Mainstream, VOL LII, No 49, November 29, 2014
Owning up Mistake of Resignation: A Reality Check by AAP
Monday 1 December 2014
by Sanjay Mishra
The following article was sent quit sometime back but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons. It is now being published for the benefit of our readers on the occasion of the AAP’s second anniversary
(it was set up on November 27, 2012) as its contents remain valid to this day.
After the drubbings in the 16th Lok Sabha elections, one thought that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would be wiser: that stock-taking and introspection of the causes of defeat and preparation of a blueprint for overhauling and revitalising the party would be on top of its agenda in the wake of the election results. One even thought that, a la some other parties professing high morality, there would be at least a whisper of resignation from the top echelons of the party. This sort of exercise appeared imperative because the party, having bagged just four seats from a whopping 430+ constituencies that it contested, and losing deposits in the 415 constituencies, drawing blank not only in Haryana, where it had hoped to make some headway, but also in its bastion, Delhi, with its top leadership defeated decisively, and having garnered just two per cent of the national vote-share, appeared to be on the brink of an existential crisis.
Indeed, the exercise acquired greater urgency after the exodus of Shahzia Ilmi, a founder member and a prominent female face, and Captain G.R. Gopinath, of the corporate world, from the party. The party also suffered a huge loss of face because of the drama of resignation and its subsequent withdrawal by Anjali Dhamania in a span of 24 hours, and the spat between the chief of the Haryana unit, Naveen Jaihind, and the chief strategist of the party, Yogendra Yadav, playing out in the public. However, one was disappointed to see that the party, ostrich-like, far from being urgently seized of the aforementioned matters, allowed defeat to trigger a sense of defeatism, disorientation and disarray even in its top leadership, not to mention its cadres.
First, far from showing any signs of owning up any moral responsibility, its mascot, Arvind Kejriwal, remained incommunicative and then latched on to, as it were, the God-sent face-saver in the form of the Nitin Gadkari defamation case. Kejriwal, as his critics alleged, to remain in limelight and simultaneously to divert media attention from his and his party’s ignominious defeat, made a virtue of his refusal to furnish the bond for his bail and, after being in prison for six days, relented when advised by the High Court and some of his colleagues; of course, this was in keeping with his trait and habit—of acting impulsively and then climbing-down. True, through his refusal to furnish the bail bond, he did highlight the plight of tens of thousands of undertrials languishing in prisons because of their financial incapacity to furnish securities for their bail. A Habeas Corpus writ, filed by the AAP, has been accepted by the High Court, though some legal experts have argued against the propriety of the Habeas Corpus writ in the case. Had the issue of grey area, or for that matter, an erroneous interpretation of law in the practice of furnishing bonds in a large number of cases, been espoused in a systematic, organised manner and taken to some logical conclusion, it would have created greater resonance among the people.
One wonders if the flip-flop by Kejriwal in the jail-bond case will have negative electoral consequences for his party in the ensuing Assembly elections of Delhi. Most importantly, the controversy over the bond issue was needlessly allowed to linger even as the party was in the throes of internal dissensions and disaffection, triggered largely by its defeat and also because of its internal functioning. It needed a leak of the explosive letters exchanged between Yogendra Yadav and the close confidante of Kejriwal, Manish Sishodia, in which the former accused the party of falling prey to the personality cult and the latter accused Yadav of destroying ‘brand Kejriwal’, to force Kejriwal to acknowledge mistakes and make some changes in the party structure. To be fair to Kejriwal, it must be said that had he not reached out to Yogendra Yadav and assuaged his anger, and had he not brokered a truce between Yadav and Sishodia, the party, already demoralised by a massive defeat, would have possibly imploded in his face.
The AAP had hitherto been in a state of denial about the commission of any crucial mistake in its brief stint in power in Delhi, barring, of course, the admission that it botched up on the Janata Durbar initiative. The initiative, although well-intentioned, had to be discontinued after its very first meeting turned out to be a damp squib because of the unexpectedly huge surge of the aggrieved crowd, forcing the Chief Minister, Kejriwal, to flee to the top floor of the venue.
It was, therefore, refreshing, if not surprising, to hear from Kejriwal that the decision to quit the government in Delhi was “a big mistake”. Indeed, while addressing a public meeting of e-rickshaw owners, he went to the ludicrous extent of vowing not to resign again!1 Later, he even asked his party volunteers to apologise to the people of Delhi on his behalf for quitting as the Delhi CM and to convince them to give the party one more chance. Is the apology a genuine, heartfelt remorse or an exercise in expediency and opportunism? This question arises because Kejriwal had all along couched his decision of resignation in high moral principle which appeared contrived and disingenuous. Initially, rather than accept the mistake of quitting the government in a huff, he appeared to blame the electorate of Delhi for giving his party just 28 seats, and not 50 seats, which restricted his elbow room to deliver on his poll promises and, thereby, compelled him to resign prematurely. Indeed, far from pointing to any iota of error in the decision of resignation per se, Kejriwal had tried to give a sacrificial sanctity to his resignation, comparing it to Lord Rama’s renunciation of power, and putting the entire blame at the doorstep of the Congress and BJP for forcing him to resign.
