forces of change within AAP(which the former are terming as ultra left interest). Author is also seems to be sneering at the “people who didn’t work on the ground” whatever they may have to say. The guarded reaction of AAP in the aftermath of clean sweep could be attributed to this reluctance to be identified with the latter group. But they cannot forget that won by garnering a lot of rural and urban poor votes. The timing is also important since bjp govt is working overtime to neutralise the resistance to its land Bill. Is AAP afraid of antagonising corporate interests in its second avatar ?

  9. sharmila

    And really can we measure what was the impact of a YY vs what was an impact of an AK and what the real grass root was in the phenomenon that is AAP ? So people and media fawning over AK is fine but those inspired by YY are attempting to create ‘alternative power centres’ ? Why is it about either AK or YY? Who decides what really is AAP ? And what are the exact contributions of AK, somnath bharti,manish sisodia,YY or PB? what hard work has been put in by others in creating AAP? AAP was as much a media phenomenon as much as grass root work and in both ,different leaders played a role in direct and indirect ways . So before the first delhi elections – you think nobody else had a role to play in all the spade work except AK? The fact is whatever the personal ambitions of those involved , for an outsider who had hope in AAP what is important is how AAP handles internal differences which are bound to occur as a party coming into its own where different people have contributed ,invested ,inspired ,engaged different sections of society to make AAP what it is today .Who decides what is the ‘real hard work ‘ and ‘real ground’ here and what worked there?

  10. Hatchet Job

    Wow what stand for me in this so called analysis it that author says one needs to do groundwork for elections & thats what i think YY is doing in haryana for land acqusition & did in outer delhi.
    The tone,contradictions,smearing YY & making god out of AK gives this article away as obvious hatchet,hit job on Yogendra Yadav forgetting that when they formed AAP YY was appealing to many and comes as belittling the contribution for obvious hit job.

  11. Rama

    This piece is reflective of a larger problem in Indian politics as well as the academics in and out of the party. We all seem to subscribe to the same binaries we eschew in our intellectual work. Indian politics today is viewed largely in terms of congress versus bjp, rahul versus modi conflicts which prompted a lot of activists and academics to join forces with or at least have strong expectations with AAP in the first place. AAP is, as Nigam points out, an attempt to break the status quo. But following Nigam’s own scathing, and well-deserved, attack of YY’s approach to politics as just electoral politics one must also admit that in Nigam’s worldview Kejriwal’s conduct in the last few days is acceptable because YY’s approach to politics is flawed. Is there a way to analyse the crisis in AAP as not a Kejriwal versus YY, a developing political strategy versus a pre-formulated blueprint prescription? Why do we intellectuals, regardless of the justified critique of political parties (old and new) and leaders (ambitious and hardworking), fall into binaries when we discuss politics when we disdain the approach elsewhere? The larger problem here which Nigam’s pieces have consistently struggled with but still held out hope for is AAP’s very formation. If all our democratic possibilities and indeed work within Indian politics are not restricted to elections, as Nigam points out, then why did many in intellectual circles invest so much with AAP (and IAC)? Why did many of our friends and colleagues try their best to explain to us that we need an option outside of Congress and BJP – presumably when it came to the question of choosing our representatives? Why is it that today we need to choose between AK and YY as if our options are limited to the two? I am not interested in choosing. Nothing in the issues raised during the recent election campaign gave me any special hope for AAP. But that is unlikely to change because of something called the national convenor post.

  12. The author needs to realise that like most of his colleagues, Arvind too belonged more or less to the same power elite with his RTI campaign and have been closely working with governments. He has been a part of the same group of people like Yondendra with shared concerns,quite acceptable to the power elite, so was the Magsaysay Award and his NGO activities. And regards the question of left parties, one has to understand the coterie dynamics inside these parties before arriving at any conclusion. Unlike the left or right parties, AAP has been a totally fresh experiment, for which there is hardly any parallel around the world. But it seems that it is being hit by the factional virus which terminally infected the left parties. Secrecy of decision-making, policy-framing done within the confines of comfortable party-offices/cozy venues and resorts could become a bane for AAP, if not corrected now. Why aren’t decisions and minutes of meetings made public, if required in a slightly edition version, so that volunteers and sympathizers know exactly what had transpired behind the four walls. Rest can be left to the people to decide how they perceive different leaders and factions. Let AAP not follow the communists in guarding party high command secrets from their own cadre/volunteers. Coteries and factions are natural but these need to be made responsible to a larger bodies of people, preferably the AAM AADMI, to make them act responsibly and rise above partisan vested interests. Otherwise knives will be out in the dark and conspiracies hatched at dawn.

