By keeping Kumar Vishwas, AAP has made a pathetic decision

The bad blood that was on show in the last week's power struggle won't let either side work easily with the other.

 |  6-minute read |   04-05-2017
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After the parting of ways between Kumar Vishwas and AAP seemed inevitable, the party has managed to pull a compromise out of its hat.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal personally drove down to Kumar's residence to appease him, Kumar's demand of action against AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan has been heeded as the party has suspended Khan, and Kumar has been given the additional responsibility of managing the Rajasthan Assembly election foray of the party.

The compromise has come as a huge relief to the thousands of AAP members who feared an implosion of the party if Kumar walked out. Yet, it needs to be highlighted how the compromise is both immoral and unwise and how the party will have to pay heavily for this in the long term.

Further reduces internal democracy

After the compromise was made, Kumar has attempted to sell it as one made for greater internal democracy in the party. But as they say, the devil is in the detail. We should put aside what Kumar is preaching and instead go by what he is doing.

Kumar says he wants the party to be more democratic and yet he has ensured that the MLA who spoke out against him is made to pay a heavy price for merely voicing his opinion. Across the world, democratic parties not just tolerate but even encourage voicing of the kind of dissent for which Kumar has hounded out Khan.

The message is loud and clear - that now there is one more holy cow in AAP, Kumar Vishwas. Those who dare as much as speak against him will have no place in the party. With this, AAP's ability to accommodate a wide spectrum of voices has dwindled further.

The thought policing of AAP's members has been made still stiffer. Even the BJP and Congress, whom AAP accuses of being undemocratic, are not so draconian in dealing with those who raise their voice.

The list of senior Congress functionaries who have questioned Rahul Gandhi's ability or decisions is long and yet they all have barely faced any action. Similarly, Shatrughan Sinha leaves no stone unturned to take a shot at the PM and the BJP chief, yet he has not been hounded out in the manner in which the AAP MLA who spoke against Kumar was.

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On the other hand, Kumar has merely paid lip service about making decisions more democratic. Why did he not undertake substantial reform of the party with a more democratic appointment process - a part of the compromise he extracted when he could insist and get action taken against Khan and got himself added power? Clearly the priorities of the compromise had little to do with internal democracy.

Compromise acknowledges that AAP functions on the principle of might is right and power games trump idealism.

As discussed above, there was little, if at all anything, moral about the content of the compromise. The same was the case of the revolt of Kumar that preceded the compromise. It was merely an opportunistic grab for power by an unprincipled Kumar.

Kumar realised that while in AAP anyone who dissents out of conscience without playing the power game right is hounded out, those who play the power game right, can have their demands met even if their demands relate to self-concerned motives instead of being for the larger good.

Why else didn't AAP make peace with Prashant Bhushan, whose demands were quite categorical and were about systematic change instead of the demands of Kumar which, as seen through the details of the compromise, are all about furthering his own interests instead of bringing systemic changes.

Kumar has provided a template for all schemers to deploy in the future to turn AAP into a party more and more driven by vested interests of individuals.

1) Time your show - Kumar waited for just the right time to play the outsider. When AAP members were disappointed, he made a bid to be their champion.

2) Insider-outsider - AAP's model relies on abilities of its leaders to be inside the political system and yet claiming to be the outsider to those who are disgruntled with the political system. Kumar used this very model with regards to an intra-party matter. Even though he is as much an insider in AAP as anyone can be, yet he successfully modelled himself as an outsider to gain support of those dissatisfied with the existing order in the party.

3) Opportunistic illiberal populism - Kumar boosted support for himself by giving voice to the sentiments of the vocal middle class. From nationalism to corruption, he identified positions that will help him garner popular approval and then rode on this support to force a showdown.

Prahsant Bhushan could not play this double game and his straight forwardness was thus his undoing within AAP, whereas Kumar's shrewdness brought him success. The success of Kumar's cynical bid is a failure of AAP.

Dents AAP's liberal credentials

Kumar has been explicit in his illiberal credentials and has harped on a jingoistic, xenophobic, militaristic, state-centric, pro-uniformity rhetoric to garner support that he used in this showdown. AAP had an opportunity to not bow to Kumar's populist and illiberal position and mount a principled defence of liberal values while being ready to face the consequence of going against Kumar's cynical populism.

Instead, AAP capitulated. In this capitulation, AAP has betrayed how opportunistic its support for the liberal cause is. It champions liberal values only if they get it more approval or else it readily makes peace with illiberal demagogues.

But this immoral compromise with the illiberal agenda may not just cost AAP in the long-term but in the near future too. AAP may pay a heavy price as many Muslims will not miss how AAP chose a pro-RSS worldview leader over a Muslim MLA. This will make the party lose out on one of its most natural voting constituencies.

Will only result in prolonged bickering, reducing AAP's ability to work cohesively

Yet, despite the moral sell-out, the argument can be made that perhaps AAP needed to avoid unpleasant bickering at this stage and appeasing Kumar prevented a possible implosion. Thus to bring back peace, a compromise, howsoever unsatisfactory, was needed.

But this is a futile hope. The bad blood that was on show in the last week's power struggle won't let either side work easily with the other. Today AAP is a party that centres around the cult of Kejriwal, and Kejriwal is not known to forget such a challenge to his authority easily.

If today he has made peace, it's only because he sensed the number was not on his side; Kumar had taken him by surprise. Kejriwal will use the time provided by the compromise to gather strength for another showdown, in which he would hope to emerge on top.

Also, both sides are aware that the last word in the struggle has not yet been said - they will try to keep undermining each other, thus resulting in prolonged bickering. This will make it unlikely that AAP will function cohesively any time soon and recoup from the setbacks. 

Also read: Why MCD election result is not a referendum on AAP

Writer

Apoorva Pathak Apoorva Pathak

The author is alumni, IIT Roorkee and writes on politics, economy, policy.

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