Thanks to Indian democracy and electoral politics, in the run-up to the 16th Lok Sabha elections and particularly towards the fag end of the electoral campaign, the AAP and its top leadership had to accept, perhaps willy-nilly, two facts. One, the optimistic projection of its performance in the Lok Sabha elections in which Kejriwal had hoped that the AAP would secure at least 100 seats and that a coalition government would take oath followed by a mid-term election stood in sharp contrast to the results of nearly all pre-poll surveys. In fact, for the AAP, the actual results turned out to be worse than what the pollsters had given it. Two, each one of the AAP candidates in the fray had to face piercing questions about Kejriwal’s resignation. Kejriwal himself had to bear slaps and ink attacks. Of course, he blamed the BJP for the attacks. Till date, one doesn’t know whether the attacks on Kejriwal and his supporters in Gujarat and Varanasi during the election campaign, to be sure carried out by the BJP supporters, had the blessings of the senior leaders of the BJP or not. But even Kejriwal knew in the core of his heart, though he did not openly admit, that the slaps inflicted on him in Delhi, particularly the ones from an auto driver, Lali, whom he later met, and the ink attacks in Haryana, came from supporters who felt let down by his resignation in Delhi.
Be that as it may, the realisation must have dawned on Kejriwal and his colleagues that the people had not been disabused of the impression of the AAP being a “quitter” by their high-sounding moral justification on resignation. The tag of being a “quitter”, as the results of the 16th Lok Sabha elections seemed to suggest, remained with Kejriwal like an albatross around his neck which he, wittingly or unwittingly, failed to adequately take note of till the declaration of results of those elections, possibly because of his arrogance of self-righteousness. Otherwise, he and some of his colleagues would have openly accepted the mistake and not tweaked in a minor way their position on resignation. Without finding fault with the decision of resignation per se, Kejriwal and his colleagues came up with a new explanation to account for their poor performance in the elections: that the decision to quit the government was not properly communicated to the people. Prashant Bhushan, a prominent member of the party, gave the most explicit expression to it by saying that the government should not have resigned in such a hasty manner and should have, before throwing in the towel, communi-cated to the people the rationale behind the resignation. Indisputably, this was the minimum that the AAP Government could have done in deference to the people of Delhi given the fact that the AAP had sought their views, using innovative techniques like public meetings through Mohalla Sabhas and SMSs, on taking support of the Congress party to form the government in the first place. Surely, Delhites, after being virtually deified in the formation of the government, resonating with the principle of Vox populi, Vox Dei,2 must have felt crestfallen at not being properly intimated, let alone consulted, about the exit of the government.
There are two questions of relevance in this context. First, could the AAP have remained in power in Delhi if it had not resigned? Now that Kejriwal has accepted that the resignation was a mistake, he must have realised that when he quit, push had not come to shove. There was a technical issue with regard to the introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill. The BJP Members of the Assembly, the Congress supporting the minority government of the AAP, the Lieutenant Governor (LG) and the Central Government insisted, citing a Home Ministry order, that all Bills having financial ramifications had to be first vetted by the Home Ministry before introduction in the Assembly. Kejriwal, on the other hand, rubbished the Home Ministry directive as illegal without challenging it in the court of law and sought to introduce the Bill in the Assembly. And when he was prevented from doing so, he resigned. The bottom-line is that the AAP could have certainly manoeuvred a way out of the impasse over the Jan Lokpal Bill and stayed put in power.
The other hypothetical question is: what would have been the AAP’s performance in the Lok Sabha elections if its government had not resigned in Delhi? True, in the 16th Lok Sabha elections, even the Congress, the grand old party, notwithstanding its ‘impeccable pedigree’, ‘welfare’ policies and a few progressive legislations of its government, huge resources and pan-India presence, found the going tough against the BJP with its faultless electoral strategy and towering popularity of its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. Of course, this is not to underestimate the importance of the anti-incumbency factor against the Congress because of 10 years of rule at the Centre. On top of that, the UPA’s second innings at the Centre was marred by massive scams, policy paralysis, and deceleration in economic growth, joblessness and high inflation. Explaining the reasons for the AAP’s dismal performance, its soft-spoken, psephologist-member Yogendra Yadav said: “People are risk averse and thought it (AAP) was too new, uncertain and experimental...they opted for the real, viable and what was in their grasp.”3 That is, for the BJP. It sounds politically apt but does not fully capture the AAP’s own set of problems.
