On 24 November 2012, Arvind Kejriwal announced the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was formally launched two days later. Photographs of the press conference in the next day’s Mail Today showed him standing next to Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, and the accompanying article described the structure of this organisation. It was to be managed by a national executive that would be selected by the national council members who were chosen from among the founder members of the party. According to Yadav, the national executive would be the highest decision-making body, à la the politburo in communist parties.
It was an appropriate choice of words. More than two years later, on 28 March 2015, in a feat worthy of most communist parties across the world, Yadav and Bhushan were expelled from the national executive in a show carefully choreographed by Arvind Kejriwal, the party’s national convenor and the equivalent of the general secretary in this politburo.
For nearly a century, the term politburo has gone hand in hand with the sudden and traumatic exit of some of its most prominent members who had fallen out of favour with the general secretary. In rigidly controlled states such as the erstwhile USSR, these exits mandated no explanation to the general public. However, public memory often extends beyond what it is allowed to articulate, and this meant that the party would employ means that were as crude as they were effective to suppress it. Those fallen out of favour were unceremoniously removed from the photographic records of the state. But even such an erasure was rarely perfect. Removing a figure from a photograph required filling in the background, and sometimes a smudge here or there was enough to give the game away.
On 29 March, the AAP released a video tape of what it claimed was the actual version of events that transpired during the meeting. Compared to a doctored photograph, it was a subtler attempt to manipulate the truth in an environment that the national convenor or his party still don’t control. But like the doctored photographs, a careful examination of the speech released by an increasingly intolerant and autocratic national convenor revealed more than it was meant to.
Some of these revelations are interesting on their own merit. It is good to know that Narendra Modi is not the only demagogue with a large ego in this country who likes referring to himself in the third person. It is even more reassuring to realise that a party claiming to practice transparency and inner-party democracy believed its national convenor’s speech was the only matter worthy of being made public from the proceedings of a crucial meeting of the national council.
But even more telling than these straightforward observations was the manipulation of facts by Kejriwal in the course of the speech. It was the seemingly insignificant claims—not unlike the faint smudges on a doctored photograph—that aroused suspicion of his motives. During the speech, as Kejriwal spoke of the faith he had reposed in Prashant Bhushan, he referred to the day in court when he was asked to submit a personal bond in a case of defamation last year. Not knowing what this was, he looked towards Bhushan who shook his head asking him to decline. Such was his faith in Bhushan, Kejriwal would have us believe, that a mere shake of the head by Bhushan was enough for him to spend several days in Tihar jail.
This is a strange claim, particularly because it comes from a man who boasted of being a one-time income tax commissioner in this very speech. What kind of a commissioner was he? Did he never pursue an income tax case? Did he not know the very basics of law every government servant is required to know?
Through the speech he oscillated between his purported desire to renounce the post and his anger at any attempt to oust him. He cited an earlier instance when he had decided to resign from the post of the national convenor and claimed that Bhushan and Yadav were the ones who forced him to change his mind. This suggests that when the duo tried to persuade him to stay on for the sake of the party he believed in their sincerity and acted according to their demands, when they tried to persuade him to vacate the post; he wrote their demands off as self-serving. If Kejriwal is to be taken at his word, he does not desire the post, yet he comes across as someone who relishes holding on to it.
Kejriwal went on to refer to the Solomonic story of a mother who chose to part with her child rather than risk any harm to it when another claimant appeared before the king. But judging from his recorded conversation a few days earlier—which the party has not denied—he had threatened to establish a new party in Delhi with those who supported him. This is rather like saying he would tear away three-fourths of the baby and rename it.
The facts of the matter do not suggest that Yadav or Bhushan were acting solely on principle either. They too seemed more enthusiastic about damaging Kejriwal than strengthening the party, but it is the duplicity inherent in Kejriwal’s self-serving speech that is startling. His ambition is not a problem, theirs is. His desire for power is not a problem, theirs is.
As soon as he finished his speech, Kejriwal had to rush off for an important meeting. We are still to learn what was so important and why it had come up all of a sudden. Why was it that he could not wait to hear what his opponents had to say at a meeting of the national council? This man, who walked off with an ultimatum to his party—with me or against me—was the same man who had earlier made it a point to project that all decisions were taken collectively. He had made sure the party went through a charade of public meetings with its volunteers on a number of issues, from the party's conundrum over whether it should take support from the Congress in forming a government to his subsequent resignation from the post of chief minister. At the end of the speech we are left with a greater sense of the remarkable political phenomenon that is Arvind Kejriwal. It is clear now why, over his long career, he has gained from his involvement with successive political causes such as the Right to Information Act or the Lokpal, while others who have contributed as much, if not more, have been left behind. It is clear that he is no democrat, neither is he someone who has much faith in a consultative process, these convenient fictions have already served his end in the party. Now that the fig leaf of principles has been shed along with Bhushan and Yadav, he will no longer be seen as a politician who stood apart. He has taken his place among the other political figures in this country who are also largely motivated by their desire for power. The chief minister of Delhi and the national convener of the AAP has ensured that the party will now function according to his will, and the latest purge serves as an indication of the fate that awaits those who decide to challenge him. The only question that now remains is, what, if anything, does Kejriwal stand for, apart from himself?
Correction: At two points in the original version of this article, we mentioned the AAP National Executive instead of the AAP National Council. We regret the error.
Hartosh Singh Bal is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada. He was formerly the political editor at Open magazine.