Those who have left AAP or criticised it had a common grudge: only Arvind Kejriwal’s writ runs in the party. Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav are the latest to flag off this concern.
When leaders quit or were told to leave AAP managed to move on. This time the party looks split between the Bhushan-Yadav duo and Kejriwal’s backers. The two say they want AAP to be more democratic, while the party has accused them of trying to challenge Kejriwal.
Those who have known Kejriwal acknowledge his integrity. “But sometimes he doesn’t like contrary opinions. This creates fissures and ruins AAP’s ideals of inner democracy. He sure has political acumen, but he must eliminate the high-command culture that is fast gripping the party,” said a former associate.
A former colleague who has moved on to another party says Kejriwal doesn’t like anyone who can stand up to him. “The recurring criticism is he doesn’t have enough time for consensus-building. Look at his cabinet. It’s full of pliable people. In a person-centric party, loyalty replaces merit.”
Through the campaign for the assembly elections, the unprecedented victory, and his swearing-in, Kejriwal betrayed a calm demeanour, though he had been upset amid allegations of building a personality cult around him.
On February 26, AAP leaders met him at his house in Ghaziabad. “He looked upset and didn’t mince words. He said his health had deteriorated and sugar level was above 300 because of what was going on in the party in the past few months,” a senior leader said.
“He said he wanted to be left alone. People tried to reason with him but he said if he had to run the party, ‘these 5-6 people’ must exit [AAP’s all-powerful] Political Affairs Committee. There was complete silence,” he added.
But many feel he is all heart. “If he doesn’t like you, he will let you know that straightaway. At some level this becomes a weakness. It’s wrong to say he doesn’t listen. I remember at least six meetings where he said a particular candidate should not contest. Every time he had to give in to the majority view,” said a close aide.
After the Lok Sabha polls debacle AAP had a review meeting. By evening Kejriwal broke down. “He cried because he didn’t have an argument. But his heart was in the right place,” said a colleague.
A national executive member tries to explain his persona. “Arvind likes to discuss his weaknesses but he feels embarrassed if you do that in a group. That way he is a kachcha democrat.” Senior AAP leader Anand Kumar, however, says Kejriwal avoids discussion for the sake of discussion. “He likes one-on-one interactions on issues of differences rather than public shows.”
Many feel the current crisis is a window of opportunity for him. “There is hardly any opposition in the Delhi assembly. Everything will depend on how democratic the party is. He should be open to questioning not just by his partymen but also by the people at large,” said a former colleague who worked with him during his NGO days.