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Arvind Kejriwal overcomes threat: Vishvas gets nothing except Amanatullah's scalp

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 2 May 2017, 0:54 IST

On the night of 1 May, AAP National Convenor Arvind Kejriwal appeared to have successfully thwarted yet another challenge to his leadership of the party. The much-awaited meeting of the party's powerful Political Affairs Committee ended with much heavy symbolism, with words and actions against all sparring factions. Kejriwal did not resign as Convenor, defying speculation and asserting his leadership in the face of adversity and challenge.

Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan resigned from the PAC, possibly a fall-out of displeasure over his comments against founder-member Kumar Vishvas, expressed by the PAC as well as Kejriwal himself. Khan appeared to have been made the scapegoat to placate a faction in the party. Significantly, no action was taken against Vishvas for giving statements outside party fora, even though Kejriwal's deputy Manish Sisodia clearly announced that the AAP chief as well as the PAC disapproved of Vishvas' conduct.

 In what can only be taken as a measure of Vishvas' defiance, the senior leader did not attend the meeting. The PAC took note of this too. This also indicates that he may not have given up the challenge altogether and may hit back soon. Khan has already accused him of trying to lead a flock of AAP MLAs to break away from the party. Many felt that Kejriwal might pre-empt this by offering Vishvas a key position in the party organisation. There were even reports that Vishvas would take over as Convenor. However, nothing of that sort happened at the PAC's meeting.

Never since the exit of co-founders Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav has the Aam Aadmi Party been in such turmoil. First it was the unsatisfactory performance in Delhi's civic polls and the Rajouri Garden assembly by-poll that claimed resignations of senior members Dilip Pandey and Ashish Talwar as Delhi head and Delhi in-charge, respectively. That forced two more resignations, although belated, by Punjab in-charge, Sanjay Singh and his deputy, Durgesh Pathak.

Next in line was change in strategy vis-a-vis holding EVMs responsible for AAP's string of defeats. As results of MCD polls started coming in on 26 April, early reaction from the party were on expected lines, suggesting a repeat of clamour against EVMs. However, party chief Arvind Kejriwal's statement at the end of the day changed the narrative completely. It was among the most conciliatory statements he had made in a long time.

Neither the resignations nor the review in strategy sent the party in as much tizzy as statements made by Kumar Vishvas, another founder member, on 29 April. Vishvas appeared in a string ov TV interviews in which he repeatedly stressed that the party was going wrong on several fronts and it was time for fundamental changes in many areas. It is his statements that have led to heightened tensions within the party, with several leaders sending statements flying against him and each other.

Several leaders are incensed with Vishvas, not so much for the substance of his comments, but with the timing.

“We had a comprehensive discussion during the Political Affairs Committee meeting on Thursday and there was broad consensus on most issues. It was decided that there will be another meeting on Sunday. What was the need for Kumar Vishvas to give a series of interviews in between?” a senior AAP leader told Catch.

“If the problems are being resolved internally, it was wrong of Kumar Vishvas to wash dirty linen in public in this manner,” the leader added.

Even though Arvind Kejriwal has said publicly that he had no disagreement with Vishvas whom he called his “younger brother”, party sources reveal that the AAP convenor is livid at the manner in with Vishvas went public with his views.

“He (Kejriwal) is undoubtedly hurt at Vishvas' comments because these issues were addressed during Thursday's PAC meeting and this process was to be continued on Sunday,” an party source told Catch. 

The meaning of Vishvas' comments

Kumar Vishvas is among the party's founder members and a member of its powerful Political Affairs Committee as well as the National Executive. He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Kejriwal and his former mentor Anna Hazare during the Lokpal agiation, attracting droves of youngsters to the campaign with his fiery oratory. However, he is neither an official spokesperson of AAP nor in-charge of any particular responsibility, essentially acting only as a margdarshak of sorts.

Vishvas did contest elections once, against Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi from Amethi during Lok Sabha polls in 2014, but lost miserably. Since then, he appears mostly during elections as a star campaigner and ideologue-in-chief and is seen in the company of Kejriwal, his deputy Manish Sisodia and other senior leaders in key strategy-meetings. That he takes this role very seriously is clear from the fact that in his latest interviews, he has publicly rued the fact that he wasn't asked to campaign during the Punjab Assembly polls.

That's a somewhat petty grudge to be aired publicly, but then he has mentioned many other things. He said there was a need to effect a change in organisation, communication and strategy, to tell the party's volunteer-base that these are still the same people who started with a fight against corruption at Jantar Mantar, years ago. Nothing wrong with that. The party does indeed need a major shake-up because the morale of party workers is possibly at an all-time low.

The reactions indicate a rift

Vishvas' statement did make Kejriwal come out with another statement, a much more elaborate one than the one on result-day and one which is broadly in sync with what Vishvas said. The national convenor's statement recognises the need for 'course-correction' and 'going back to the drawing board'.

However, in spite of Kejriwal's broad endorsement of Vishvas' views, many AAP leaders hit out at the latter. Sanjay Singh said Vishvas shouldn’t have spoken out like this outside the party.

Okhla MLA and another member of the PAC, Amanatullah Khan, accused Vishvas of being a BJP and RSS agent and trying to break the party.

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Following this spat, Kejriwal was forced to issue another statement indicating support for Vishvas, even calling him his brother.

Possibly taking a cue, several other party leaders have come out against Khan now. Kejriwal's tweet itself was re-tweeted at least 2.5 thousand times. Some, like Rohtas Nagar MLA Sarita Singh and Ballimaran MLA Imran Hussain, even issued statements on their own, cautioning Khan. 

Some reports are claiming that 37 MLAs have write to AK against Khan, demand action against him.

But despite these comments, many in AAP – both at the leadership level as well as the rank and file – say that Khan spoke the truth.

“Amanatullah (Khan) might have been crude in the way he put it but the manner in which Vishvas sabotaged Sunday meeting through his interviews, it does seem he is acting at someone's behest,” a Delhi AAP leader told Catch.

A sinister background to infighting in AAP

It is amidst such a tense situation within the party, that a meeting of the PAC has been called tonight. Rumour mills are working overtime to suggest major decisions will be announced after the meeting. Whatever the meeting leads to, it must be noted that this rift has a context, a sinister plan that many believe is being brewed to deal a body-blow to AAP.

AAP has consistently maintained for a while now that BJP has been approaching its MLAs to leave the party and cross over. BJP leaders have lent credence to this allegation by also claiming that AAP MLAs are in touch with them.

The gap in the conspiracy theory is filled by the office-of-profit case against 21 MLAs, a judgement in which has been pending with the Election Commission for about a year now. Rumour-mills are abuzz with speculation that EC is all set to disqualify these 21 MLAs later this month. AAP will then be left with only 45 MLAs, more than a couple of whom have already rebelled against the party. Only a handful will then be needed to convince to jump ship thereby sending AAP's tally lower than the half-way mark of 36.

Many BJP leaders were heard openly announcing in their civic polls rallies that Delhi will go for assembly polls within 6 months. Was that a proof of the conspiracy they are alleged to be hatching? If yes, then its a sad commentary on BJP's approach to power because it indicates that the party has not accepted the mandate of 2015, is not willing to wait for trying its luck again 5 years later and desperately wants a democratically elected government to fall, by hook or by crook. 

First published: 1 May 2017, 18:25 IST
 
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.

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