Since the party held it’s first National Executive meeting in Delhi, on February 26, reports have been pouring out of rifts within the party. Sources witness to the meeting say that there was high drama and much ugliness at the way former friends faced off against each other. Sources say that two letters were written to the National Executive on the 26th, one by Bhushan and the other by Bhushan and Yadav together, which dna has access to.
It has become clear that Delhi CM and AAP National Convenor Arvind Kejriwal wants both Yogender Yadav and Prashant Bhushan out of the National Executive, the decision making body of AAP. Bhushan and Yadav have been bringing up questionable party practices, which has drawn Kejriwal’s ire. Though refusing to give details, Bhushan confirmed that the news reports are true and that he and Yadav had raised questions of “transparency, candidate selection, swaraj and regular meetings”. He added, “there is a problem and we have raised structural issues about the systems relating to the party.”
Bhushan’s letter severely indicts the party on multiple counts. He also warns it of becoming “just another one man centric party, which is prepared to use any kind of means to attain power”. Kejriwal’s growing cult of personality has been a cause of concern and Bhushan makes it a point to credit the volunteers of the party for the win. He also writes that this win is, “ the result of the dissatisfaction with the present BJP government which is now increasingly being seen as anti people.
Both letters rake up the funding scam AAP found itself in before the elections, where four cheques of Rs 5 lakh each were donated to the party by suspicious companies. These led to allegations of money laundering by the party.
The joint letter says, “The party was right to say that our dealing was clean and transparent. The media was right to say that these companies did not look genuine business entities. We had tasked the PAC with screening donations above Rs. 10 Iakhs precisely to save ourselves from such dubious donors. We now need to get to the root of these donations and find out if the PAC scrutiny mechanism failed and work out ways to avoid such an embarrassment in the future.”
Sources say that these cheques were never kept in front of the PAC. Bhushan calls out Kejriwal on overruling decisions taken by the National Executive: “the lack of recording decisions of the NE/PAC has led to situations where decisions taken by the NE (about not seeking Congress support for forming the government in Delhi after we resigned last year) were repeatedly flouted. Not only was a letter sent to the LG asking him to postpone the dissolution of the Assembly in June, but even as late as November, just before the actual dissolution of the Assembly, attempts were being surreptitiously made to seek Congress support to form the government again in Delhi without having to contest elections.”
The non existence of minutes of PAC and NE meetings were of major concern in both letters. “Even when the NE had decided to let the States decide whether to contest elections in their States, that decision was frustrated by Arvind deciding not to allow the states to contest elections… in his speech on the day of oath taking, Arvind announced that the party should not contest elections in other States for the next 5 years. Though that may be his view, but such public airing of views by the convenor of the party at such an important function would naturally be taken to be the view of the party.”
Saying that this violates the the party’s principle of swaraj, he adds,
“All this, along with the One person centric campaign which was run during this election in Delhi, is making our party look more and more like the other conventional parties.”
Sources say that Bhushan, his father Shanti Bhushan and Yadav still support expanding the party in other states. Bhushan questions how “many of our most dedicated volunteers are facing humiliation at the hands of people who call themselves office bearers and then misbehave with ow dedicated volunteers.”
Both letters also bring the issue of AAP’s missing gender parity, something party Lokpal Admiral Ramdas’s note also pointed out. Ramdas’ note had also mentioned the “ crisis brought about by Prashant Bhushan’s unhappiness with candidate selection and decision making processes.” Bhushan’s letter brings up the matter, saying that many old volunteers too were unhappy with these candidates being parachuted into the party.
Bhushan had placed a list of 12 candidates with criminal and/or corrupt backgrounds in front of the party before the Delhi Assembly elections. Of these, only two had been removed. His letter raises grave doubts about these MLAs: “Our own party had complained against several of them that they distributed money and liquor or beat up our volunteers in the last elections, when they had contested on the tickets of other parties. One of them (the original Wazirpur candidate) went back to the BJP within a few hours of our giving him a ticket. Another was implicated in illegally importing and storing liquor in the middle of the election. There was a video which surfaced about one of them where he is heard saying that it is okay to lure people to his Jan Sabha by offering them liquor. We did not cancel their tickets even after finding this out. One of them had been made the constituency prabhari and promised a ticket immediately after he agreed to take the rap for our party putting out a communal poster for which some of our volunteers were arrested. They are our current MLAs, and will be handling crores of MLA funds and will exercise several other powers such as giving PDS certificates etc.”
So angry are the two camps with each other that it seems they aren’t even talking directly. A three member committee comprising National Executive members Gopal Rai (also Delhi’s Transport and Rural Development Minister), Professor Arvind Kumar and Pankaj Gupta, has been constituted to communicate with Kejriwal, Bhushan and Yadav, to help them come to and relay decisions to others, explains Professor Kumar.
