Almost a decade back on 14 October 2013, I had written an article for a National Hindi daily—Hindustan about the new experiment in Indian politics. This was about Aam Aadmi Party(AAP)
By then, the Delhi assembly election had not happened and nobody had any clue that AAP would emerge as a disruptive force in Delhi and would form the government and subsequently, would go on to win 67 out of 70 seats in 2015 and 62 seats in 2020.
Still, it was seen with a lot of curiosity due to the Anna Movement which had shaken the foundation of the Manmohan Singh government. I had written that this was a unique experiment which despite the absence of money and muscle power, would be difficult for political parties, journalists, intellectuals, and academia to ignore.
AAP's Meteoric Rise but Failed Political Experiment
In the last ten years, AAP has scaled new heights and went onto win the Punjab Assembly election with a massive mandate, defeating all the top guns of the state. It also made an impressive entry in the recently held Gujarat elections. But I am not optimistic about the AAP.
In the last ten years, no doubt AAP’s growth as a political party has been phenomenal but the experiment which was unleashed by Kejriwal and his team has gone astray and I see no difference between them and other political parties.
Today, AAP is a lost dream. It no longer carries the hope that the Indian middle class had seen them usher in; it was a dream to transform society and politics. AAP had promised to not do politics. Their promise was to change politics. They were not like other political leaders.
Politics for them was not a career, or a money-making machine but a mission. Their mission was to cleanse the system, free it from corrupt practices, offer solutions to the problems that the Indian political system was facing since the demise of the first Prime Minister Nehru.
Its aim was to bring transparency, re-establish democracy, empower the common man, and make the powerful politician and institutions accountable to the people. It was a revolt against the centralisation of power, it was a movement to break the shackles of mental slavery. AAP wanted to turn the pyramid of power on its head. It was a promise of paradise. It projected itself as a redeemer. It was a revolution.
AAP's 'Down to Earth' Image Reflected Common Man's Aspirations
When AAP said that chief ministers and other politicians should not live in big bungalows, instead they should reside in two-room flats, it was a prophetic statement.
It said high-command culture should end in political parties. People with impeccable character should be given tickets for contesting elections. People’s representatives should be recalled if they don’t do their jobs properly. Decentralisation should be the keyword for governance. Policies should be made after broader consultation with the people. A Lokpal should be created to kill corruption and it should have the power to investigate the prime minister along with other cabinet colleagues.
It had gone to the extent of asking that even the deliberation of the cabinet should be live-streamed for the people to see. 'Swaraj' was the goal. But today, AAP no longer talks about all of this.
The party which was the biggest advocate of decentralisation, has become the most centralised political outfit. There is no inner-party democracy. Arvind Kejriwal is the first and the last word in the party.
Party structures have no meaning. Other leaders have been reduced to robots and their job is to do what they are told. They can neither ask questions nor are allowed to disagree. When the party was formed, it had provisions for the Lokpal who would listen to any allegation of corruption against the party leaders. Initially, it had appointed a Lokpal but later that practice was done away with. Now nobody talks about Lokpal.
AAP's Autocracy & Its Hindu Appeasement
To fight the ills of dynasty, AAP in its constitution had incorporated that no two members of a family can get ticket to contest elections or hold office in the party. What happened to that provision, nobody in the party knows.
The chief minister lives in a palatial bungalow with hundred of security men keeping an eye on him round the clock. He flies in chartered planes and stays in the costliest hotels. To win elections is the guiding principle. A clean candidate is an outdated concept. It was on this issue that Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav had to leave the party. They were opposed to giving tickets to a few who had questionable credentials.
The AAP which took great pride in 2013 assembly elections that caste, religion, gender, language, and region were no consideration for selection of candidates, was reciting Hanuman Chalisa in 2020 Delhi elections and Diwali Pujan by Kejriwal and his family was live-streamed on TV channels.
In the 2022 Gujarat elections, it demanded that Laxmi-Ganesh should be printed on currency notes if the prime minister wanted the economy to grow faster. Kejriwal had even said Jai Sri Ram in pubic rallies in Gujarat.
This was now a party looking for Hindu votes, did not even mention Bilkis Bano when her rapists’ life sentence was remitted and sweets were offered to them by local people. AAP’s leader did not even visit Northeast Delhi after the communal riots and the government did not carry out proper rehabilitation program fearing it might lose Hindu votes.
AAP's Election Investments & Corruption Allegations
In 2013, when AAP was contesting Delhi elections, for expenses it relied on crowdfunding and asked 20 crores from the public to donate for clean politics. And when the party had collected 20 crores in its funds, it requested the public to stop donating. But in 2022, it ran the most expensive election campaign in Goa and Punjab.
It was rumoured that AAP spent more money than the BJP which is supposedly the richest party in the country in both the states. I was not surprised when central agencies filed cases against AAP leaders on the issue of Delhi liquor policy. It was alleged that money had changed hands.
Houses of AAP leaders were raided by CBI and ED, few of them were arrested and have been in jail for the last few months. This was the same Kejriwal who before forming AAP along with Gopal Rai and Maneesh Sisodia, had sat on a hunger strike for two weeks against corruption of political leaders at Jantar Mantar. The posters of top leaders of the country including that of Pranab Mukherjee who went onto become the president of the country were hung at the protest site.
It is not that central agencies and Delhi Police have not arrested AAP leaders on frivolous and fake charges but liquor scam seems to have some substance and it can’t be dismissed lightly.
Today, the allegation that many AAP leaders and MLAs in Delhi and Punjab are neck-deep in corruption and there is no difference between them and leaders of other parties is not the figment of a fertile imagination. It has some solid basis. People on the ground are talking about it.
The whisper in the power corridor is that compulsions of politics has compulsorily changed the basic character of the AAP. Its leaders are no longer the children of Anna movement. They have grown and have matured into hardcore, thick-skinned politicians. The innocence of the anti-corruption movement is dead.
It is commonly said that a week is a long time in politics. AAP took ten years to reach where it is now. Who says people don’t change, AAP is a shining example. It has changed. But its change is the death of a dream.
(The writer is an author and former spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)