However, it does appear reasonable to suggest that if the AAP Government had not resigned and made a sincere effort to implement its manifesto, it would have fared a little better in the parliamentary elections, particularly in the urban areas of India, most of all in Delhi. This is because in Delhi the AAP was able to increase its vote-share from 29.4 per cent in the Assembly elections to 32.9 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections notwithstanding the baggage of the resignation and the gimmickry of dharna. This is not to underplay the negative fall-out of the resignation on the AAP’s prospects in the elections underlined by the fact that the AAP was not able convert its increased vote-share in Delhi into seats. The fact is that by resigning the party had displayed a callous insouciance to the fate of its freebies, from electricity to water, announced with so much fanfare, albeit without taking all the financial implications into account, and other pre-poll promises which never saw the light of the day. The freebies announced by the AAP had to be discontinued after their exit because of procedural bottlenecks, leading to disillusionment and anger among the people.
Initially, after the resignation the party sought to project itself as a novice in politics, not used to the pulls and pressures of the party supporting the minority government from outside. It therefore wanted to snap this tenuous and uneasy relationship for good so as to ride on its popularity to clear majority and mandate. Nobody could have faulted with this line of reasoning. But once the party decided to plunge itself in the Lok Sabha elections in a big way—it had 434 candidates in the fray, more than those of the BJP and Congress—its intentions and motives became suspect and people even started believing that Kejriwal had latent ambitions of becoming the Prime Minister. The resignation gave the impression that, in order to fulfil his national ambitions, Kejriwal dishonoured the mandate and ditched the people of Delhi.
Indeed, his abrupt abnegation of the chair left many people wondering whether this was indeed the quintessential trait of the man: not only to denigrate those in positions of power and responsibility but also to run away from these positions whenever the heat became unbearable or when other ambitions took over. He gave the impression of a man being too much in a hurry, of trying to achieve too much in too short a span of time. From the IIT to the Revenue service, from off-shore study leave to an NGO (Parivartan), from the NGO to the “India Against Corruption”, from the “India Against Corruption” under Anna Hazare to the AAP, independent of Anna, from the post of the Chief Minister of Delhi to the AAP contesting 434 seats in the 16th Lok Sabha elections, the maximum by any single party—Kejriwal appeared to be a man constantly on the move, often biting more than what he can chew. It is possible to argue that if Kejriwal had openly admitted the mistake of his resignation, rather than offered disingenuous alibis in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, people could have believed in his sincerity and his party could have picked up a few seats, at least in Delhi.
It is true that the AAP’s sympathisisers would view the admission of the mistake of resignation, albeit belated, as better late than never. In any case, it was a ‘lapse in judgment and not a moral lapse’.4 On the other hand, its detractors would view it, and not entirely without basis, as a cynical desperation on the part of the AAP to return to power in Delhi. Its flip-flop on elections in Delhi is of a piece with its admission of the mistake of resignation. The dotted lines can be easily connected to conclude the AAP’s desperation to retrieve the lost ground in Delhi. Initially, the AAP mounted pressure on the LG and petitioned the Supreme Court for dissolution of, and consequently fresh elections for, the Delhi Assembly. And then, in the light of the clean sweep by the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, it changed stance and started hobnobbing with the Congress for seeking their support for a second go at government formation. It even wrote a letter to the LG for enabling it to explore other options. After its proposal was publicly rebuffed by the Congress, the party sought to ratchet up pressure for fresh elections in Delhi. To that end, it even met the President, Pranab Mukherjee. It was so rattled by the BJP’s declaration of attempting to form the government with the support of six Congress rebels that Kejriwal even went to the extent of accusing the BJP, of course without evidence, that the latter was trying to buy the Congress MLAs at Rs 20 crores each and further offering to make two of them Ministers and the rest four chairmen.5 Indisputably, the Delhi election means life and death for the AAP. A loss here could certainly usher in the process of unravelling for the party, with questions about the leadership of Kejriwal becoming vociferous. If it triumphs, it would mean that the people of Delhi have forgiven its mistake of resignation. However, if the BJP is able to cobble up a coalition with rebels of the Congress, then in that eventuality the AAP’s future could again be in the doldrums.
1. Maria Akram, ‘Kejri vows not to resign again’, The Times of India, New Delhi, June 23, 2014.
2. It means “Voice of the people is the voice of God.” The AAP was the first party in post-independence India that sought the views of the people, howsoever crude, on taking outside support of a different party for forming the government.
3. Himanshi Dhawan, The Times of India, New Delhi, May 15, 2014.
4. Yogendra Yadav’s interview to Himanshi Dhawan, The Times of India, New Delhi, May 18, 2014.
5. Arvind Kejriwal’s post on his twitter account, cited in The Times of India, New Delhi, July 17, 2014.
Dr Sanjay Mishra is an Associate Professor of Political Science, MMH (PG) College, Ghaziabad. He can be contacted at dr.sanjaymishra_1969 @yahoo.co