Why Arvind Kejriwal needs Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav

Aditya Menon
Aditya MenonMar 03, 2015 | 18:08

Why Arvind Kejriwal needs Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav

Less than a month back, the AAP won a spectacular victory in the Delhi Assembly elections, winning 67 out of 70 seats and nearly 55 per cent of the vote share in the capital. Today by most accounts, the party is a divided house and the knives are out against two of AAP's most prominent leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. In its short history of two-and-a-half-years, the AAP has had more than its share of dissensions. This particular tussle, however, is different. It's outcome will determine the trajectory AAP takes as a political party.


This conflict is, in many ways, a result of the party's victory in Delhi. The result has changed the power equations within the party. Arvind Kejriwal was unambiguously the face of the AAP's campaign in Delhi and his popularity was such that even the BJP was forced to run a campaign targeting him personally. The huge electoral victory, therefore, established Kejriwal's supremacy in the AAP. Also as the weakened BJP and Congress in Delhi can hardly be expected to pose a threat to the AAP, the partymen and partywomen's energies might get directed against "the enemies within".

Whenever a leader becomes supreme in any party, those who have the stature to challenge him or her in any way, are bound to be sidelined or removed. Narendra Modi has done this to his rivals within the BJP and Indira Gandhi did the same to her challengers in the Congress. AAP faces the frightening prospect of undergoing a similar transformation: From a ideology-driven and programme-oriented party to a personality-centric one.

The choice AAP makes at this juncture will determine whether it will emerge as a prominent national alternative to the BJP and Congress or become a populist regional party on the lines of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. There are three elements to this, all of which tie into the same issue.  


1. Why are YY and PB being targeted?

Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav are different from any other leaders in AAP. As they have some kind of stature independent of Arvind Kejriwal, they are the only ones in the party who can stand up to the national convenor and even criticise him when necessary.

One must remember that Bhushan is the only member of the erstwhile Team Anna, who has stuck with Kejriwal. Cut back to 2011, when Team Anna nominated representatives to negotiate with the UPA government on drafting the Lokpal Bill, its members were: Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and Justice Santosh Hegde. Hegde fell out with the team soon after the first couple of agitations and Hazare and another prominent member Kiran Bedi opposed the shift to active politics. Though a founding member of AAP, Shanti Bhushan also became a Kejriwal-critic, leaving only Prashant Bhushan by Kejriwal's side.

And an individual who played a crucial role in moulding the new party is Yogendra Yadav. He gave AAP what Kejriwal lacked: political depth, ideological coherence and a long-term view of political realities. The plan of contesting 400 odd seats, which some have attributed to Yadav, might have back-fired for the AAP in the short run; in the long run, it has give the party some kind of an organisation across the country. One which it can build upon any time it decides to expand. For instance Punjab where AAP won four Lok Sabha seats, wasn't initially part of the AAP's plans.


With Kejriwal emerging as the supreme leader within the AAP, it would be difficult to sustain leaders like Bhushan and Yadav, for whom he is just a first-among-equals.  

2. Ideological fault lines

AAP leader Ashutosh claims it is a clash of ideas within AAP. "The decisive churning in AAP. It's clash of ideas between ultra left who demand referendum in Kashmir and pragmatic politics of welfarism," he tweeted. It is evident that the Kashmir referendum jibe is directed at Prashant Bhushan.

Being the Delhi unit president of the AAP, Ashutosh can claim part of the credit for the win in Delhi. However, one must remember that unlike Bhushan, who was a key part of Team Anna, Ashutosh is a much later entrant. In fact, he isn't even a founding member of the party as he joined just on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which he fought from Chandni Chowk and lost to BJP's Dr Harsh Vardhan.

Ashutosh's Kashmir jibe at Bhushan is at best idiotic. There is much more to Bhushan than his views on Kashmir. He is unarguably India's number one public interest litigant, having argued nearly 300 PILs, most of them targeting corruption in government, judiciary and the corporate sector. These include the 2G scam, the Radia tapes, Coalgate and iron ore mining scams. There is no doubt the AAP's anti-corruption credentials are bolstered by the presence of a crusader like Bhushan in their ranks.

The question before AAP is does it want to be an anti-corruption party or a personality-oriented one?

In person-centric parties, loyalty replaces merit and ideological commitment as the criterion for success, and Ashutosh's tweet is indicative of this. The "pragmatic welfarism" that Ashutosh is talking about opens the space for a personality cult around Kejriwal, which can easily make the AAP into a Delhi version of the TMC or the AIADMK.  

3. Expansion plans

One of the differences that supposedly exist between Yadav on one hand and Kejriwal's coterie on the other is their view on whether the AAP should launch its expansion efforts across the country or it should focus on Delhi for the near future. Kejriwal in particular is concerned that trying to expand in other states would divert focus from Delhi that might prove harmful for the party as it did in during the Lok Sabha elections. But more than Kejriwal, certain leaders of the Delhi unit are also concerned that the rise of other state units will weaken their stranglehold over party affairs. Kejriwal might not be able to have such unquestioned dominance over party affairs if the AAP begins expanding across the country and if the expansion brings to the fore individuals such as Medha Patkar or Dayamani Barla.

One can already see the emergence of a high-command culture in AAP. The manner the party has empowered Kejriwal to reconstitute its political affairs committee sounds more like something that would happen in the Congress. Kejriwal can choose to halt this slide by accommodating Bhushan and Yadav in the committee and addressing their concerns. Whether he does that will be known on March 4, when the AAP's national executive meets. But then how many politicians voluntarily constraint their own powers?

Last updated: March 03, 2015 | 18:08
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