“When you play cards, you can come across a choice of either doubling the stakes or quitting the game,” Yogendra Yadav asserted as he spoke in front of a large crowd at Gurgaon yesterday. “We are now faced with that choice, and I am not quitting.” The event, named Swaraj Samwad, was organised by the exiled group of leaders from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by the party’s founding members, Yadav and Prashant Bhushan.
Given that the events seemed to indicate a separation, the choice of a wedding garden, Shubh Vatika, for the venue was ironic. It was not intended to be so; the organisers clarified that it had been booked in a state of emergency. “By yesterday evening, we weren’t expecting more than one thousand people. When later in the night, we learned that the crowd will be more than two thousand, we had to find a new and more spacious place,” said Yadav.
By my estimation, it appeared that there were at least that many present at the gathering. The assembly did not comprise the residents of Delhi alone; some of the attendees had travelled from states such as West Bengal, Telangana, and Odisha. Through the course of the day, it became increasingly clear that this was not a forum in which there was any ambiguity about the stand that the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had decided to take against dissidents within the party. A question on whether the AAP was working in the spirit of swaraj—self governance—which was put to vote through a secret ballot at the beginning of the event threw up a decisive result in which 93 percent of the 1303 people who had voted said “no.”
However, this sentiment did not extend to the articulation of the desire for a separate political outfit. Professor Anand Kumar, another founding member of the AAP and one of the moderators at the event, made a declaration to the effect, “Na todenge, na chodenge [We won’t break it—the party—and neither will we leave it],”and was met with resounding applause. Pankaj Pushkar, an MLA of the AAP from Timarpur, reiterated during his speech that, “Swaraj Samwad has been organised to strengthen the AAP.” The messages from supporters and volunteers from across the world that were broadcast on a screen as the event was underway appeared to have a similar tone: there should be one party, and a united party.
In the past few days, news of the rift within the AAP had led to speculation that Yadav and Bhushan were on the cusp of forming a new political outfit. As they took the stage towards the end of the day, they discussed this possibility, but stopped short of making any conclusive affirmations. While their speeches were marked by the distinct and consistent insinuations of “us and them,” they repeatedly clarified that they would hold public events under the name Swaraj Samwad but would not break away from the party.
During his speech, Bhushan expressed his intention to create a “countrywide movement to clean politics and show the people that they—those who were a part of the AAP, but did not subscribe to its current mode of functioning—still believe in the ideals.”
“We need to start afresh, but that doesn’t mean we need to rush to the Election Commission and form a new party,” echoed Yadav. “We need to move away from the negativity that has accumulated,” he added, although he could not stop himself from taking a dig at Kejriwal. “It would be a good idea for him to read his own speeches,” Yadav remarked. A few moments later he continued, “We tried everything to stay together, but the National Executive meet was the final straw. Let them answer to God.”
By the time Yadav ended his speech at around 6 pm, it was a foregone conclusion that this campaign would be continued from within the party. In typical AAP fashion, as true of the exiled as it is of those they now differ with, this conclusion was given the democratic stamp of approval. There was another vote which signified the assent of 70 percent of those present and voting, there were consultations with groups that represented different states, and finally there was the inevitable consensus on the course of action to be pursued.
This decision could well be revised, if and when the Swaraj Samwad events gain momentum. It is then that Yadav and Bhushan, and others, will have to decide how they want to play their cards. As of now, they have not doubled the stake; they have only hedged their bets.
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.