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'Kejriwal has become larger than the party now, but it won't last'

By Upasna Pandey
Last updated on: April 01, 2015 09:18 IST
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 ‘I think the AAP is still in transition from being a movement to a political party so there is a mix of people who form the party. So there is somewhat of a overlapping and commonality of purpose.’

‘Look at the way the government and party is functioning, not a single woman minister in the cabinet, or no woman member in the political affairs committee, it is all very tactical now.’

‘After the ‘sting’ I decided to step back. I realised that my moral basis has been questioned by Kejriwal, it is truly despicable. He is around 15 years younger to me, I was aghast by his words.’

AAP ‘rebel’ Prof Anand Kumar speaks of what went wrong with the party in the last few days in this interview with Upasna Pandey

Professor Anand Kumar taught sociology at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. An academic who received his training during the Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan movements, he was one of the leading lights of the Aam Aadmi Party till a few days ago. That was when a turn of events pushed him out of the AAP National Executive along with founding members Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav.

Without rancour or bitterness over being targeted in an unsavoury manner by AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, Prof Kumar decodes the storm and outrage that engulfed the AAP over the last few days.

In an interview with Rediff.com’s contributor Upasna Pandey, Prof Kumar shares that the party now stands at the crossroads of being just another political party which exists for power or continue on the road that made it unique. He points that activists who were not interested in the ‘power cookies became speed breakers and thus became undesirable’, adding that volunteers need to watch out to decide which way the party would go, in the future.

From being a party which set out to usher in clean politics, to the present state of stings, accusations and name calling, tell us about what happened in the party?

I think the AAP is still in transition from being a movement to a political party so there is a mix of people who form the party. The first are people like me or Prashant, who are in the party for the cause of swaraj and creating a corruption free India. The second group of people are aiming to create an instrument for participatory democracy through resistance to existing political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress.

There is somewhat of a overlapping and commonality of purpose. There is a third group of people, who see the party as a quick way to be in power in Delhi. The proportion of these three groups have changed since the New Delhi assembly poll victory, with power seekers flooding the party.

Yet, I don’t think the activists have to be disheartened, there is a win-win as they can expect action because things move faster because you are a volunteer with the AAP. There is a change in the character of discourse from mobilisation for better governance and swaraj to becoming an organisation for better governance, an organised machinery which has become more important than the cause of the activists. The preference for ‘winnability’ over ‘desirability’ has changed the nature of the discourse.

So what triggered the ‘sting’ outburst by Arvind Kejriwal against you, Yogendra Yadav and Shanti Bhushan?

It started when Shanti Bhushan suggested Yogendra Yadav as an alternate to Arvind Kejriwal, as national convenor, and this further picked momentum when he suggested that Kiran Bedi would make a better CM, followed by Ajay Maken and the third choice was Arvind.

Prashant also objected to panel of candidates chosen for the elections, on strong grounds, a screening committee was set up with me as a convenor, and then Retired Admiral L Ramdas was brought in as a Lokpal. People who were not even from the AAP were given tickets. Ramadas also raised objections to many candidates. There was a need to institutionalise for better democracy in the party, create systems for cadre building, which were raised.

All this was seen differently, as efforts to question the charisma of Kejriwal. There are people who are out to take advantage by reducing the reach of activists. Also a majority of the national executive disapproved of Kejriwal’s need to negotiate his way back into power in Delhi. It was about speaking different things at different places.

On one end, talking about dissolution of the assembly in the Supreme Court, and on the other end, there were negotiations going on with Congress MLAs to form the government. This was not even being done in direct consultation with Congress President Sonia Gandhi, so even this wasn’t proper.  

It came to a point where Kejriwal’s group realised that there are people like myself, Prashantji who are not at all interested in the power ‘cookies’ like contesting elections and other positions, so we are becoming speed breakers. I was offered (a ticket) to contest the election but I said that those who are young should be given an opportunity, this is in contrast to many who are here to seek power.

Look at the way the government and party is functioning, not a single woman minister in the cabinet, or no woman member in the political affairs committee, it is all very tactical now. Shazia Ilmi pointed out all this and she had to exit the party. Basically, everyone who has a difference of opinion has been portrayed as undesirable. Prashant Bhushan, is someone who is seen as the apex of judicial activism across the country. Clearly, there is nothing that can be offered to him in the form of power or position.

Was the disagreement over expanding AAP’s presence to other states a factor in escalating the present crisis?

Kejriwal didn’t want to move outside Delhi, he was focused like Arjun from Mahabharata on the fish eye, which is fine. He was focused on becoming the chief minister in the shortest period possible, which is fine. Team mission Vistaar, which was focused on the expansion across states for the AAP was created. I was made a convenor for Bihar and Uttrakhand, I went up to the Tibet and Nepal border, volunteers and people of the states were rejuvenated with the philosophy of AAP and then everything was put on hold till the Delhi elections got over. So there has been unrest across the states as well.

