In May came the Aam Aadmi Party’s underwhelming performance in the Lok Sabha elections. A sharp exchange between two senior party leaders spilled into public view in June, drawing attention to the ferment within. Now, the young party is roiled by yet more internal disturbance — and this time it is playing out in the open.
Yogendra Yadav, ideologue and leading light of the party, and one of the two leaders who featured in the letter war last month, has expressed his “disappointment” with the party’s decision — not yet final — not to contest the Haryana Assembly polls. Yadav’s disagreement comes on the heels of party chief Arvind Kejriwal going public with his own view that, in the immediate term, AAP must not broaden its focus from Delhi.
Given the unambiguous position of the party chief, who hails from Haryana and is also its star campaigner, the apparent lack of finality of AAP’s decision not to take the plunge in the state may be illusory. For the record, on Tuesday, the Haryana state executive lobbed the matter back to the party’s national executive, which meets next week for three days in Sunam in Punjab. But it would be safe to say that the AAP won’t be going to Haryana for this election.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Yadav pointed out that when asked to seek the opinion of party volunteers in June, the Haryana unit conducted meetings in 18 districts, with the questions and answers recorded in the presence of national observers, and 95 per cent said yes to contesting while 80 per cent wanted the party to contest all constituencies.
“It’s a strategic difference,” he says. “Arvind (Kejriwal) believes that contesting in Haryana or Maharashtra would affect our preparations in Delhi. That if we are not in a position to perform well in these states, we will bring down the party morale in Delhi. There is some truth to this.”
He spells out his own objections: “We have already won a 4.25 per cent vote in Haryana — almost 5 lakh voters. Once you have created space for yourself, you mustn’t vacate it. Once your voters go to someone else, they may not come back to you. Then what do you tell the volunteers, what should they do? Finally, if we do not contest a ‘difficult’ election, we invite the charge of running away again.” A new election is the AAP’s opportunity, he argues, to discover new leadership, expand its base and take up distinctive issues that no other party is taking up.
The apprehension about adverse results in other states affecting the party’s prospects and morale in Delhi is overstated, contends Yadav. “It is a tough trade-off, but on balance, there is a strong case for contesting. Especially if we look at ourselves as a national party, we can’t only contest where we have a chance of winning”. The party needs to pause and revise its priorities in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha setback, he concedes. But “taking a deep breath doesn’t mean standing still, not doing anything else. That only creates a negative spiral”.
According to Yadav, contesting in Haryana and Maharashtra would only help in the process of recovery. “People wanted to teach us a lesson and we have learnt that they want governance, that they found us wanting as a party of governance. We need to convince them that we can be trusted not just to raise issues and lead agitations, but also to deliver. We also need policy clarity, and for that we are framing a party document. But for the AAP to emerge as the principal voice of the opposition outside Parliament, at a time when the Congress only pretends to be an opposition force, we must also emerge as a viable political force in three-four states in the next five years — in Haryana, Maharashtra, J&K, Jharkhand.”
Last month, Yadav’s letter had been read by many as an expression of discomfort with the personality cult said to surround Kejriwal in the party. This time, Yadav himself prefers to call it by another name. “This is not about Arvind asserting himself as supreme leader but party colleagues saying they can’t move ahead without him. He can’t be faulted for their special regard. The birth and initial breakthrough of the party requires someone to play that special role. Charisma has a role in modern politics. The task in the long run is to balance it by strong conventions and organisational protocols,” he says.
But does the spectacle of its senior leaders disagreeing in public on a matter that is still being discussed in party forums augur well for the AAP that promised a new way of politics? “We are still to evolve very robust procedures, of who speaks, when and where,” says Yadav. “Episodes like this one should help us establish conventions on when to go public.”