  13. Aditya Nigam

    YS Gill and Rama,
    Thanks for these comments and somewhat troubled reflections – which mine are too. First, the issues raised by YS Gill. There are two questions here, that I think need a response, mainly by way of clarification. When I make a reference to the Delhi power elite and in fact, on serving on UPA committees (which you have not raised but some others elsewhere have), I should state the I do not have a problem with anybody doing any of these per se. I believe that they are important arenas of intervention and some important legislations have emerged, for instance, from the NAC. There are other committees on which many of our friends have served and should serve again, if they have an opportunity. My point was meant to underline that there are two different kinds of political allegiances at work in the way the two groups/ factions have conducted themselves: in one case (AK) the politics he had espoused has taken him away (despite his Magsaysay award and other things) from this power elite to a confrontation with power and a closer connection with the people he has worked with over the years. On the other hand (YY), despite being a follower of the highly respected Kishan Patnaik, has moved closer and closer to the centres of power. Indeed, Kishanji’s politics drew him in the opposite direction – from being a member of parliament to a rejection of electoral politics and towards social/ people’s movements. Even this is fine. It is Yogendra’s choice. My point was this: if you are coming into a movement that already precedes you and coming from completely different contexts, then you have to work hard at building your claim. Prima facie, your attempts to claim leadership will be suspect, unless proved otherwise. Let me also state here that I do not know Arvind Kejriwal. I haven’t met him and I am only a distant but sympathetic observer of this movement/ party. I have not hesitated to express my discomfort and criticisms of AAP (as in the Khirkee episode involving Somnath Bharti) in the past. On the other hand, I have been on reasonably friendly terms with Yogendra and we have not only worked in the same institution, we also live in the same building and occasionally exchange pleasantries. I do not have any personal quarrel. My disagreements have always been political and intellectual.
    Second, I have expressed some misgivings about the group that has collected around Arvind Kejriwal and about the lack of more well thought out organizational principles that can lead to serious problems if not addressed immediately. Here legitimate recognition of tendencies and factions or groups combined with open public debate can help. In fact, I do not even see anything wrong in recording of key meetings of higher bodies being available to volunteers (as suggested by Mayank Gandhi). Interestingly, Gorbachov during his perestroika days actually took the extraordinary step of televising the party conference so that people know who says what inside meetings. I always thought that was a great idea. The idea of building democracy from that bottom up being what is unique to the AAP experiment, this should certainly be experimented with.
    Rama, one point really, though it might sound like an academic quibble. I entirely agree with your point about avoiding the binary mode of thinking. Let me explain what I am saying/ doing in this post. I am not positing a Kejriwal versus Yogendra narrative but referring to a phenomenon that I think has been widespread and pervasive and has led to the destruction of many movements. The faultlines between the mass leader and the ideologue are not of my making. But to come to your larger theoretical point: I do not believe you can even begin to make any headway in thought without making elementary distinctions – say between X and not-X (call it Y). Now, when does this become problematic (a binary as you put it)? In my opinion, if X and Y become frozen categories, placed in some hierarchy of values and taking up the entire explanatory space between them, then we are in trouble. That is precisely what I am trying to avoid in my post – at least as far as I could. I am not even saying the YY or PB should not try to make their claim to leadership, all I am saying is that it should be built up patiently over time.

    1. Rama

      Actually I think my worry is exactly that – the categories are getting frozen in some ways. I think it becomes problematic when we argue it as Kejriwal and YY’s vision for AAP and not AAP’s own vision for politics and the legitimacy of its claim. Though that moment is perhaps passed now (with Delhi election results and I agree with you that kejriwal has to be credited for that) I think the problem of an elitist reforming agenda preceded YY and dates back to IAC. The conversations heard in defense of YY about “people like us need to be in AAP” have been pervasive since the time of IAC and early days of AAP. At that time we were told “people like us should be in politics”. It is in this context that the tag of aam aadmi jarred initially. But the movement evolved in interesting ways, as you describe, and kejriwal did too.
      I still think though that the problem of elitism is far more entrenched in the leadership of AAP, among those who surround both Kejriwal and YY, and still makes, in my eyes, schizophrenic claims to the aam aadmi tag.

