Is Arvind Kejriwal’s ‘Attitude’ Causing AAP’s Instability?

The recent high-profile resignations of Ashutosh and Ashish Khetan raise questions about the Delhi CM’s leadership.

4 min read
Hindi Female

In his under four-year tenure, Arvind Kejriwal has fought many battles. But it is his persistent fight with the bureaucracy that has increasingly become “exhausting” for his own party members.

From his issues with Najeeb Jung – who served as Delhi's Lieutenant Governor during Kejriwal's first year in office – to now Anil Baijal, his tussles have only become more frequent.

Though these battles can be seen as inevitable in politics, it’s not just that. As the ripples of his political imbroglio are felt within his party, there are repercussions.

On 15 August, the party saw two high-profile resignations. Senior party leaders, Ashutosh and Ashish Khetan, who were representing and defending the party on television, called it quits. While both the leaders cited "personal reasons" for their resignations, it has raised questions about Kejriwal's leadership.


A close party source told The Quint that his party is not happy with his “dharna politics” – and find it "exhausting".

“His style, his attitude is not right,” the source adds. “Sometimes you don’t need to wash your dirty linen in public. On top of that, he has a bad temper, and it is increasingly becoming difficult to work with him.”

In June 2018, for the first time in Delhi's history, the Chief Minister sat on an indefinite fast inside the L-G's office against the latter's interference in how he ran his office. The Supreme Court gave the Delhi Chief Minister and his Aam Aadmi Party a big moral boost by ruling that Baijal cannot act independently, and cannot obstruct the AAP government’s policy decisions.

Defending Kejriwal, Delhi government spokesperson Nagendra Sharma says that the fight is now in the Supreme Court. "The Delhi government's fight with the bureaucracy has nothing to do with the party. So that could not have prompted the resignations," he told The Quint.


Delhi CM’s Close-Knit Coterie

Just days after his resignation, Ashutosh tweeted that during his campaign as an AAP candidate in 2014, party workers introduced him by his caste. His tweets came after reports suggested that Atishi Marlena, the party's likely East Delhi candidate for 2019 Lok Sabha elections, was asked to drop her "Christian sounding" surname. Ashutosh's remarks sparked rumours that his resignation stems from ideological differences with the party.

His ideological differences with Kejriwal, though widely contested now, seemed to have been brewing for a while.

In January 2018, the AAP named Sanjay Singh, Sushil Gupta and ND Gupta as its three nominees for the Rajya Sabha elections. The top leadership overlooked senior leaders such as Kumar Vishwas and Ashutosh. However, contrary to reports suggesting Ashutosh was overlooked, a close source confirmed to The Quint that Ashutosh refused the nomination as he was irked with the nomination of businessman Sushil Gupta – an outsider to the party.

“Kejriwal did not pay heed to Ashutosh’s discontentment or resolve the differences,” the source says.

And there is another related problem.


The Delhi Chief Minister is believed to rely on the feedback of a small coterie – including AAP MP Sanjay Singh and Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia – keeping Ashutosh and many others seemingly at arm’s length.

The relationship between Kejriwal and Kumar Vishwas has already soured. Though still an AAP member, Vishwas does not attend any party meetings, and is not "inclined to comment on party issues."

It's all about perception, another source told The Quint on condition of anonymity.

“When Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan quit the AAP, at that time Ashutosh and Ashish Khetan were called part of his coterie. Now, they are calling Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh,” he said. “It all depends on from which side of the table you are seeing the situation.”

In April, in a scathing letter, former AAP leader Mayank Gandhi claimed, “Look around you, almost all of the original volunteers who had left everything to join for the principles have been removed, quit or are inactive." Among some of the other high-profile resignations are Ajit Jha, Anand Kumar, Medha Patkar and Anjali Damania.


Ashish Khetan's Future "Not Going Anywhere"

Ashish Khetan, a former journalist who has been working with the AAP since 2013 and quit on 15 August, the same day as Ashutosh, said that he no longer wanted to pursue "active politics." He tweeted that he wanted to pursue a career in law.

Khetan became one of Kejriwal's closest aides when he was appointed the vice-chairperson of the Delhi Dialogue Development Commission, which is an advisory body of the Delhi government. He, however, resigned from the DDC in April, three months after three nominees of the AAP made it to the Rajya Sabha.

One of Khetan’s close aides told The Quint that Khetan wanted to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from the New Delhi seat, which he had lost to BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi in 2014. However, the aide added that the party leadership was not comfortable with the proposition, and that “upset” Khetan.

A former AAP leader, on condition of anonymity, told The Quint that given Kejriwal's inward-looking style, Khetan felt his career wasn't going anywhere.


Road to 2019

For the upcoming general elections in 2019, the AAP is starting small. In a recent press conference, they admitted to be focussing on about 80 to 100 seats. This is in contrast to the 400 seats the party had contested in 2014. Notably, Kejriwal threw an open challenge and contested against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi.

In 2014, they managed to win just four seats in Punjab. Punjab, Haryana and AAP's home turf Delhi will be where the party would focus to improve its tally in 2019, AAP's Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh had said earlier in August.

In Delhi, they would go solo. Arvind Kejriwal, during his recent visit to Haryana, ruled out the possibility of the party joining any alliance. “In Delhi, voting for Congress means cutting the votes of AAP and letting BJP win,” Kejriwal tweeted in Hindi.

In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had won all seven seats in the national capital, defeating Congress and AAP candidates. Besides announcing Atishi as the Lok Sabha candidate, the AAP has announced Raghav Chadha (South Delhi), Pankaj Gupta (Chandni Chowk), Dilip Pandey (Northeast Delhi) and Ghuggan Singh (Northwest Delhi) as Lok Sabha constituency in-charge. These five are likely to be AAP's Lok Sabha candidates.

With months to go for the crucial Lok Sabha elections, can Kejriwal and his party succeed without its senior members?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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