The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seemed headed for a split on Friday as two warring factions traded barbs and allegations, setting the stage for a massive showdown at the party’s national executive meeting in Delhi scheduled for Saturday.
Chances of a truce nosedived as dissident leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav publicly accused party chief Arvind Kejriwal of stifling internal democracy and adopting unfair means to capture power, while the other camp hit back, accusing the party veterans of trying to sabotage the two-year-old outfit.
Yadav and Bhushan alleged at a press conference that any issue raised by them was being projected as questioning the Delhi chief minister’s leadership and attempts to remove him from the post of AAP’s national convenor.
The party that swept last month’s Delhi election has been torn between two camps, one supporting Kejriwal and the other comprising veterans like Yadav and Bhushan who have accused the chief minister of running things in a dictatorial way.
Bhushan said Kejriwal had suggested he would form a new regional party with all the AAP MLAs because "he cannot work with us". However, sources say there is no chance of the Delhi government falling because most AAP legislators are backing Kejriwal.
"Arvind once told me that he has never been in an organisation where his orders were not carried out," said the Supreme Court lawyer, as he cited the state of emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi’s government and the 2002 Gujarat riots when Narendra Modi was chief minister. "They also thought their intentions were right."
Kejriwal has remained silent about the ouster of the two leaders from the AAP’s high-level political affairs committee three weeks ago, while the duo allege they are being victimised for demanding transparency and a democratic system.
Yadav and Bhushan said they will quit all "executive posts" if the five demands they had placed before the leadership—including bringing the party under the ambit of the RTI Act, ordering a probe by the AAP’s ombudsman into allegations of wrongdoing and giving state units more autonomy— were met.
"We had sent a note to the party placing our demands which is now being shown as our resignation letter, whereas it was a conditional letter to resign. We had said if our five demands are met, we will resign from all party posts," Yadav said.
Bhushan criticised Kejriwal, accusing him of trying to poach Congress legislators to form a government in Delhi last year.
"The national executive had rejected a proposal to form a government taking the support of the Congress. Despite that, Kejriwal sent a letter to the Lt Governor, asking him not to dissolve the assembly," Bhushan said.
The Kejriwal camp struck back minutes later, saying Yadav and Bhushan were attempting to damage the party and discredit it with baseless allegations.
"They made efforts so that the party loses (the Delhi election)... they told workers that let the party lose, it will be easy to remove Arvind," AAP member Ashish Khetan said at a press meet. "There was a reason why it was decided to remove two senior leaders of the party from the PAC. It was unanimously decided that internal matters of party should not be discussed publicly."
Party colleague Sanjay Singh also denied Bhushan’s charge that the rebels’ demands were not being met.
“We had agreed on some issues and discussions were going on in others. He said that the party should be brought under the RTI. He said that volunteers should have a say in the party’s decisions. We agreed on that,” Singh said at the media briefing.