  14. AAP Wala


    अच्छी पार्टी है क्यूंकि ज़रूरी बातों पर काम कर रही है दिल्ली में
    देश भर में भी धीरे धीरे करती चलेगी
    कोई नहीं रोक सकता न रोक पायेगा

    चेहरा ज़रूर था अरविन्द केजरीवाल का दिल्ली चुनाव में
    चेहरा तो मोदी का भी था लोक सभा चुनाव में
    जनता ने केवल चेहरा देख के थोड़े ही वोट दिया दोनों को
    मुद्दों पर समर्थन दिया गया है – महंगाई रोज़गार भ्रष्टाचार ईमानदारी इत्यादि

    योगेन्द्र और प्रशांत जब PAC से अपने इस्तीफे की बात कहे थे
    तब अगर केजरीवाल फटाक से मान जाते तो हम कहते तानाशाही
    क्यूंकि अकेले अरविन्द कौन होते हैं ये निर्णय लेने वाले पार्टी के भीतर
    आखिर नेशनल एग्जीक्यूटिव की बात मानी जाएगी न जो समर्थकों
    की आवाज़ है देश भर से

    और जब पार्टी ने फैसला राष्ट्रीय कार्यकारणी पर छोड़ दिया
    और वहीँ 8 और 11 वोट के अंतर से फैसला हुआ तो हुआ न अंदरुनी लोकतंत्र
    कहाँ है तानाशाही किसी की इसमें !?

    अरविन्द ने खुद भी तो इस्तीफ़ा दिया ही था
    क्या उनके खिलाफ कोई 8 या 11 बोले कुछ ?
    क्यूंकि भरोसेमंद और परखा हुआ नेता है समर्थकों और मतदाताओं का !

    फिर कह रहा हूँ ALL iZZ WELL

    एक कमी है
    महिलाओं को पार्टी में खूब आगे बढ़ाना चाहिए
    महिला दिवस पर इस विचार के साथ पार्टी और तरक़्क़ी करे
    यही दुआ है !

  15. Jaspreet

    This is a post on a public issue, offering a reading and critique of the politics in AAP that may be the only one I have seen in which the “other” side is being revealed, in which Arvind Kejriwal and “his gang” are not vilified with terms ranging from authoritarian to fascist. Politicians have to be prepared to face public scrutiny, so they can’t complain, you might say. Why then, do so many comments here (and on FB) come in with the phrase “hatchet job” on YY? Why is it legitimate that AK and his actions be subjected to stringent critique but the first and probably only piece that exposes YY’s agenda is called a “hatchet job”? At least by those whose voices are heard here, in these kinds of spaces.
    Personally, to me, this post was very revealing, especially the sycophantic mail written by YY’s secretary! It could not have been drafted or sent out without YY’s involvement, and reveals how long ago this attempt to build a cult around YY had begun. It is very interesting that the ‘Delhi elites’ that Nigam refers to have bought lock, stock and barrel into the media image so carefully crafted by YY.

    1. sharmila

      The question is not whether a hatchet job was done or not . Alternative Cult building is bound to happen and alternative power centres bound to emerge in any political party – why should it be about an AK alone ? , politics is built around ambitions and power struggles and alternative idealogical perspectives and where a loose post idealogical force like AAP is concerned which has brought together different and sometimes contradictory forces , these differences will occur sooner than later . And its equally true that both AK and YY began within a power elite but also chose to move away with time – YY also did give up his UPA and UGC affiliations on joining AAP and refusing to quit right in the incipient stages of AAP when few would have laid any bet on its emerging as the force it did today. So its not true that only AK moved towards electoral politics at the inception of AAP- the choice was made by many others including YY, Pb and others and very consciously so , and many more in social movements chose to align with with time .
      AK was one face – maybe even a first among equals -and did have a certain kind of appeal about it although with a messianic tinge in it , but YY and some others were also equally faces associated with it . The point for me is that i would like to see how a loose free floating formation like AAP deals with these challenges and whether it moves towards resolving them in desirable directions. A 12 member committee , which is hardly representative of the AAP workers and cadres and not even an elected body , chose to behave in a certain manner which does smack of factionalism and a certain degree of autocracism . I do not understand the need to humiliate two founding members by throwing them out like this in middle of an ugly bazaar with allegations and counter allegations , even if they were dissenting members . I would have been interested in seeing how substantive issues were thrashed out at this juncture instead of taking out the classical exit route and shunting out any who disturb the idea of a unanimously enforced consensus and a single cult .

