Over the past year, several MLAs from the Aam Aadmi Party—which formed its government in Delhi in February 2015—have been arrested under varied charges. These leaders have been accused of crimes such as the abetment of suicide, domestic violence, murder, sexual assault, molestation and the possession of fake degrees. Of the 13 AAP leaders that have been arrested so far, six have been accused of crimes against women.
In January 2015, the lawyer Prashant Bhushan, a founding member of the AAP, had reportedly expressed his concern over some of the candidates that the party was planning to field for the 2015 assembly elections in Delhi. Subsequently, Bhushan, and Yogendra Yadav, another founding member who had earlier voiced his apprehension regarding Arvind Kejriwal’s sway over the party, continued to butt heads with Kejriwal, the national convener of the AAP and Delhi’s chief minister, over issues of transparency in the party’s procedures. In April 2015, Bhushan and Yadav were expelled from the AAP, for “gross indiscipline and anti-party activities” and formed the Swaraj Abhiyan, a political organisation.
Sixteen months later, on 9 September 2016, Sagar, a web reporter at The Caravan, met Bhushan to hear the latter’s views on the arrests and the current state of the AAP. Bhushan said that the arrests and allegations were not surprising. He discussed the lack of transparency in the AAP’s candidate selection process, and elaborated on why he believes that Kejriwal’s attitude has fostered a culture of dishonesty and nepotism within the party.
Sagar: Thirteen AAP MLAs have been arrested for various offences in the past 19 months. The issue of candidate selection was one that you had raised during your time in the party. Do you feel vindicated? Did the arrests surprise you?
Prashant Bhushan: [It’s] not a question of feeling vindicated. I had warned [them] of this problem. Not just me, Yogendra Yadav and I—about the lack of transparency in selecting candidates, the lack of due diligence in selecting candidates. The fear that it may lead to lot of undesirable candidates has come true.
It was clear to us that this is likely to happen.
S: Of the 13 MLAs arrested by the police for various offences so far, six were arrested for committing or abetting crimes against women. How do you see this turning out for the AAP, which rose to power on a reputation of public probity?
PB: See, some of the charges against some of their MLAs were probably not very credible, because they are just based on the say-so of some or one woman. The police is also clearly hostile to the AAP government, and is being controlled by central government. Therefore, in my view, while some of the cases against some of the MLAs are not substantiated with serious evidence, many others are. And it does show that many other MLAs—not all, but many other MLAs—are clearly involved in all kinds of unsavoury practices: whether it is harassing women, being involved in corruption, having amassed assets that are not explainable by their known sources of income, or getting fake degrees. Clearly, many of them are involved in unsavoury practices.
S: While you were in the AAP, you had raised red flags against 12 candidates that were being given party tickets. Did the list include the names of the AAP MLAs who are now facing criminal charges?
PB: Some of them are there. Not all are the persons against whom we had objected. But, I’m sure with the passage of time, many more of these MLAs will get caught in various illegal practices. This is just the beginning.
S: Who are the other MLAs or leaders you had warned the party leadership about? Are they still a part of the AAP?
PB: Many have not yet been caught. Plus, the 12 that we had given [the names of] were only those against whom we had received credible evidence. They were many against whom we had not received any credible evidence by that time. But, if due diligence had been done—which means that, if their names had been put out on a public website for people to send complaints against them—then credible evidence would have come against them also. One can’t say all the others are clean.
S: How did Arvind Kejriwal respond when you raised this issue with him, or later, when you filed complaints against some of these candidates to Admiral Ramdas, the AAP’s Lokpal at the time? Why do you think Kejriwal overlooked your concerns?
PB: [Kejriwal] stopped having regular meetings of the political affairs committee and thereafter decisions were being taken just by his coterie within the political affairs committee, [by] people who would remain loyal to him.
S: Even if those people were of dubious character?
PB: I don’t think he cared whether they were dubious or not. His whole philosophy is: so long as I don’t get caught, one can use any means, one can have any kinds of candidates. One can fabricate evidence—as he did in the case of the SMS against the Aam Aadmi Party Volunteer Action Manch [a group formed by volunteers within the AAP].
S: When did you realise that the AAP appeared to have questionable practices on issues such as candidate selection and party funding?
PB: The realisation came immediately after the Lok Sabha election when he went into secret negotiations to form the government. At that time, our petition was pending in the Supreme Court seeking dissolution of the assembly. But, he wanted to form the government again with Congress support despite the opposition of a majority of the people, our political affairs committee, as well as our national working committee. And he sent a letter to the LG [Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung] saying that you should not dissolve assembly—he was still trying to see if he could form the government.
