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Whither AAP?

Byline: S. G. Jilanee

True, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lost the recent Delhi municipal election to the BJP, which sealed its third successive victory, winning 181 of 270 wards. After failing to perform as expected in the Punjab and Goa assembly elections, AAP faced a h humiliating drubbing in its own backyard, just over two years after winning a thumping majority in Delhi assembly elections.

The defeats are significant. But, heavens have not fallen. Launched on 26 November 2012, AAP is just a five-year old political party. It has a long way to go. Upheavals within parties are also not unusual. The party needs serious introspection and corrective measures. Therefore, it would be illogical to write its obituary at this point. The very fact that it came second and not lower in the elections, is a clear indicator that it is down but not out.

Party chief, Arvind Kejriwal attributed the electoral losses to the AAP's own "mistakes," vowing to introspect and do a course correction to revive the party's fortunes.

It was a rare admission of failure by the activist-turned-politician who had blamed "tampered EVMs" (electronic voting machines) for the poor show in the polls. It also came a day after one of his party leaders, Kumar Vishwas, challenged the party's official line besides raising a host of other issues related to party functioning.

"In the last two days, I spoke to many volunteers and voters. The reality is obvious. Yes, we made mistakes but we will introspect and course correct. Time to go back to drawing board. To not evolve will be silly," Kejriwal said in a tweet.

"We owe that to voters and volunteers. We owe that to ourselves. Need is action and not excuses. It's time to go back to work. And even if we slip from time to time, the key is to find the reserves to hold and pull ourselves up. The people deserve nothing less. The only thing constant is change."

Some analysts attribute the loss to Kejriwal's style of confrontational politics, often taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and blaming the BJP-led government at the centre for creating hurdles for the AAP government. But, the confrontation is not one-sided. It always needs two hands to clap. The Modi government, for its part, has spared no pains to destabilize the AAP government in Delhi.

Meanwhile, Kejriwal's admission of mistakes is seen as an attempt to reconnect with the voters in a manner he had successfully done after his first stint in 2014. At that time he had apologized to the people for quitting over the Jan Lokpal Bill, a strategy which saw his party sweep back to power in 2015 with an overwhelming majority.

More serious, though, is the damning allegation of corruption involving the party chief Arvind Kejriwal, personally, because, the Aam Aadmi Party had swept to power in Delhi two years ago on an anti-corruption plank. Probity and clean hands were the party's forte.

The implosion that has shaken the party to its core occurred when water minister, Kapil Mishra was sacked. He had levelled allegations of corruption against, not only Health Minister Satyendra Jain, but also implicated Arvind Kejriwal and at one point, dared the party leadership to take action against him. In consequence, he was suspended from the party's primary membership for an indefinite period. The decision was taken at a meeting of the AAP's Political Affairs Committee (PAC) after Mishra had made the stunning revelation that he had seen Kejriwal accepting Rs 2 crore cash from Jain.

Mishra said, "There are four to five persons in the AAP's Political Affairs Committee (PAC), who are indulging in corruption. I have got to know that PAC will throw me out of the party in the evening. I will not accept the decision of PAC which takes the same in a closed room. The AAP is not the party of four to five persons and it is the people's party and people will decide who should remain in AAP."

He is sore about the foreign trips undertaken by some AAP leaders. In one open letter to Kejriwal, he wrote that "Details of the foreign trips by AAP leaders will reveal a lot about their alleged corruption." Under a tent pitched near what served as his office before he was ousted, Mishra started a hunger strike to demand that AAP reveal details of foreign trips made by five of its top leaders. The former minister called his protest a satyagraha or "peaceful agitation" and said he would survive on water till Kejriwal made the details public.

Mishra has in a public letter to Mr Kejriwal named the five leaders - including a minister Satyendar Jain and senior leaders Ashish Khetan and Sanjay Singh - whose trips he wants investigated. "Some people say that all allegations about money laundering and donations will be settled if these details are revealed...You have said the party doesn't have money to fight elections... show where all the money for foreign trips comes from and prove me wrong."

At a meeting at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial in Rajghat, Kapil Mishra repeated the question: "Where did the money come from?" Also alleging that he had already met the chief minister and informed him about the matter, the latter's response was not what he had desired, Kapil Mishra went to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) "with large yellow envelopes that he said contained proof of his allegations against AAP and Kejriwal."

In another open letter, Mishra challenged the AAP chief to contest elections against him from any constituency.

The Aam Aadmi Party, for its part, has rubbished what it calls Mishra's "wild and baseless allegations." Senior AAP leader Kumar Vishwas expressed support for the Chief Minister. Saying "no one would believe Kejriwal took bribe," Vishwas added, "I have known Kejriwal for 12 years. I can't think that he will indulge in corruption."

Mishra's allegations against Arvind Kejriwal have also brought together warring factions of the party with MLAs closing ranks in support of the party chief.

Several MLAs "including Alka Lamba, Adarsh Shastri, Somnath Bharti and Rajesh Rishi, who had echoed the position of Vishwas for the party's need to introspect in the wake of poll defeats have rallied behind the embattled CM," when someone questioned his financial probity for the first time."

Adarsh Shahstri said."AK remains India's only hope for honest politics. He is spotless and I have full faith in him. These allegations cannot scare us," while a senior party leader, Ashish Khetan tweeted: "Arvind Kejriwal ko kharidne wala abhi tak is duniya me bana nahi ha." (One who could buy Arvind Kejriwal has not been born in this world yet.)

In a related development, Kapil Mishra, who was on hunger strike at his residence, was attacked by a man named Ankit Bharadwaj. The attacker "walked up to Mishra and slapped him several times before he was stopped by the latter's supporters. Bharadwaj was arrested and later released on bail.

Kapil Mishra's followers claimed that Bharadwaj identified himself as a supporter of Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party. But AAP alleged that Bharadwaj was a member of a BJP youth wing. "He is part of the Bharatiya Yuva Morcha. We don't support violence of any kind," said AAP leader Sanjay Singh.

For AAP's rivals, the rebellion and mudslinging within the party was a moment of euphoria. Calling it an "implosion," BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said while Kejriwal came to power promising honest governance, "He is now the most corrupt politician in history."

The BJP called for police action against Kejriwal, while the Congress asked for a CBI probe and police had to use water cannons one day to disperse Youth Congress workers protesting outside Kejriwal's residence.

But, nobody asksed the simple question as to why Kejriwal invited Kapil Mishra as a witness when he was accepting "Rs 2 crore cash from Jain." Two crore is a hefty amount that would take some time to count under Mishra's watchful gaze.

However, neither the election defeat nor the "implosion" within seemed to be fatal. The AAP may rise again after the ordeal, with new vigour to prove doomsayers wrong.
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jul 27, 2017
Words:1531
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