The politics that we had come to change seems to have changed us. We used to say and feel that “We have no option but to enter the gutter of politics, to clean it”, I think that the gutter has overpowered us.
The idealism that made many of us quit our jobs and make sacrifices for the nation is still burning within a few of us. Whenever the party digresses from the founding principles, I shall continue to raise my voice – first within the party and if no one hears, then only speak out publicly, whatever the consequences.
First time I spoke out was when YY (Yogendra Yadav) and PB (Prashant Bhushan) were expelled. In a party, people come and go – there was no problem with their being voted out, democratically. I was uncomfortable about the manner in which they were removed, but I expressed my view by abstaining from voting. But, it was when the NE decided that nothing should be reported outside, that I felt that the cardinal principle of transparency was being compromised and my conscience did not allow me to keep quiet and hence I wrote that blog. Some leaders felt that the 20 members of the NE were the only party, while my view was that the lakhs of volunteers, supporters, donors and well wishers comprised the REAL party and not informing them by putting a gag order was wrong. These leaders felt that I had betrayed them by writing the blog, while my view was that, by not writing and informing, I would have betrayed the REAL party.
So, the blog was neither in support of YY/ PB nor against AK. It was my first public stand against the compromise on our principles.
By this time, some volunteers and office bearers in Maharashtra realized that Delhi was upset with me and started building a small group of disgruntled volunteers (many of those who did not find place in the new committees made by Mission Vistaar(MV)). They started conspiring against the new Maharashtra teams, supported and encouraged by Delhi. The new Maharashtra and Mumbai committees constituted by the Delhi team, were functioning very well, increasing the volunteer base, taking up major people-centric issues with the Anti-Corruption Helpline, Shetkari Yatra, AAP ka Sanwad and many similar activities (Soon we shall publish the list of all works done by Maharashtra team in the past few months). While, we had heard of these attempts, we refused to believe that in a party like ours, such conspirators would succeed. More so, because Maharashtra committee led ably by Subhash Ware was working very well and we felt that instead of sucking up to Delhi, our role should be to keep on working on the ground and building the party.
The State Executive (SE) was united and principled. After the YY and PB expulsion, it wrote to Arvind Kejriwal, that the SE was pained and hurt at the way they were expelled and that the party should introspect and try to bring them back. That must have hurt some “leaders”. But, the independent view of the SE had to be said.
There was a National Executive meeting that transpired over the phone on 1st April 2015, where it was decided that all writings, blogs, tweets that show the party in a bad light should be sent henceforth to the Disciplinary Committee. But writings prior to 20th March should be condoned. I had conceded in my first blog as well as in a subsequent letter to Arvind that I had broken discipline by breaking the gag order. In this NE, my blog was mentioned and decided that no disciplinary action should be taken on me as the blog was prior to 20th March.
On 23 June 2015, Pankaj Gupta and Ashutosh from the Delhi team visited Mumbai and a few other places of Maharashtra to meet volunteers. They expressed satisfaction that in both Mumbai and rest of Maharashtra, there was lot of positive work done and except for a few disgruntled people, the team and leadership were solid and growing in the correct manner. They also requested the disgruntled few to give their specific objections and suggestions, which is still to come.
Next day (24 June), we had a Maharashtra State Executive meeting attended by Pankaj Gupta and Ashutosh in Mumbai. In that meeting, I conveyed to them on behalf of the SE that the extreme focus on Kejriwal in every advertisement and debate to the almost complete exclusion of the Aam Aadmi party was making many of us uncomfortable. I requested that our sentiment against over-glorifying the leader be informed to Arvind. The party should think about doing a course correction. No one would doubt the excellent leadership of AK, but too much of personality driven politics is unsuitable for a healthy political culture, and dangerous for the country already reeling under NaMo’s personification. And most importantly, it is against the principles on which we had formed the party. This was my second stand.
On 30 July, I had gone to Delhi for some personal work and was invited by Pankaj Gupta and Ashutosh for discussions. They confessed that while they were completely convinced about my positive role in the party, the “Delhi team” was hostile towards me due to the blog. They suggested that I should leave the party and maybe if after some years, if I want to rejoin, they could consider that. Or else, the entire thing will become “ugly”.
My response to them was the following:
- My position and respect in the party in Maharashtra and Mumbai is due to my ground work, and not by keeping Delhi leaders happy and neither by conspiring against local leadership. I have no insecurity, because my status in the party is earned by the goodwill and love of the grassroots volunteers. Remember during the IAC heady days, while the entire leadership was in Delhi, in Mumbai, we had many rallies of the same magnitude or bigger than those in Delhi. I had led Maharashtra team with great integrity and success and therefore my position in the party is not at anyone’s mercy.
- It is as much my party as anyone else’s. I have worked very hard from the formation of the party, all over the country. In fact, in the last Delhi election, I was leading the over 5000 outstation volunteers who had come to Delhi. One sometimes forgets that outstation volunteers from all over the globe that campaigned 24×7, were the critical factor in the 67 / 3 victory. While some people praise leaders sitting on the stage for their sacrifice, I think of the lakhs of people, all over the world, who have given so much for this “hope”. They have not sacrificed for AAP, but for the nation. AAP is just a means.
- I have taken a role of only guiding and mentoring the Mumbai team, as per SE guidelines. I believe that a political party’s role is to build leaders. A good leader is not one who has more followers, but who can create more leaders. I have tried my best to see that I am not projected as a leader, but work in the background to get some of Mumbai’s best youth upfront. You will not find a single reference or picture of mine if you go to our party office.
