Shanti Bhushan’s comments read as implosion within AAP

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New Delhi: The debutante Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Wednesday, August 13, launched a signature campaign, demanding fresh assembly elections in Delhi, which has been under President’s rule for almost six months since 14 February, 2014, when Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Chief Minister after failing to table the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Delhi Assembly. But even as the AAP leads a fortnight-long door-to-door campaign in all of Delhi’s 70 assembly segments under Delhi’s former education minister, Manish Sisodia, what hit the headlines and received coverage was another newsier development: The notion of an implosion within the AAP, following comments by party patriarch- Shanti Bhushan, on the same day- to a private television channel, where he expressed concern over party leader Arvind Kejriwal’s lack of organisational skills to spread the party network across India at a quick pace. Bhushan also commented on Kejriwal’s leadership style, although he maintained that Kejriwal should remain the chief campaigner and the face of AAP, because “he has those qualities”. 

Shanti Bhushan’s younger brother- Prashant Bhushan distanced himself from his brothers remarks. He tweeted on Wednesday, “What Shanti Bhushan has expressed are his personal views, this matter should have been discussed in the party”. Another leader, former journalist Ashutosh said, “Shanti Bhushan’s statement is unfortunate.”

Most media outlets which have practically blacked-out any coverage of the AAP, reacted on Wednesday to announce the impending death of AAP, caused by what they reported to be an ‘implosion’ within the party, especially after one of its key founding members- Shanti Bhushan echoed sentiments previously expressed by former high-profile leaders of the nascent party who exited its ranks over recent months alleging the lack of internal democracy within the AAP and accusing Arvind Kejriwal of functioning like a dictator, and being led by a coterie, to the exclusion of others.  

Economic Times reports that while speaking to Times Now, Bhushan said on Wednesday, “Kejriwal should not forget the principles on which AAP was formed. The future of party is important. AAP is based on ideology, one crore people voted for us.” 

He went on to say that Kejriwal is a great campaigner but lacks organisational skills to manage AAP at national level. “He does not have that kind of competence which can spread the message of the party all over India.” 

Bhushan said that he would remain a member of AAP and the need of the hour was to spread the message of the party. “AAP is based on idealism. We want to restore good values in politics and that is what we are adhering to. When we take a donation, the amount is put up on the website. It is all about transparency and hence the party has a great future.” 

Bhushan also said that AAP was unable to expand across India which was a matter of concern. He said Kejriwal should share responsibility with someone else who has enough time and talent for organisation work. However, Bhushan said Kejriwal should remain the chief campaigner and the face of the party because he has those qualities. 

However, the airing of Bhushan’s views turned into an opportunity for the internal bickering between its past leaders to re-emerge.

According to a report in Firstpost, Rakesh Agarwal, who has apparently been closely associated with Kejriwal for 14 years, said, “The only difference this time is that the criticism has come from none other than the patron, who has made immense contribution through funds and experience. And, whatever he said is true.” 

“Arvind talked of Swaraj, but in practice, the party is top heavy with only four or five members, who take all the decisions. The party today lacks transparency and is utterly disorganised, and it has turned into a hypocrisy,” alleged Agarwal.

Shanti Bhushan’s contribution can’t be undermined, as he donated Rs 1 crore to the party in November 2012 during its national convention and within two days, again contributed another 1 crore to the party fund, in a bid to strengthen the party to face an election.

“It’s the coterie that decides everything. The party that stood against the high command system itself became a symbol of it, with Kejriwal at the helm of affairs. At one point of time, we were introduced to Prashant Bhushan’s sister Shalini Gupta as an expert in organisation building. Though she was not a party member, surprisingly she had a say in everything. But, today she isn’t there too,” said AAP’s founding and national council member, Surajit Dasgupta, who later quit. “I don’t see any future of AAP any more,” he added.

It is alleged that AAP also failed to give due importance to its women members in its decision-making process. Although Rakhi Birla, Bandana Kumari and Veena Anand became AAP MLAs, the party witnessed the exit of its most prominent woman member- Shazia Ilmi and national council member Madhu Bhaduri.

“The day I was denied the right of a National Council member and, I was heckled and forced out of the hall, while I was about to move a resolution in the meeting, it became clear to me that women had no place in the party’s decision-making process,” said Bhaduri, a former diplomat.

Apart from former members, many who are still with the party feel that the AAP lacks internal democracy. “Initially, supreme authority was given to the national council but within a year by making amendments in the constitution, power was shifted to national affairs committee, with Kejriwal as the final authority. Today AAP is Kejriwal, and Kejriwal is AAP,” alleged Bhaduri.

ET reports that when asked about Kejriwal being dictatorial in nature, Shanti Bhushan said, “The national council appointed him as a convener of the national executive, therefore he probably feels that his voice is the main voice which can represent the party.”

The founder member also advised Kejriwal to consult other leaders on important issues.

Arvind Kejriwal’s leadership has come under criticism from several other party leaders including Yogendra Yadav. 

The party last month sacked Karan Singh, a senior volunteer, after he along with other party workers formed AAP Volunteers Vichar Manch (AVAM) to raise issues concerning volunteers, complaining lack of internal democracy in the party. Bhushan had come out in support of AVAM.

The senior lawyer said that since Kejriwal is not an elected leader he cannot claim to be the sole voice of the party. “Today, since he does not owe his position as an elected person by all India members of the party therefore he cannot say his voice is the sole voice of the party”, he said.

Meanwhile, the AAP has hit out against Shanti Bhushan’s comments saying, it does not agree with his views. “The criticism by Bhushan, who is himself one of the founding members of the party, on this issue is misplaced.

“The biggest example of internal democracy is the party’s decision to contest Lok Sabha elections on a large number of seats, despite opposition from the AAP national convener, Arvind Kejriwal,” the party said.

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