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Controversies about Arvind Kejriwal’s dual role in the party

March 3, 2015

In its first term in office, Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government lasted just 49 days before making a hasty exit. In its second term, in less than a month, the party is once again in crisis and this time it is Arvind Kejriwal’s ‘dual’ role between party and government that is the trigger that could well blow into a major inner party conflict.

Arvind Kejriwal's dual role in Aam Aadmi Party

Is the controversy justified?

One must seek answers from past experiences of political parties and the impact of single leader charisma on inner party functioning.

All political parties, regional or national, which have had strong popular leaders have won elections on the back of their charisma and ability to connect with the masses. Leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, MGR, or Jayalalithaa, were very popular and led their party almost single-handedly to victory.

But another trait that they all showed was that they held tight control over their party. This ‘dual’ responsibility of running the government and party, concurrently, is what kept them in power for a long time. During their respective tenures, there were several voices of dissent over control of the party but they were progressively crushed and inner party democracy remained mostly on paper. Realpolitik always took precedence over inner party democracy.

Same is the case with AAP. The party rode to power on the back of a popular protest movement and people rallied around Arvind Kejriwal who soon emerged as the face of new generation alternate politics, a phenomena being witnessed in many parts of the world.

Is the individual bigger than the party?

With popular mandate received during its second tenure, the fight for inner party control within AAP has expectedly started.

Arvind Kejriwal now faces the challenge where he has to make choices between running his government and continuing to hold control over the party. Holding his dissenting flock together is not going to be easy.

For one, he may be popular with the masses but he is yet to create a team of unflinching loyalists around him. AAP was founded on the concept of collective leadership and that is what set them apart from other parties.

However, the fact is that the landslide mandate received by AAP was mainly on his account. People rallied around the concept of Kejriwal rather than AAP itself. Unfortunately for AAP, this has emerged as the root cause of dissent within the party.

The landslide victory has put him in a position where he has emerged as the face of the party but the question before Kejriwal is – should he retain party control as well? He heads the government and is also the National Convener for the party. And, if he were to delegate control, who should it be to?

AAP’s biggest threat comes from within

Unfortunately, it was a controversy that that took place during the post General Election in 2014 and before the Haryana elections. Through selected leaks to the media, it was reported that the Haryana Unit of AAP was ready to fight the assembly elections in Haryana but the then National Convener, Arvind Kejriwal had turned down the proposal.

In a slew of statements and counter-statements since then, the party has now become divided into two warring camps; one supporting Arvind Kejriwal and the other purportedly headed by Yogendra Yadav and the Bhushan’s.

Shanti Bhushan, the party patriarch and mentor, has been opposing Kejriwal’s rise and became publicly vocal in the run-up to the Delhi elections. After sitting on the fence for some time, his son Prashant Bhushan, has now come out openly in opposing Kejriwal for holding dual positions and has called for the party to move away from a ‘one-man party’ back to collective leadership, as was the case when the party was founded. Yogendra Yadav too has been raising his voice against inner party functioning.

However, in a recent interview to the media, he has stated that he favours Arvind Kejriwal to continue leading the party as National Convener but would like to see a change in the decision making process and greater democratic processes within the party.

The pro-Kejriwal camp has come out sharply against the Bhushans, accusing the father-son-daughter trio of trying to make the party a ‘one-family’ party. In retaliation, AAP spokesperson Ashutosh has tweeted about the clash between ultra-left and pragmatic politics, in a pointed reference to Prashant Bhushan’s supposedly leftist position, especially on his call made earlier for a referendum in Kashmir.

The open conflict being played out much to the delight of media and public in general, Arvind Kejriwal, on his part has tweeted about his disappointment and pain over the recent statements and counter statements between the two camps. He has offered to step down as the national convener of AAP.

Should Arvind Kejriwal continue to hold dual responsibility?

Political history has shown that any popular leader faces maximum threat in the aftermath of a popular election victory, from within the party. A popular leader is always faced with the challenge of holding his political flock together while continuing to provide strong governance.

Political loyalties are established with time and loyalties are tested for even a longer time, before a leader can be sure of who to delegate party control to.

In its present stage, Arvind Kejriwal is certainly not a popular leader within the party and therefore he will need to assert his control over party functioning till such time there emerges a team that he can trust and one that displays political maturity not just within the party but inter-party as well. Wearing dual hats may not be desirable for Kejriwal but the situation calls for him to continue doing so.

While wearing both hats, he must try and ensure that the party continues to welcome open debate within the party and keep his supporters in check, from attacking dissenting voices.

If not, there is real danger of the party splitting, with no winners emerging. Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav on their own have little political clout or relevance outside the party, however, as active and respected voices within the party, they still have a lot to contribute, going forward.

It will take Arvind Kejriwal to display political sagacity backed with deft political handling, to keep both camps together, while continuing to run the affairs of the government and deliver on his promises to the people of Delhi.

The real test for AAP is not in winning the elections but in offering good governance and delivering on its poll promise. After all, that’s what the people voted for.

EBPB

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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