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This article was first published 9 years ago  » News » 'Arvind is like a child who wants to keep all the toys to himself'

'Arvind is like a child who wants to keep all the toys to himself'

By Bharat Bhushan
March 24, 2015 09:40 IST
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It is too early to say whether the Aam Aadmi Party's transformation from a watchdog of Indian politics to the lapdog of the political elite is complete. But it seems to be heading in that direction, says Bharat Bhushan

Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal

An American-Indian went around Times Square in New York accosting young women and asking "Chance?"

Finally, a curious bystander asked, "Isn't an American-Indian supposed to say 'How'?" "I know how, I only want a chance," he replied indignantly. Having been given not one, but two chances in a row, one wonders if Arvind Kejriwal knows 'how' to do politics differently from conventional political parties.

Perhaps, India is destined to have one-man parties -- there is Narendra Modi's party, and another which belongs to Sonia Gandhi. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Naveen Patnaik, J Jayalalithaa, M Karunanidhi and Mamata Banerjee are other prominent leaders to own a political party. And now, it looks as if there will be an Arvind Kejriwal party.

But the peculiarities of Indian party structures aside, one might look for explanations beyond a clash of egos. For a start, one could ask who stands to benefit from the moves to tar two founding members of the Aam Aadmi Party, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, and their possible expulsion?

All the previous exposes of corporate shenanigans, which put the fear of AAP in the ruling elites, have come from those who are sought to be discredited. How are corporate interests likely to benefit from the implosion of AAP?

They certainly stand to gain from Kejriwal's reluctance to expand the party's activities outside Delhi. Besides urban civil society organisations, those who joined AAP from outside Delhi came from peoples' movements over "jal, jungle and zameen" (water, forest and land). They thought that they were witnessing the birth of a political force that could represent their struggle against the state's attempts to take away these resources and hand them over to corporations in the name of development.

If AAP had to expand to states other than Delhi, then it would have had to join these movements.

When Kejriwal declared that he wanted to concentrate only on Delhi, he, in effect, gave up on these struggles. The message was of a corporate-friendly government, which might give a few freebies here and there to the citizens of Delhi but was not interested in any fundamental change. Now, under pressure from AAP volunteers, the party has retreated somewhat, claiming continued expansion in the states. However, given its total silence on the land acquisition bill, it is not clear whether the party is eager to join the grassroots struggles against the state-sponsored alienation of natural resources from the poor.

It is too early to say whether AAP's transformation from a watchdog of Indian politics to the lapdog of the political elite is as yet complete. But it seems to be heading in that direction.

Yadav and Bhushan come across as strategic thinkers -- they want to set in place new political structures from the beginning, including intra-party democracy and a transparent selection of candidates. On the other hand, it has become evident that Kejriwal is not above using party-hoppers to come to power.

However, if the enthusiastic drum-beaters of Kejriwal manage to marginalise or even expel Yadav and Bhushan without owning up their ideas as founding principles of the party, a majority of AAP supporters outside Delhi will be alienated. Kejriwal will then be just one more regional leader.

AAP units in the rest of India gain nothing from the glorification of Kejriwal unless the brand is used to change politics in their states. AAP's brilliance lay in using the ideas of transparency and democratic decision-making, to open up the possibility of espousing entirely local issues in different geographies of India. Kejriwal's intolerance towards challengers makes it difficult for him to accommodate the regional leaders who would inevitably be thrown up by decentralised politics.

As there are no immediate elections in which AAP needs to mark its presence, Kejriwal might tell the state units of AAP that they can continue with their activities without expecting direction, monetary or personnel support from Delhi.

This strategy runs the risk of converting AAP into yet another electoral machine at the beck and call of its leader. Much before the current crisis surfaced, an AAP volunteer observed, "Arvind is like a child who wants to keep all the toys to himself." Kejriwal might yet be able to keep his party but at the cost of blowing the opportunity to change Indian politics definitively.

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Bharat Bhushan in New Delhi
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