Arvind Kejriwal and my differences are over what it means to be 'the' leader
Today I am standing where the Morarji Desais, the Chandra Shekhars, the Charan Singhs and the Raj Narains were in 1979.
- Total Shares
I can't pretend that it all erupted suddenly in the month of January. There has been a long history behind it that goes back to the very foundation of the Aam Aadmi Party. Many people believed, and told me, "Arvind [Kejiwal] was somewhat uneasy about my presence".
Personally, I thought these were routine problems that people have when they come together from very, very different backgrounds. There were several differences.
I was asked to draft a Vision document which was to be released at the launch of the party in 2012. I chaired a committee that worked for a month. But then suddenly, literally on the eve of the party's launch, our document was, without explanation, replaced by another, which I thought was rather shoddy.
It seemed to me at the time that this and other actions [by Kejriwal] were more about assertion than any intellectual differences - it was about who called the shots.
I had also suggested that we should launch a yatra as soon as the party was formed. This was agreed to in several preparatory meetings. But two weeks before the launch, Arvind said he wouldn't be able to spare time for it (the yatra). I told him I would be happy to travel after he flagged it off and came in at four to five key points. But again, Arvind came out and said there would be "no yatra".
Later on, in a different conversation, he mentioned to me that Kumar Vishwas had come to him to say that "the yatra will project Yogendra Yadav nationally and therefore you must get it called off".
For me, coming from the background I came from, the change of the Vision document mattered, and I seriously had second thoughts about joining the party. But Prashant [Bhushan] intervened and pressed me to stay. In a sense, he was doing for me, exactly the kind of thing I have been over the past several months, persuading him against giving up on the party. It has always been my conviction that public life is about difficult relationships. Unless you can build on relationships that are very difficult and sustain them, you cannot be in public life. You cannot be a team player.
My own self-image is that of a team player in whatever I have done - academics, my institutional work. Even the election forecasting stuff, for which I got some recognition, is essentially based on a team of three dozen academics who have worked together now for 20 years.
I took the Aam Aadmi Party in precisely that spirit. There was absolutely no doubt that Arvind had a certain pre-eminence. Which is how it ought to be. The point is that someone who does mobilisation has to be the leader.
Our differences have been over what does it mean to be "the" leader. Some of the notions of the prevailing political culture - about what it means to be a leader - have slipped into our functioning. So from being someone who is the first among equals, we have digressed to a supremo-style culture.
There were other differences, like when the Delhi government was to be formed [in December 2013]. I was opposed to forming the government. But we happily resolved this by agreeing to go to the people.
Bigger trouble came with the decision to quit [February 2014]. Mind you, I was not opposed to the resignation. But such a colossal decision was not put through any process of consultation whatsoever. It was a completely one-sided decision.
The really funny thing was that the entire PAC was present (at the AAP's Hanuman Road office) waiting for him [Kejriwal] to arrive. Arvind came , went straight to the balcony and made the announcement from there.
My view was that though it was time to resign, procedurally, we rightly should have gone back to the people.
But none of these things ever became a flashpoint. Like I said earlier, relationships are difficult and have to be sustained. I have said to Arvind, several times in private conversations: "If Vajpayee and Advani could live in the same party, why cannot you and I? After all, their differences must have far greater than ours".
We had another major face-off, at the Rail Bhavan dharna, when Arvind was the CM. The evening before we had all collectively decided that it would be a token, one-hour demonstration to which he [Kejriwal] would go alone. However, on the morning this was to happen, Arvind came in and declared: "My aatma [conscience] tells me this is not right. Ye bakwaas hai. It has to be a full-blown protest".
I was called in for an emergency meeting at the Delhi Secretariat. I said, "This is lunacy." I warned Arvind that he was courting his "biggest PR disaster". But again. With no PAC meeting and no consultation, he simply went ahead and did it. Within 24 hours he [Kejriwal] found himself in a jam with no way out. I was then sent to the lieutenant-governor to find a way out for him.
