PUSHED to the wall after successive electoral reversals in Punjab and Delhi, there is a growing debate in the top echelons of the Aam Aadmi Party over its aggressive posturing against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party top brass is asking whether its decision to directly and regularly attack the PM has yielded it the political dividend it desired.
Top sources in the party told The Indian Express Wednesday that instead of an individual (Modi), the party is looking at re-calibrating its politics to focus on issues and rally Opposition parties around them. These sources said there’s also a realisation that the party needs to hunker down and focus on Delhi rather than script ambitious expansion plans. To that effect, sources said, AAP is not likely to contest polls in Gujarat even if it’s put in a lot of energy and resources there.
This rethink comes amid infighting that has wracked the party. While sacked minister Kapil Mishra alleged corruption on the part of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Kumar Vishwas has been accused by a suspended AAP MLA of being an “RSS plant” in the party. Although the party leadership believes that tampered EVMs plaued a crucial role in its defeat and it will continue to flag the issue — as it did in the Assembly yesterday — it is also of the view that targeting the PM is backfiring because the “pro-Modi sentiment” is so strong that no accusation sticks, sources said.
“The CM went around the country holding rallies on charges of corruption alleged against Modi in the Sahara-Birla case. There was support from the people then. But after Uttar Pradesh, things have changed. It has backfired. Wherever we go, people ask why are you attacking Modiji,” a source close to Kejriwal told The Indian Express. The need to refocus on Delhi is also necessitated by the fact, sources said, that the party’s funds are dwindling. “It (the financial pipeline) is being choked.
Anyone who donates is being questioned by the Income Tax department. Our foreign funding has been investigated once and cleared, now a fresh notice has been sent,” the source said. Such notices, however, were sent to all parties, a Home Ministry official had said yesterday.
Sources said the party is also likely to tone down its constant refrain that the Centre isn’t allowing it to work. “The Modi government has used every trick in the book to stop us from delivering on our promises. But bravado and aggression in administration are not acceptable to people. They want us to deliver,” the source said.
AAP leaders complain that few bureaucrats in Delhi are on the same page as them. “The CBI action against Rajendra Kumar (former principal secretary to the CM) and Tarun Seem (former Delhi Health Secretary) has sent a clear message. All bureaucrats are directly reporting to the Lieutenant Governor. The state government can’t even transfer a peon. If the Supreme Court upholds the HC verdict, there will be no point fighting the next Delhi polls,” a source said.
The party is also not very enthusiastic about a united opposition taking on the BJP in 2019. “Today, the situation is such that if everyone comes together openly against Modi, people’s sympathy will swing towards him. People will say, look how everyone has come together to defeat the man who is trying to do something for the country,” another source close to Kejriwal said.
The party, however, is ready to bring different parties on one platform. “The idea is to fight the government on issues. Different parties can come together and raise an issue that affects the people. That is something the public will appreciate,” he said. On infighting within, a source said the party believes the BJP is behind it. “They are trying to prop up factions and leaders within the party. These leaders are calling MLAs home and telling them that a new CM is going to take over. They are trying to scare the MLAs,” said the source.
Sources denied the allegations of corruption. Mishra submitted three complaints to the CBI on alleged exchange of Rs 2 crore between Arvind Kejriwal and Health Minister Satyendra Jain; a Rs 50-crore land deal allegedly arranged for the CM’s brother-in-law; and about five AAP leaders’ use of party funds on foreign trips.
“Allegations of bribery against the CM are unthinkable. Had Kapil Mishra been present during the alleged exchange, CCTV would have caught his movement. There is evidence of him being present elsewhere. There is no truth in the Rs 50-crore land deal allegation and only one party member, Sanjay Singh, had travelled abroad on party expenses to raise funds for the party,” said the source. He also said that Mishra was removed as a minister because MLAs had complained against him about poor management of water in many areas of Delhi.
He said the party had investigated the allegations against Jain who faces a CBI preliminary enquiry for alleged hawala transactions. “Two people, who the CBI said were fronts for Jain, are rich businessmen. It’s their transactions that are under probe. People make their drivers as fronts, not rich businessmen,” the source said.