#AAPBreakup: Volunteers will fight to defend AAP, even from its own leaders

Who wins this war will determine what happens to the optimism many had found with politics after the creation of the party.

 |  8-minute read |   13-03-2015
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The sudden crisis in the Aam Aadmi Party has seen supporters worried. While many support the ouster of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav from the party's PAC (Political Action Committee) and even more question it for lacking substance or investigation, plenty of volunteers are simply dismayed at the idea of a rift or losing two personalities that brought credibility to the party.

The Aam Aadmi Party caught the nation's imagination with its claims and then the seeming demonstration of a new brand of ethical politics. The cracks in the armour and the clay feet on the idols are not sitting well with many.

Even in this seeming disappointment, there is a ray of hope. It is the sheer novelty of the party's volunteers  rising up in a formidable revolt against actions they don't agree with. In a country used to political parties ditching supporters after elections unquestioned, this in itself should have people sitting up to take notice, because regardless of the outcome of this struggle, it is a new alternative to accepting being disappointed by leaders that is playing out in a highly admirable manner.

Not satisfied with accusations as explained by the Delhi state leaders close to Arvind Kejriwal, they are mounting a resistance aimed at first persuading leaders against this rash action, with a clear willingness to escalate the struggle as far as it needs to go to restore the party to its values of democracy, transparency and accountability.

So far, we have seen precious little in favour of the decision to remove Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav from the party's PAC, beyond accusations from members already hostile to the two. These amount to little evidence and assurances to volunteers to "wait" for the "whole truth" to be out, considering that they are the entities in possession of this "whole truth" that they are not revealing and that they have already acted on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations. The volunteers are in no mood to wait and watch as what is increasingly perceived as a coup by leaders of the Delhi state AAP over those who questioned the manner in which they functioned. Quotes from various leaders have given rise to concerns that the two would also be removed from the party by vote during the national council meeting to be held on March 28. All without due investigation or transparent process.

There remain a number of supporters who believe that this action was required for various reasons, usually in alignment with the accusations levelled by the Delhi state leaders.

On the other side is a whole range of entities and agendas.

Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, on their part appear to have accepted their ouster from the PAC, but seem to be in no mood to be slandered out of the party altogether and have finally broken their silence on the differences they had with the party's Delhi leadership.

Beyond this are volunteers organised behind a diverse array of agendas ranging from demanding proof and investigation against Yadav and Bhushan before any action against them, to a simple demand that AAP remain united and resolve differences and a hundred things in between. The actions are equally multi-pronged. There are also differences of opinion on the innocence or guilt of Arvind Kejriwal in the matter. While some volunteers believe that he is leading the attack on Bhushan and Yadav, others believe that he has been incited against them and left for Bangalore for treatment because he did not wish to be a party to what was going to go down. A stray conspiracy theory even suggested that Arvind Kejriwal was unable to talk sense to the Delhi leaders and has left them to commit "suicide by attacking founders" without interfering.

To a lesser extent there are doubts about the innocence of Bhushan and Yadav. While most agree that they have likely been under appreciated and disproportionately punished for what amounts to character quirks, the interest of most volunteers is that due process be followed before such drastic decisions are taken. A smaller number also believe that volunteers should be consulted when leadership has to be appointed, changed or removed. Without fail, all of them think that the questions raised by Bhushan and Yadav about party functioning must be addressed regardless if their individual fate.

Two stings have emerged about Kejriwal which appear to be independent of Prashant Bhushan or Yogendra Yadav or the party's Delhi leadership to me (though opinions vary).

Volunteer actions began with requests for proof against Yadav and Bhushan, which went unheeded. Several volunteers and role holders spoke up against the slander unleashed on the duo from official party accounts.

Volunteers and role holders in various positions of responsibility spoke up about the people they had found to be responsible for the malicious campaign and the revoking of permissions of social media admins to manage party accounts, without explanations.

The first casualties of the war on Bhushan and Yadav were actually loyal party volunteers summarily dismissed from their responsibilities for no fault of their own. This is uniformly seen as unfair. It is also seen as unfair to hold Prashant Bhushan responsible for the actions of his father, who is not a member of the party or to be targeted through planting malicious stories about his sister's actions against the interest of the party.

When the newly restricted AAP social media team started using official accounts to level allegations against the founders, irate volunteers rapidly debunked them. An allegation against Yogendra Yadav for planting stories against AAP got demolished rather thoroughly when SP Singh, another journalist who was present in the meeting demolished the allegation and denied that such information was provided by Yadav. The argument is unassailable, given that months after the meeting when the information was supposedly planted, none of the other journalists present in the meeting had reported the juicy information supposedly shared. This leaves the reason for Yadav's removal unexplained as per the allegations levelled originally.

NRI volunteers started a campaign for "ghanti bajao" which involved calling up members of the national executive to ask them to not act against Bhushan and Yadav without proof. This is probably what Mayank Gandhi referred to in his blog on the decision being "against overwhelming sentiments of volunteers from around the world".

This can be understood to be the sentiment of most volunteers going by the comments on AAP's Facebook page. The volunteers also immediately started a public poll seeking volunteer views on the decision and found that the result was overwhelmingly against the decision and action taken in the party's national executive meeting.

As the party leadership continued to remain silent while members of Delhi state unit went on a media rampage against Bhushan and Yadav, AAP volunteers organised to start a #UnitedAAP campaign

When the United AAP campaign was disowned as an action of AVAM, volunteers raised the stakes. Founding a renewed United AAP, they restricted themselves to collecting views of only donors (AAP not having issued public lists of members, there remains no way for them to verify genuine voter other than donation records. This denies representation to many volunteers, but the sample remains undeniably pro-AAP. The result remains just as overwhelmingly against the decision.

The volunteers, trained to defend their creation against attacks by political rivals before elections were turning their skills on those taking over their creation without their consent. There is a lot of hurt and disillusionment. Many volunteers are seeking the smallest sign of their leaders, particularly Arvind Kejriwal caring, but he has maintained a determined silence, even when he issued a Women's Day message.

As I write this post, Milan Gupta, a volunteer with AAP has released a list of membership of the party's national council filed with the Election Commission that he obtained by filing an RTI. This list should have been public on the Aam Aadmi Party website, but is not available, nor being provided on request. In the video that accompanies the list, Milan urges volunteers of the Aam Aadmi Party to contact all members on the list to urge them to attend the national council and vote in accordance with the party ideals. This is in response to rumours circulating that the Delhi state AAP may modify the membership list to ensure a victory for their vote calling for the complete removal of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav.

Explicitly clear that this was an important step toward saving AAP and that if needed other avenues would be followed, the video perhaps personifies all the relentless determination I have been witnessing among volunteers over the last few days. Who wins this war will determine what happens to the optimism many had found with politics after the creation of AAP. It is of interest to India as a whole because it represents not just a party but a manner in which politics is done. It provides the masses with a viable alternative to parties that have traditionally not answered their needs.

We have seen parties emulate AAP very often.

Will be even more impressive if party workers started questioning their leaders and holding them to account.

Whether the leaders will want to do it, and if they do want to reach out and reconcile the dissenting volunteers, how will they manage to bridge the chasm of hostility they have committed themselves to remains to be seen.


Vidyut Kale Vidyut Kale @vidyut

She is a blogger and commentator on social and socio-political issues

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