Prof Anand KumarDo you think Kejriwal has become bigger than AAP when he says in the ‘sting’ that “I would walk away with my 67 MLAs to form a new party”?  

Yes, it is his time right now. He has indeed become much bigger than the party right now. But this will not last forever. It hasn’t lasted forever for any other leader, we have examples such as Indira Gandhi, who was considered insurmountable, and then came a point when she was criticised across the world. Today Mayawati is looking a shade better as a leader compared to Kejriwal (with reference to the sting operation), when it comes to criticising her adversaries, and Kejriwal has talked bad about his own party colleagues.

How have you taken the personal attack by Kejriwal against you in the ‘sting’?

I was optimistic and was mediating between the groups, but after this ‘sting’ I decided to step back. I realised that my moral basis has been questioned by Kejriwal, it is truly despicable. He is around 15 years younger to me, I was aghast by his words.

I didn’t know Kejriwal as a person and didn’t come to the party because of him, he represented a class which is anti-political. I realised he isn’t trusting me and talking bad about me so I decided to pull back.

How do you think has this fiasco affected the supporter and volunteers?

Definitely we have taken a huge hit, our leadership has taken a long leap in the wrong direction. We seem to have cut our nose while trying to clean it, so we are looking ugly.

There needs to be unity of purpose and action in the party, for it to be stable in the future. Unity of purpose is about showing how to govern differently, by bringing systemic changes and not uprooting the systems completely, so there is vagueness on this. The second is unity of action, on how AAP will facilitate active citizenship. India today needs hundreds of AAPs to change the course of the country in the right direction.

Many blame the group of leaders who form Kejriwal’s inner circle responsible for the fiasco? How do you react to these statements?

I think Kejriwal is an intelligent person, with tremendous amount of clarity of purpose, he shuffles his advisors and he is a man with a mission, so I wouldn’t hold anyone else responsible, which makes it even more disheartening.

What is the way ahead for you and the team, are you looking at creating a new political identity or a patch up may be in the offing?

I would continue on the mission of participatory democracy and remain a part of AAP, till such time I am expelled from the party. I have received so much in the political journey here and I am not looking for any positions. We have to galvanise ourselves again, with new initiatives, within the party and also beyond.

You have been associated with the Lohia and JP movements, how do you compare them with AAP’s leadership?

I have been associated with Lohia and JP movements, which were about moving from being ordinary human beings to becoming self-conscious, courageous, long distance runners as active citizens. Lohia and JP’s lives personified this. Lohia moved away from Jawaharlal Nehru on an issue where he differed with him on the course of the party, he contested elections four times. But JP was a step further, he didn’t contest any election, they set high benchmarks. The AAP’s team has much less training, experience, and is not sufficiently equipped or talented and will have to learn from mistakes, such is the pathology of power.

But I am optimistic that the democracy of India and people of the country will continue to give us new leaders. The Anna Hazare movement is a fine example of the number and kind of new leaders who have come up on the horizon. If some bulbs fuse, it doesn’t mean there won’t be other sources of light from the source of energy, which is the people of this country, who will continue to light up the path with new leaders.

What is your message to the volunteers and supporters of AAP?

The message is simple: Let’s aim to become more problem and solution oriented rather than person and party oriented. Individuals are prime movers and parties are the transmission systems of people’s energy for bringing in systemic changes. The party can’t be over-dependent on a person, because when he fails, we feel cheated. The creativity has to be active and space for morally correct space will have to allow other leaders to step in.

Kejriwal started out as a Gandhian and turned towards Machiavellianism, which is all about how to capture and gain power. But the right means for the right ends are critical if you want to create a better society. But if it is about self-perpetuation, about governing even if unethically, you won’t be able to fulfil the dreams of the people.

What is your message for AAP supporters and volunteers in other states to ensure AAP does not end up being seen as just another political party, with no difference?

Please watch out for AAP to ensure that the premise of ‘winnability’ does not take over the need for wisdom and ethical choices of candidates, and the need to rule for the sake of power does not singularly guide our actions and efforts. We need to be conscious of this, otherwise we will meet the same fate as other political parties such as the Congress or other parties.

There are comparisons drawn between Narendra Modi who has been able to silence most of his detractors within the BJP with Kejriwal’s style of leadership?

Yes, I guess there can be similarities seen between the styles of the two leaders. For those who have only the political identity of being an AAP volunteer or leader, there is no other choice to sycophancy now, but people like me or Prashant and others, we have a life beyond AAP too and we have opinion and we will not opt for sycophancy. I am a retired professor from JNU and not interested in power or the idea of being in the limelight. I would continue to focus on creating participatory democratic systems and remain steadfast on this.

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