That was the first thing. Then came this issue of AVAM, where some volunteers, who felt that their voices were not being heard by the party, formed the Aam Aadmi Party Volunteer Action Manch. Kejriwal thought that this was a revolt of volunteers, and therefore, it needs to be crushed. He devised a plan whereby he got somebody from his coterie to send out an SMS in order to make it appear as if people [from the AVAM] have joined the BJP and got into a conspiracy with BJP. On that basis, he announced that these people have become traitors. He suspended the leader of this AVAM [the AVAM head Karan Singh was reportedly expelled from the AAP in July 2014 for “anti-party activities.” Singh was accused of sending messages encouraging AVAM members to join the BJP]. Thereafter, an investigation done by police revealed that the SMS was sent by one of the people belonging to Arvind’s coterie itself and not by the AVAM. That was the second thing.
Then came this issue of communal posters. He got some communal posters printed against the Muslim MLAs of the Congress party and got them pasted, but without saying who had printed them. [In June 2014, the police arrested the AAP leader Dilip Pandey and other party members for putting up the posters.] When they were caught by the police, they tried to show that [the posters had been put up by] this fellow Amanatullah Khan, who was later given a ticket—he was made the in-charge of the Okhla constituency and then was given ticket from Okhla [Khan is one of the 13 AAP MLAs who were arrested in the past year. He was accused of threatening a woman with rape and murder]. They first got him to say [that he put up the posters] and Arvind tweeted that the police is harassing Dilip Pandey even after Amanatullah had confessed that he got the poster pasted. The fact was, Dilip Pandey got the posters printed on Arvind’s instructions. Yet, all this was done.
All these things made me realise that a man who can use these means—lying or fabricating or entering into dishonest, secret negotiations with a party—this is not in any way allied in terms of principle and ideology to our party. What’s the difference? Then, he is as bad and worse than other political parties.
S: Have you confronted Kejriwal about this?
PB: Yes, of course. He doesn’t acknowledge that. The leader of the AVAM said, “Look, I’ve not sent the SMS, why don’t you investigate this.” I told Arvind, “Let’s investigate this.” But, he said, “No, no, why should we investigate.” I told that fellow [the AVAM leader] to lodge an FIR [First Information Report]. The police investigated it and found that it was one of the volunteers of the [AAP], who had sent it in the name of the AVAM.
S: Newspapers reported recently that in July 2016, during an income tax raid, officials uncovered unaccounted assets worth Rs 130 crore at the farmhouse of Kartar Singh, the AAP MLA from Chattarpur. In 2012 and 2013, you sat in many press conferences with Kejriwal to discuss kala dhan—black money.
PB: Kartar Singh is one of the people against whom we had raised our concern. I pointed out at that point that this man was a junior engineer in the [Delhi] Jal Board with a salary of some Rs 16,000 [per month], but he has acquired properties of thousands of crores. Obviously this aspect has to be investigated.
S: In a tweet posted on 1 September 2016, the AAP leader Ashutosh alleged that, before the 2013 elections, you approved the candidature of Sandeep Kumar, the thirteenth AAP MLA to be arrested. Is this true?
PB: See, I never specifically approved his candidature. I was just a member of the political affairs committee [PAC] in 2013, which was the final authority for approving candidates. And it’s quite possible—though I don’t remember—that Sandeep’s candidature might also have been approved at that time. The job in the PAC at that time was only to ensure that the minimum standard of transparency, et cetera, are followed. I didn’t have any personal knowledge about any of these candidates. There was no specific approval for Sandeep Kumar. At that time, there was no specific complaint against him. But even in 2015, this basic solution was not followed—this putting out of names of the candidates [for people to be able to state complaints against them]. We had put out the names of the candidates in 2013.
S: A former colleague of yours from the AAP suggested that you have no moral right to question the party. He alleged that the source of the funding for a Rs 500-crore “Bhushan empire” is not known.
PB: My father [the former law minister and senior advocate Shanti Bhushan] has been one of the highest income tax payers in this country. Whatever assets he had, he acquired legitimately. My assets are worth of few crores. They have either been gifted by my father or I’ve earned them.
S: Your critics have said you are a “self-righteous” publicity seeker who pursues “sensational” cases. How would you respond to that?
PB: I don’t think I need to respond to all that. My record is a public record.
S: Do you think that the AAP in Punjab is different from the AAP in Delhi?
PB: No, the same thing is happening there [in Punjab]. They [the AAP] are giving tickets to unsavoury characters, against whom there are all kinds of charges: of corruptions; of kabootarbazi—taking people illegally to Canada; of molesting and exploiting women; and so on. All kinds of people are being given tickets without due diligence.
S: Were women volunteers being exploited earlier?
PB: No, that time I was not aware of this aspect. But, now this is clear that this is also happening. At that time, there were some murmurs, but no serious evidence was available.
S: What do you think of the former Rajya Sabha member Navjot Singh Sidhu’s recent refusal to join the AAP?
PB: It’s clear that Arvind [Kejriwal] just wanted to use Sidhu, and Sidhu was not prepared to be used. He wanted a clear, prominent status in the party. Arvind didn’t want anybody who would challenge his authority. He wanted only a yes-man.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
Sagar is a staff writer at The Caravan.