AAP’s ideological confusion weakens it against Modi’s BJP
The confusion evident in the Aam Aadmi Party’s vision document of 2013 appears to have led to the emergence of inner-party conflicts that undermined the party leadership vis-a-vis the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It seems likely that dissident leader Kapil Mishra, who made corruption charges against AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal, was set up by opposition forces to divide the party into easily manipulable groups.
On May 6 of this year, Kejriwal, now chief minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, dropped Mishra from the cabinet on grounds of poor performance as water and tourism minister. This has given rise to a political crisis in the AAP and the Delhi state government.
On May 7, Mishra made serious charges of corruption on the part of Kejriwal and his alleged accomplice, Health Minister Satyendra Jain. This has had a cascading effect on the politics of the state and threatens the survival of the Kejriwal government.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia has rubbished the charges against Kejriwal. So has another senior leader of the AAP, Kumar Vishwas.
Earlier, Vishwas, a founding member of the AAP and current member of the Delhi Legislative Assembly, had threatened to quit the party, alleging he had been falsely termed by Amantullah Khan, a minority Muslim and MLA of the party, as an agent of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP plotting a coup within the AAP.
The India Against Corruption (IAC) movement of Kejriwal and others led to the setting up of the AAP, which won a major victory in the Delhi Legislative Assembly in the February 10, 2015, election and formed the government. Kejriwal’s victory in that election was as spectacular as that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the election to India’s Parliament in 2014.
Much was expected from both governments, but both have underperformed in terms of their basic vision documents put out before their respective elections. However, the reasons for poor performance have been different.
Kejriwal has been a virulent critic of the Modi-led BJP government in New Delhi and has become a thorn in the side of the prime minister.
Modi has used every opportunity to undermine Kejriwal’s administration by manipulating the levers of power against the Delhi state government, which depends for its survival largely on the funds provided by the central government. Kejriwal has been trying to survive as successfully as possible despite his limitations as the head of a Union Territory government.
The remarkable victory by the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election in February and March has further empowered Modi on his mission to transform India as a “Hindutva” country, that is, one under Hindu hegemony.
The BJP also outperformed the AAP in municipal elections in Delhi, capturing power in all three municipal bodies in the Union Territory. This provides additional strength and confidence to the central government in New Delhi in dealing with the recalcitrant Kejriwal-led state government.
Mishra’s charges of corruption against Kejriwal are well timed and they give a handle to the BJP government in New Delhi to deal harshly with the state government. The ruling BJP has seized the opportunity and demanded the resignation of Kejriwal as chief minister.
On May 6, the Indian Home Ministry, in an apparently vindictive move, asked the AAP to furnish details of its overseas funding, since it could be in violation of the provisions of the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act of 2010. As convener of the AAP, Kejriwal termed the central government’s move as an exercise in political vendetta.
Internal turmoil in the AAP has been partly due to electoral defeat. Mishra’s charges of corruption against Kejriwal and Satyendra Jain are thus well timed.
The situation looks grim for the AAP. There is a possibility that the Delhi state government that it leads could be dismissed and President’s Rule imposed in the territory.
In February 2016, Vishwas showed signs of moving toward the BJP when he invited National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, the then Delhi police commissioner BS Bassi, and three leading BJP members, Vijay Goel, Om Mathur and Vijender Gupta, to his birthday party. Coming to know of this, Kejriwal gave the birthday party a miss.
Vishwas did not stop there. He went on to express the view that his party did not believe in reservation of government jobs for the deprived community of Dalits. This came in the context of unrest over the denial of fair treatment to Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student of Hyderabad University, which had led him to take his own life.
Vishwas also expressed views on the Kashmir issue in a way that differed from his government’s view on the subject. His views on both subjects appeared closer to those of the BJP.
Vishwas’ proximity to some BJP leaders and his controversial comments on reservations and on Kashmir irked Kejriwal.
On May 3, Vishwas threatened to quit the party after Amanatullah Khan’s statement that he was a BJP/RSS agent within the AAP.
On May 4, Kejriwal and other leaders of the party worked hard to prevented Vishwas from quitting the party. Amantullah Khan was symbolically suspended from the party, though he was given some alternative positions later.
Also on May 4, the political affairs committee of the party rewarded Vishwas with the responsibility of AAP affairs in Rajasthan.
Hindu-Muslim differences within the party, Kumar Vishwas’ opinions on reservations of government jobs for the Dalits, his critique of the party’s views on Kashmir and so on raised issues of ideology that needed clarification from the AAP leadership.
In this context, it may be useful to examine the AAP’s vision document published in 2013, which reveals “myopia, distortion and blind spots” according to the scholar S P Shukla in an article published that year.
Though the party appreciated the Preamble to the Constitution of India, which enshrines social justice, it nevertheless displayed a “queer mixture of anarchism and Bonapartism” when it stated: “By destroying the centers of authority, we are going to hand over power to the people.”
The document was “scrupulously silent on the exploitative base of the Indian economic and political system”. It made no analysis of the historical roots of current problems.
“Its concern is short-term; its focus is myopic; it stops short of radical analysis,” Shukla wrote in “Myopia, Distortions and Blind Spots in the Vision Document of the AAP” published in Economic and Political Weekly.
Its stand on job reservations, education and health revealed the class bias of AAP, he wrote. It had nothing to say on the issue of uprooting of the tribal people from their traditional habitat to build dams and industries.
Shukla said the AAP’s vision document was characterized by “unthinking hyperbole, self-righteous condescension, superficial reasoning, loud sloganeering and a good deal of reactionary politics”.
On the communal issue, the document mouthed platitudes on religious diversity ignoring other basic issues. It failed to recognize that the Muslim minority was alienated by majoritarian politics and the democratic rights of minority youth were being suppressed in the name of anti-terror action. It displayed “inexcusable shallowness” and promoted Islamophobia.
Given such a confused ideological framework, it is not surprising that Hindu-Muslim relations between Amantullah Khan and Kumar Vishwas were not good, or that the views expressed by Vishwas on inter-caste relations, job reservations, the Kashmir issue and so on were contrary to what the party felt was the case.