It is learnt that senior leader Ashish Khetan and Ashutosh most strongly took Kejriwal’s side, in opposition to Bhushan and Yadav. They argued to give Kejriwal a free hand to reconstitute the Parliamentary Affairs Committee. This decision was taken in another NE meeting on 27 February, which Bhushan and Yadav did not attend. There is a strong chance that with Kejriwal calling the shots, Bhushan and Yadav will lose their place in the PAC.
Please find enclosed a note that we have prepared for the PAC and NEC members as we will not be able to attend the meeting on Feb 26th at Delhi.This note contains some essential issues which I hope will be discussed during the meeting as part of the Way Ahead item for the party included in the Agenda. Wishing you a successful and constructive day together.
Admiral and Lalita Ramdas
NOTE TO THE PAC AND NEC FROM ADMIRAL RAMDAS
I am writing this note to members of the PAC and NEC today, to share with you some of my concerns and related issues regarding the governance of the party. I would have presented this in person on 26 Feb, but I am not too well and so this note.
As Lokpal of the party, I have often been called to do damage control to avoid the AAP ship from capsizing! Today I want to ensure that this ship will stay afloat to make many voyages in the years to come.
A Brief Recap
In end December 2014, there was a crisis situation brought about by Shri Prashant Bhushan’s unhappiness with candidate selection procedures and decision making processes. If not addressed, he said, he would be forced to resign from the party and go public. To contain this, a special meeting was called in Delhi on Jan 3-4, 2015 at which a decision was taken to refer the issue to the Lokpal, assisted by a specially selected team. Thanks to preliminary investigative work by this fine young team from across the country, I could finalise my own findings in time for the candidates to file their nomination papers by Jan 21st 2015.
This was not the first time that I had to use my good offices to defuse a crisis situation; the previous one being immediately after the explosive Sangrur NEC, [August 2014}. In response to my letter, members of the PAC and special invitees, agreed to take a pledge not to go to public and to stick together and show a united face until the Delhi elections were over.
In early January once again I had occasion to address a note to key players and those attending the Delhi meeting, urging them that this was not the time to allow inner differences to surface in the public domain. Once again I assured them, especially those who raised the complaints, that we would certainly address the several concerns being raised with respect to candidate selection procedures, decision making , committee meetings, financial transparency, ethics, after our government took charge in Delhi.
Had the inner conflicts exploded in front of a hostile media, there is no telling what the impact could have been on the unprecedented election results.
I had hoped that the thumping results of the recent elections would have restored a positive energy in the party and that many of the mutual suspicions would have been set to rest, given that all of you had pulled together, despite differences, to deliver a stunning victory. Alas, this was not to be, and most recently while in Delhi during the results and swearing in, I also spent many hours in many difficult conversations where many of the old ghosts were constantly raising their heads.
As Lokpal, I have therefore gone beyond giving a narrow judicial verdict on the ethics and standards pertaining to candidate selection alone. Rightly or wrongly, I have taken upon myself an expanded role, namely, acting as an elder statesman to ensure that the party remained united throughout this period. I did not join the party only to preside over a potential split down the middle. My paramount interest is to nurture AAP and its potential as the only political entity in the country today which can change the way politics is practiced. I see my role as one who will unambiguously point out that mistakes and compromises have been evident in many areas -and from all sectors – with no single person exempt from some element of responsibility for the present impasse.
THE WAY FORWARD
I would urge all in the NEC to play the role of an objective, wise and statesman like body whose role will be to play with a straight bat; be impartial, heal and cement the wounds and fissures. I hope that the members of the NEC will not take sides, but be able to build mechanisms and find people who are acceptable to both parties to find solutions. The press and media and our opponents are waiting like vultures to rip AAP apart at the slightest hint of rifts and dissension within. We need therefore to address the points detailed below.
- Our spectacular performance in the recently concluded Delhi elections implies that we have to provide good governance in Delhi. It has raised hopes and expectations to a new level among the people of Delhi. This means that we will have to perform and make sure that we do not fail them.
National Convenorship – To discuss and arrive at creative and visionary decisions on redefining the role of the National Convenor of AAP. Can the Chief Minister of a state and the National Convenor if he/she be the same person be in a position to discharge both the the duties efficiently? Do we need co-convenors? What kind of profile are we looking for? Whether we like it or not, today we are a national party; and we can no longer keep our vision limited to Delhi or some region within the capital. The Delhi results have also impacted at the national level; and expectations have been aroused amongst all AAM AADMI supporters outside the capital and across India. We need to recognise this and programme ourselves accordingly.
Dissent and Democracy – There has been criticism within the party regarding decision making and inner party democracy. This needs to be further analysed by an independent, group who should carry out an internal audit and make suitable recommendations in keeping with the Constitution and the high standards of probity and ethics that we have charted for ourselves. Most importantly let us not rush this; these processes take time; and as we have done with Mission Vistaar, so must it be with the next round of change and expansion.
Volunteers and management of volunteers – Volunteers are our life line. We neglected and took for granted our volunteers and their commitment, especially after the national elections in 2014. This may well have been, one of the contributory factors for the emergence of AVAM. We need to learn the right lessons from this experience and put in place robust mechanisms and people to handle this resource.