  16. Aditya Nigam

    Rama, I wish you would not generalize and say things in haste. I am not replying here to many of the other comments because they are people who have decided to align themselves on one side without any idea of what is going on and it is not my business to enlighten them about it. I have spent two decades in the communist movement and defended things happening in the party (Marichjhanpi, or socialism in USSR and China for example) more vehemently than they are defending YY. I only realized much later that no one was fooled – only we fooled ourselves. So, I leave the other commentators to find out things for themselves.
    I have two issues with you however. First, I would like you to show me where and how I have ‘frozen the categories’ – AK and YY are not categories but proper names and the latter, I am saying has been involved in some strange games which, again you should find out for yourself. Meanwhile, you can follow govind’s link in his comment above, to the article to get an inkling of the kind of things that have been happening. For instance, on the great ethical issue of selection of candidates, it says:

    The battle over shortlisted candidates had started in November, with verbal jousts in the Political Affairs Committee each time a slew of names was to be cleared. Prashant Bhushan questioned the credentials of several candidates, arguing, as Gupta did in her emails, that they didn’t have good reputations in their constituencies. An exasperated Kejriwal reportedly shouted at Bhushan in one meeting in November, “You can’t go around distributing certificates of honesty to candidates. You have to furnish evidence.”…

    Ultimately, on the night of Jan 4, it was decided to refer the names of 12 candidates to the Lokpal, Admiral L Ramdas. A committee of seven members, acceptable to both the warring factions, was constituted to assist Ramdas. Both factions also agreed to abide by the Lokpal’s verdict. Six of the seven members were from outside Delhi. The committee sent teams of volunteers, the majority of whom were not from Delhi, to all the 12 constituencies, to talk to a large number of people and carry out an investigation.

    Admiral Ramdas stayed in Delhi from January 13 and the night of January 17. He sought field reports, and all the 12 contentious candidates appeared before the committee to be cross-examined. In addition, both Prashant and Yogendra Yadav made verbal presentations before the committee. Eventually, Admiral Ramdas recommended the substituting of only two of the 12 candidates.

    However, there are other more damning things in both my post and in Ajaz Ashraf’s piece. But I repeat, you should conduct your own investigation.

    My second issue is with regard to the point you make repeatedly about how it was said from the IAC days that ‘people like us should be in the movement’ and as you put it:

    The conversations heard in defense of YY about “people like us need to be in AAP” have been pervasive since the time of IAC and early days of AAP. At that time we were told “people like us should be in politics”.

    Now that is precisely my problem. Often “People like us”, especially if they are socialists or communists, only go to movements to capture them. This is what is called vanguardism in simple language. Others are all idiots and reactionaries, if not outright fascists and they can only redeem themselves by listening to what we say. Look at the history of the socialists and the ultra left in this country – as soon as three of them get together they form four factions, each more pure than the other. And this is what they are doing right now, as we speak. That is precisely why, I referred to Sub-Commandante Marcos in an aside in my post. Not for nothing did this former Marxist-Leninist, therefore once say, “I shit on all the revolutionary vanguards of this planet”. If one really wants to establish a conversation with ordinary people and their movement, one should have the humility to say, for a change, we are prepared to learn. Only then can a meaningful dialogue be established with a movement one has not built but which one wants to shape.

  17. Shankar

    It’s funny to see supporters of YY come in here to say, “see how he is leading the land acquisition struggle, how can you say he hasn’t done politics on the ground.” I mean, he’s been doing this for what – ten days? Is this how mindless the support is, (or perhaps how motivated/orchestrated, a la Vijay Raman), for a person who has basically dropped straight from TV studios into a movement built over a decade and is intent on taking it over? You have to be singularly blinkered not to notice how YY has changed his style in the media – ever since he joined AAP, he projected himself as the calm, intellectual, real political thinker in AAP, as opposed to Arvind the activist but since his removal from the PAC suddenly you only see him all fiery and fist upraised and confronting power!
    By the way, I’m quite amused at Sharmila who has come in three times with such long comments basically to say why shouldn’t YY build his cult. Sure, as long as you would all concede that that’s what he’s up to, and admit his “principled stand” is utter posturing!

    1. Rama

      The two replies posted make things a lot more clear. What I am resisting here is not your analysis but an impulse I perceive in your piece – two opposing approaches inevitably clash. I admit I may have been mistaken but your second reply in particular moves us away from this

  18. Bhattacharyya

    The author is absolutely right in exposing the hollowness of most of ‘left leaning intellectuals’. People see them as lazy opportunists who come to be piggybacked on movements (including in Nandigram and Jangalmahal) and take credit as if they are the voice of ‘voiceless’ (this makes me laugh). This is exactly what Yogendra is doing. People never identified themselves with these ‘intellectuals’. AAP has a coherent plan, which is pragmatic, easy to understand and pro-people, which left intelligensia never concentrate on- they seem to like confusion more! We must remember, the states are far more complex than Delhi, and regional leaders understand them better than a newborn party. It would be best for political commentators to analyse why Loksatta movement lead by Jaiprakash Narayan failed to gain ground which was almost on similar lines of AAP. May be it will help us understand why AAP became successful.