But through all these differences, there was always a spirit of teamwork in the party's functioning. Differences are never an issue for me. The problem always arises when there is no procedure being followed. Arvind feels that I'm "over-proceduralist". To my mind, this is the absolute bare minimum, especially if you are taking such a big decision that can affect the very future of your party.
The first serious flashpoint came after the Lok Sabha elections.
On the evening of the results, we [Prashant Bhushan and Yadav] walked into Arvind's house at 11pm. He was upset. Said, "All is over. Modi is going to rule for the next ten years". He insisted the only way forward was to try and somehow form the government in Delhi.
I honestly did not take his suggestion seriously. I could see that he was very stressed out. We did not realise he was serious.
The next day, at a meeting of MLAs, there was a chorus demanding that the party should try form the government. This was the first time I saw the drama being played out - where what Arvind wants comes out in a chorus from others.
He said, "I have no opinion, but the MLAs are pressuring me." But we knew this wasn't the true story. The man himself had told us only the night before. I said, "You want to go back to the very Congress that has been rejected by the entire country?"
The decision was taken to the PAC, which voted five is to four against Arvind's proposition. But said, "So what? I will go ahead". He insisted, "I am the leader. I will decide".
That is when Prashant blew his lid and threatened to walk out and tell the media. At that point, we resolved it by shifting the vote to the NE (National Executive). But the voting there was another sordid story of rigging.
May 2014 is when our differences led to a direct confrontation. Once they [Kejriwal's camp] realised they did not have an assured vote in the NE, they thought they could dispense with the NE altogether. Manish Sisodia, insisting that we must take responsibility for the Lok Sabha results, wanted everyone to submit their resignations to Arvind who would then constitute a new PAC.
I said, "What party are you living in? This is Congress style. Here, everyone must accept moral responsibility". That was when I sent in my resignation from the PAC to force a meeting of the NE.
The story of the last four months before the Delhi elections (2015) is of Prashant wanting to quit and expose the rot. But I told him, "No, we cannot hand this [Delhi] to Amit Shah". So we kept trying to work out mechanisms to resolve things. Prashant also agreed to wait until after the Delhi polls.
The relationship had become very difficult and tense over several months. For Prashant, it was bordering on impossible. But I still wanted to prolong it. I saw this [AAP] as such a critical experiment for the nation. More important than anything personal.
My life so far has been a preparation for what I am doing now. And this is not something I am going to give up anytime soon. Certainly not because of this present setback.
I can't claim that we have complete clarity on the road ahead. You see while Arvind and his friends came to the NE on March 28 with a script. We did not.
In my own sense, I can say that there is no question of stepping away from politics. This is the first serious test. And when you are doing what you have always wanted to do, you cannot back off. If anything, this only firms my resolve to press on.
Personally, I don't want to get into the business of legal disputes - a sher-e-Punjab dhaba versus asli sher-e-Punjab dhabha type of dispute doesn't interest me. This is a political battle and cannot be fought in courtrooms. Even though I do believe that the movement has been hijacked and its original spirit has been crushed.
Also, whatever we decide cannot be Prashant and my decision alone. This involves workers, volunteers and supporters and the decision has to be collective.
In many ways, all this has links to my childhood
The Lok Sabha Elections of 1977 was the first time I experienced politics. I was just 14-years-old and in school in Ganganagar (Rajasthan). My father was vehemently opposed to the Emergency and I was a part of many discussions about this in our house. I had been out campaigning for the Janata Party and even gave speeches in favour of the local candidate Bega Ram.
The day of counting of votes is my first vivid memory of mass politics. At 8pm, BBC Radio first announced that both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi were trailing. It was a euphoric moment. It was democracy as it was happening - the upsurge had toppled the Congress.
But then, blow-by-blow, I witnessed the disintegration of the Janata Party. I felt so betrayed. So disgusted.
My biggest regret today is that just like I felt so many years ago, there are thousands who would be feeling just as angry and let down because of me. Today I am standing where the Morarji Desais, the Chandra Shekhars, the Charan Singhs and the Raj Narains were in 1979.
(As told to Asit Jolly.)