Conspiracy Theories , Trust Deficit and Communication Failures – During the past six to eight months there has been an abject breakdown in communications and mutual trust amongst the topmost leadership of the party. This has in my view led to the growth of two camps within the party and loose talk about conspiracies. This is unacceptable and shows that we are no different from any of the parties whom we criticise so vocally. I sincerely urge the entire leadership of this party, especially now that we are also running a government in the capital city, to stop listening to rumours and to discourage colleagues no matter how close, who continually bring negative feedback about each other.
My comment comes from, over forty four years of experience in the Indian Navy, where lending an ear to a single mischief maker can create havoc within the organisation. There is no substitute for one on one dialogue to understand each other better knowing that we may also disagree. Managing dissent is both an art and an imperative.We have managed to keep this under some form of control and avoided an implosion within, until now. This has only been possible because of the untiring efforts by many well wishers from the party, people with extraordinary loyalty and integrity spread across the country.
- RECONSTITUTION OF PAC AND NEC
We need an open discussion on how, when and whether bodies like the NEC, PAC, and even the National Council might need to be reconstituted to better represent region/geography, gender, ethnic and other forms of diversity, as well as to reflect the current developments in the party.
I was both surprised and disappointed at the manner in which decisions were taken at the Delhi NEC meeting in June 2014, be it on expanding the PAC or inviting new members onto the NEC. Such important decisions need far more rigorous methods and processes, and not the hurried, almost ad hoc tabling of names and a show of hands or voice votes to take decisions. If a system of setting up a search committee with agreed parameters and criteria can be set up for both these important core committee, it would go a long way in streamlining our procedures. For both bodies, we also need well thought through criteria of skills, experience, and qualifications, as also better representation on the key questions regarding gender, region and other diversity related issues mentioned above.
- SYSTEMS, DISCIPLINE, CONFIDENTIALITY AND ETHICS.
I have spent my life in a disciplined service, where secrecy and maintenance of confidentiality is often a matter of life and death. Frankly I have been aghast at the way in which decisions taken in our meetings are leaked within minutes; where conversations are recorded and uploaded, and sting operations conducted with little or no accountability.
Every email and letter I have sent out seems to become common knowledge and often has found its way to the media! All of us who were at Ram Lila Maidan on Feb 14th heard each Minister take a separate oath of secrecy as he took office before the Governor in public view. This is not merely a formality but a sacred duty. We need to discuss whether some form of inner party discipline is required within our own core committees?!
I daresay we could argue that a political party is not the same as a defence force. And yet we must all observe certain agreed upon rules and regulations, put in place systems to which we must all pledge allegiance and slowly but surely evolve into something of which we can truly be proud and where taking shortcuts even for winnability and exigencies will slowly be an exception and not the rule. We could then genuinely claim to be setting high benchmarks for the country in the future.
- GENDER JUSTICE AND WOMEN IN AAP
Finally, last but not least, we need to make much efforts in the direction of becoming a genuinely Gender sensitive party which will do far more than pay lip service to women’s empowerment and ensure that we work to improve women’s visibility and participation at all levels. I personally find it difficult to defend AAP against accusations of being mainly a Boys Club especially when we were not able to have even one women in our team of Ministers! Women Empowerment and Justice has to go deeper and farther than mere security alone the Delhi Dialogue on Women was a good start. I hope that a group like AAP Shakti, who have been working systematically on a range of practical and supportive measures will be treated as an important resource to help us move in the direction of genuine empowerment of women.
- POLICY, THINK TANKS, AND LONG TERM PERSPECTIVES
The crazy period of headlong rush from one election to another is mercifully over for a while. This is a time for us to consolidate to return to our initial and path breaking dialogues on Policy, on the huge range of issues that confront our country. We need to have special groups that will create a pool of ideas, of projects and a road map both for Delhi and the country as a whole.
- CONFLICT RESOLUTION, OMBUDS-PERSONS, SENIORS ADVISORY COUNCILS
The sheer time and energies that have been consumed in the past year and more in addressing various levels and kinds of conflicts and problems shows us that this is an area which will continue to exist and will continue to demand a council of elders, of people who can give of their time and wisdom, to anticipate, head off, and resolve, debilitating disagreements and conflicts.
Finally by way of conclusion, I wish to say that we are lucky to get this time to put our own house in order. This is not the time to go back in history or take any hasty decisions. We need to be statesmen like and work our way through this quagmire deftly and cautiously. After all just two years and a few months have lapsed since we formed a party. We are not magicians and the environment we have had to face is not one of our making!
We must accept with all humility, that we are all on the learning curve. It is important that we give out clear signals that all senior members of the party, primarily the PAC, are together and united. Let us be positive and not resort to any form of hasty action against our members. The leadership will have to carry the team together. Everyone has worked very hard to arrive where we are today and the country expects a lot from the party and we should not disappoint them and miss this golden opportunity.
Mrs Ramdas and I have also not spared ourselves over these months to keep the AAPship on an even keel. She joins me in wishing all of you Good