  19. A party aspiring to become a national party, has to be more tolerent of not only the views
    but also any errors commited at some levels. After-all no body is all that wise. Even
    Kejriwal erred and had to apologize. Luckily, he was pardoned. But if he continues in
    the same style, it will be unfortunate for the country, which needs a good party to come
    up. The AAP should understand that its mainstay is the younger generation with free
    minds. They believe in discussion and right to dissent. Fascism in one form or the other
    is totally out of their minds. A party, aspiring to be national in India has to understand
    the social and cultural diversity and the making of the minsets accordingly. It needs more
    arbitrators than managers. mnp

  20. Gautam


    Today is 12th March. A lot more information – and accurate information as opposed to planted disinformation – is now in the public domain thanks to the transparency of AAP!

    I assume that if you were to rewrite it today, your analysis would be very different?

    Make you wonder about the usefulness of an analysis that can’t even last the test of 5 days!!!

    1. Aditya Nigam

      As far as I am concerned, my analysis or position remains pretty much the same. Your problem is that you seem to have hastily read what you pleased – as have some others above. The only new thing that has come out at present is the phone recording of the conversation where Arvind is apparently talking about breaking Congress MLAs and getting their support for forming the government. Had you read my piece carefully, you would have seen that I have not only expressed my deep reservations about the transition from IAC to the party form in the shape of AAP. Here and many earlier posts I have expressed the fears that becoming a party carries all the dangers that one associates with all other parties and that AAP can manage to escape this fate only as long as it avoids becoming one completely. In becoming a party, and that too at a breathtakingly rapid pace, where masses of people joined it overnight, there could be no escape from a situation where all kinds of ambitions would come into play.

      You would also have noticed that I have expressed my grave misgivings about forming a government with Congress support. However, since that step was preceded by a kind of opinion gathering from the electorate, the possible disaster was to some extent mitigated.

      That said, let me now add that from the transcripts I have read, I did not find anything more objectionable than all that has already happened. In the first place, if you ask me, I would say, it is better to get support from MLAs after they break from a discredited party like the Congress and to that extent, there is nothing wrong in trying to wean them away from that party, rather than take the support of the Congress itself. I did not see any evidence of any quid pro quo. I think it is perfectly legitimate to work towards weaning away people from the Congress.

      I still stand by the rest of my analysis. I see no reason to change my reading about the factional power struggle going on in AAP.

    1. Aditya Nigam

      I do not know in what way they were kicked out of the party. Clearly some things were in bad taste and as always happens in such cases, there was some violation of form on the part of the official Kejriwal group as well.
      However, the fact of the matter is that I do not trust the version retailed by the Yogendra- Prashant group. I know for sure that a lot of unscrupulous violation of form has taken place from their side as well – and over a long period of time. I do not trust the bouncer story, for if that were the case they should have been able to produce many more casualties than one Ramzan Chaudhary. This story, in my view, is a plain lie. It is possible that some people tried to shut him up and not in acceptable ways – but that is something entirely different. I have also yet to see all those who were supposedly kept out of the NC meeting say things themselves. They do not seem to have made an appearance themselves so far.
      Nonetheless, my point in this piece has been different and I see these developments as simply substantiating my reading. The Delhi power elite made one desperate bid to take over the party and met with a stiff resistance. I have known all the characters involved in this game for a long time now. From the mid-1990s, they have met time and again, discussing how to form a new party for alternative politics. They never managed to get beyond that. They are simply incapable of mobilizing ten people for any kind of politics. That is why they wanted to take over a ready made movement/ party. They failed and I am really happy for that.
      Finally, let me also say that, powers struggles are always brutal. When the CPI split into CPI and CPI(M), there was actual bloody struggle for everything from control over the party newspaper, party offices, trade unions, students organizations. It was far more violent than we imagine. The naxalite groups went one step further. They simply eliminated their opponents after declaring them class enemies or their agents (the annihilation line). And splits in other parties too have not been benign affairs by any stretch of imagination. Given all that, this is just a comedy show, what with indignant radicals chipping in their bit into the comedy.

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