Political parties in India take years to gain traction and win elections, unless they are headed by film stars. There isn’t a matinee idol at the helm of the Aam Aadmi Party, and yet just in a little over two years of its formation, it has wrested an astounding, nearly unprecedented victory in all-time Indian electoral history by winning 67 out of 70 seats in the 2015 Delhi assembly polls.
Much of the credit goes to the party’s extraordinary ability to galvanise volunteers at the grassroots through its promise of cleansing Indian politics. As a party that grew out of the anti-corruption movement, it has been driven by the idealism of its faceless supporters. But sentiment alone couldn’t have been shaped into electoral success in the absence of a powerful leader, who in the case of AAP, is undoubtedly the charismatic crusader and founder of the party, Arvind Kejriwal, now the chief minister of Delhi. The party swept Delhi on the back of the slogan “Paanch Saal Kejriwal” (Five years for Kejriwal).
Kejriwal is now no less of a crowd puller than a film star. The day he took oath as chief minister, Ramlila Maidan, three times as large as a football field, was packed with tens of thousands of supporters, wearing caps and mufflers imprinted with his image.
The near identification of AAP with Kejriwal has been disquieting for other leaders in the party. Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan and academic Yogendra Yadav, in particular, are believed to view critically the personality cult forming around Kejriwal, as well as the concentration of power. In January, both voiced their disagreements with the party’s selection of some candidates in the Delhi polls, prompting Admiral (retired) Laxminarayan Ramdas, the party’s Ombudsman or Lokpal, to hold an enquiry.
On Thursday, the party’s national executive committee met amidst rumours of deepening strife within the party. Ramdas, who could not attend the meeting, sent a strongly worded letter to the members of the NEC and the political advisory committee. In the letter, which Scroll reproduces in full length below, he said, “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.” Ramdas urged the leaders “to anticipate, head off, and resolve, debilitating disagreements and conflicts”.
But the attempt to resolve the disagreements appears to have only fuelled more conflict. In the meeting, taking off from Ramdas’ letter, Bhushan circulated an individual note, as well as a jointly authored note with Yogendra Yadav, outlining an action plan. According to some media reports, he also proposed that Yadav be made the convenor of AAP, a position currently held by Kejriwal. This appears to have not gone down well with others in the party, and there are rumours that the PAC itself might be reconstituted and Yadav and Bhushan might be edged out.
On Saturday, Yadav made light of the rumours in an interview with ANI. He said he saw AAP as a long-term player, and he was willing to take on any responsibility the party entrusted him with.
Speaking with Scroll on Sunday, Bhushan denied that he had proposed Yadav’s name for the convenor’s post. But he confirmed that he had circulated a note jointly authored with Yadav on the institutional reforms needed in the party. He also circulated a separate note individually which explained why the reforms were needed. “The reforms are needed to make the party more transparent and its functioning more credible,” he said. He refused to divulge the details of the recommendations he made. When asked if his future involvement in the party was predicated in the response that his proposal gets, he said, “We’ll see what will happen.”
“I am in the party because of the ideals and principles on which it was founded,” he said. “I will try to ensure that it remains true to those ideals.”
Here is the full text of the letter written by Ramdas.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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