It was a party which had vanquished all-known stereotypes and hackneyed notions of public backing when it stormed to power in Delhi decimating two established national parties. But today, fresh from its Delhi conquest, the Aam Aadmi Party is facing its first major crisis — a crisis of credibility, of a divided leadership and more importantly, a crisis of ideology.
The rumblings had started way before the Delhi polls — in December 2014 — when an internal note by Admiral Ramdas, the party’s Lokpal, had pointed to a set of grievances addressed by Prashant Bhushan with regards to decision-making and candidate selection. However, in view of elections, a meeting in this regard was postponed. Even though it was widely believed that the emphatic results in the elections would dissipate an internal rebellion, it was not to be. In early March, the knives came tumbling out as senior party leader Sanjay Singh held a press conference and alleged attempts by sections of the party (read Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan) to unseat Arvind Kejriwal from the national convener’s post. The charges in the press conference were accompanied by public stinging accusations on social media as well and it soon became clear that the party is heading for some turbulent times. The fissures within the party finally showed when both Yadav and Bhushan were voted out of the party’s Political Affairs Committee (PAC) — its highest decision making panel, but not unanimously as many expected it to be. There was severe opposition to the ouster of the two leaders and the votes finally stood at 11-8 in favour of the Kejriwal camp.
The sidelining of the AAP’s two prominent leaders — Bhushan, an accomplished lawyer who steered some of the party’s big exposes and Yadav, who played a vital role in the party’s Delhi campaign — clearly points to a fractious organization that could spell doom for the party. The ideology that the party espouses are of a vibrant inner-party democracy, swaraj and zero unilateralism. But if one were to track the developments of the party over the last two weeks, doubts would certainly emerge of a disintegration in the party’s founding principles. Even though Kejriwal was absent throughout the proceedings, his stamp and iron hold over the party is not hard to miss. He might be away in Bengaluru recuperating in a naturopathy treatment, but Kejriwal’s authority over the majority leadership of the party cannot be dismissed. In fact, Bhushan in an interview to the Indian Express, has said that one of Kejriwal’s weaknesses is that he wants to take unilateral decisions. It is indeed good for a party to have an inspiring leader – one who can take the party to great heights, but it is a whole different chapter if the leader himself overshadows the party. And most importantly, the party must check attempts to chip away at its core ideology, that of remaining steadfast to its fight against corruption, its belief in equality for all and for providing a platform to the voices which are otherwise silent. From its practice of conducting ‘Delhi Dialogues’ to weekly jan-sabhas and referendums among local communities, the AAP has grown in stature as a party which has a place for all. It is this habit that the party must learn not to forget.
For the AAP, the Delhi experiment has certainly proved to be successful — not just because of the appeal of its founding principles, but also thanks to an enduring trust and faith that thousands of volunteers and workers repose in the fledgling party. While the proceedings of the March 4 meeting were in order, there were a number of volunteers and workers milling outside the party office with placards of #UnitedAAP pleading for unity within the party. AAP will do well to take cognizance of these volunteers’ concerns and eventually set its house in order.