- I shall continue to take a stand whenever anything wrong is happening in the party. Our nation and the principles on which our party has been formed are much bigger than the short term benefits and “practical” short cuts that sometimes people compromise on. Power is but a medium to implement a new “political culture” that we have envisioned. Today, it is seeming that our dream of “Alternative Politics” has been abandoned.
- I had heard that the party makes files made against all senior members, like Amit Shah of the BJP. The social media team uses that to demolish the character of those they oppose. I requested Pankaj and Ashutosh not to start a vilification campaign against me through the social media nor disturb the Mission Vistaar to get even with me.
- Just because someone does not like my face or is influenced by conspirators does not mean that I walk out of the party to suit them. I am not a coward, nor a “Ranchod” (deserter). So, I suggested to Pankaj Gupta and Ashutosh that if they want me out of the party, then they should remove me. Am willing to be crucified for speaking the truth.
After this meeting, I shared the above with my colleagues in State and Mumbai and unanimously they agreed with my stand that I should not quit and they informed Pankaj that the party should reconsider and that the Maharashtra and Mumbai team would like to work with me. So, the die was cast – the SE had thrice defied the diktat – once when they asked AK to consider United AAP, next when they asked reduction of personality driven politics and thirdly, when they stood up to the High Command in my issue. No wonder, all committees were disbanded.
Meanwhile, the conspirators had been given the deadline of Sept end by the High Command for removal of MV committee. This was conveyed to many volunteers and office bearers, creating doubt and unrest. The conspirators have even made alternate probable committee list and were also planning to create watertight case against our Maharashtra Convener so as to remove him. All these evidences of anti-party activities were collected and given to the National Secretary by SE, who did not even care to reply. Wrong comments to humiliate SE were made in press by some. The SE made multiple complaints on these issues to Delhi, but no reply. Three times SE asked for appointment with AK, but no reply. I phoned AK many times, but it was cut off, I sent multiple messages to him, but no reply. Once, I even considered quitting the party, so that my colleagues are spared from malevolent action. So, I sent a few messages to AK that I was willing to quit without any issue and can he speak to me, no reply. We recognized by now that the decision was made to remove in September end, though we could not believe that it would be taken to this level.
Some feeble attempts were made of making multiple complaints against MV teams in Delhi (and not in Maharashtra, as should be the norm), a sham two member committee giving its report without talking to anyone and similar window dressing was done to give some legitimacy to what was to come. Subhash Ware and Raju Bhise (convenor and co-convenor) were then called to Delhi around two weeks back and told that Delhi intends to dissolve the Maharashtra team and the two of them should reconstitute the new committee. To their credit, they refused to be a part of this sham exercise. They suggested that Delhi sends a team to Maharashtra to review the committees and wherever there were some lacunae or wrong people, they should jointly make the necessary changes. In any case, this was an interim team, meant to create volunteers and structure for internal elections by Dec 2015, and there was no need to disband it, now.
But, September end was looming and yesterday, on Oct 1st, we saw a small entry on the AAP website announcing that all State Committees have been dissolved and Pankaj Gupta given charge of making the new teams. No opinions were sought, no wide spread consultations done. Just three lines in a website!! This is the High Command culture that we had opposed when we started.
It was time to take a stand for the third time in the past 4 years. Internally, within the party, I tried again and again, but to no avail. I had no alternative but to go public. Remember that I am neither a member of Maharashtra nor Mumbai and this dissolution does not affect my position as National Executive member. I have never in my life fought for myself, but for others. If I was removed from the party, I would have quietly exited, but this decision was unjust to the committees all over Maharashtra and volunteers who had sacrificed so much to suddenly see a three liner throwing their committee out.
It is believed that in a political party, only one voice should be there – be it NaMo or Sonia or AK. I think that there should be multiple voices and dissent should be encouraged, so that a rich texture of views and opinions are created, which is one of the key ingredients of healthy democracy.
So, what is my hope? The good governance practice of Delhi should continue, Punjab should be fought and won; the party should fight elections wherever it has the requisite strength and it should forge ahead unswervingly with the same principles that it was founded. I hear that the party does not intend fighting any elections till Punjab 2017 election, including BMC and other elections. I think that this decision needs to be reconsidered, if that is true. Thousands of volunteers who distributed AK’s Swaraj model via his book never knew that every ward, panchayat, city & state elections will be decided by a few members sitting in Delhi and who has never visited the area.
Hundreds of volunteers are upset and have been seeking my advice about what to do. This party is a volunteer driven party and when I see the leaders treating them badly, it hurts. They are not “use-and-throw” material. They are our soul.
My clear message to the volunteers who seek my advice is “This is as much your party, as anyone else’s. Continue in the party and ceaselessly work for the people. Times will change and real volunteers will get their due. AAP is today one of the best political vehicles in the country. Soon, these sycophants will be exposed and the real workers will be back. I might be removed by the party, but keep your cool and continue to work for the people. Don’t be individual centric, party is bigger than any individual. As we used to say “Satya pareshan ho sakta hai kintu parajeet nahi”. Truth can tire, but can never be defeated. Jai Hind!”
What can anyone do to a person who has no desire for office, nor fear of losing anything? If disciplinary action is taken, and logically it can be, I shall quit politics for now and go back to my life. I shall continue to speak out against injustice and compromises, whether within or without. And, whenever in future, this country needs me back, I shall be there, fighting together with you.
Since we started the 2011 IAC movement, India has changed in a positive manner and I feel proud to be part of that group that drove that change. AAP has also created a platform where decent people could join and work for the nation. Let us not belie that dream. India is greater than the party.
Could not think of the better day than 2 October to write this blog. Bapu’s birthday.
The content above first appeared on Mayank Gandhi’s blog page.
NOTE: Views expressed are the author’s own. Janta Ka Reporter does not endorse any of the views, facts, incidents mentioned in this piece.