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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 19 New Delhi May 2, 2015

Launch of the ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ by Dissident Aap Members: The New ‘Temple Entry’ Movement

Saturday 2 May 2015

by Aurobindo Ghose

Fourteenth of April, 2015 was Ambedkar Jayanti, when I as a social activist from Delhi attended the Swaraj Samvad (a Dialogue on Present and Future Alternative Politics) held at Gurgaon, Haryana from 10:45 am to 6:45 pm. The participants to this Dialogue consisted of about 3000-3500 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) volunteers, mostly (2000-2500) drawn from all parts of the country, outside Delhi, organised and invited by 49 leaders of the AAP and spearheaded by four members of the National Executive Council who were forcibly ejected from its meeting on March 28, 2015 and later expelled, namely, Prof Ajit Jha, Dr Yogendra Yadav, Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Prof Anand Kumar.

Throughout the day, there were speeches, messages, discussions, voting on key issues, interspersed by songs (by Neeraj Kumar), poems (including those by Mahipal Sharma), video shows, lunch and tea. A video-recorded message of the AAP’s erstwhile internal Lokpal, Admiral Ramdas, was shown. Messages from Dr Dharamveer Gandhi, AAP MP from Patiala, Christina Swamy, AAP NEC member from Tamil Nadu, social activist Ms Aruna Roy and renowned journalist Kuldip Nayar were read out as they could not attend. Admiral Ramdas in his message conveyed that he had no choice but to share his distress at the happenings: four senior members were expelled from the National Executive Council of the AAP for alleged anti-party activities, while his office of Lokpal was terminated without any reason. The real reason, according to Admiral Ramdas, was an appalling lack of internal democratic norms and failure to exercise leadership.

Key speeches were made by senior Advocate and advisor Shanti Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Dev Naur Mahadev, the leader of the Nav Nirman Movement from Karnataka (who spoke in Kannada and was successively translated into English and then into Hindi), Delhi MLA Pankaj Pushkar, Vinod M. S., district convenor from Mysore, Karnataka, Tanveer Alam, who was candidate for Parliament from Bihar, mass leaders from Punjab—Tarsem Singh and Baldeep Singh—and fiery Dalit leaders like Ms Jyoti Maan from Punjab and Maruti Bhapkar from Thane, Maharashtra.

Shanti Bhushan made three unique suggestions for effective interventions in Alternative Politics. To stop the spate of farmer suicides, first thing is to raise the Minimum Support Price of paddy by 50 per cent. Second, to reduce visible inequalities, the sprawling bungalows in Lutyen’s Delhi, presently occupied by Ministers and judges, should be vacated and converted to schools and multi-storied flats for Ministers and judges be constructed. The third suggestion made by Shanti Bhushan was that the income tax of very rich sections be increased. These three simple steps proposed by Shanti Bhushan make much sense because they lead to better income distribution, thereby expanding the home market significantly. Dev Naur Mahadev (Karnataka) said that forming the government is less important as compared to building a massive people’s movement. He was of the view that we should try to bring together all People’s Movements under one umbrella. In India the new party should have a federal structure.

Voting by mobile SMS in the pre-lunch session was on the point as to whether the AAP followed the principle of Swaraj (that is, internal democracy and transparency) and 93 per cent of the participants voted a loud and clear “NO”. Post-lunch, the entire volunteers were divided into sixty groups of 40-50 volunteers each, grouped by State or region of origin, to discuss and decide the immediate and future course of the movement. Right at the end of the meeting, after Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan spoke at length, a total of 2157 volunteers voted on the three options for a future course of action, filling forms which were distributed. The option which said “Trust the party leadership and appeal to it to follow Swaraj” got 1.4 per cent of the vote, while 3.4 per cent said “Cannot say”. The second option was “Quit the party now and immediately declare the formation of a new party” got 25.45 per cent of the vote, while a little less than 70 per cent voted for the third option “As far as possible, struggle and campaign for Swaraj and carry out public movements on mass issues without leaving the party. Review the experience after some time.” An almost unanimous Resolution was passed by show of hands echoing the third option of launching the Swaraj Abhiyan (or Campaign) with the review period kept at six to twelve months after which another Swaraj Samvad will be convened at the national level.

The eight-hour long Swaraj Samvad was indeed a refreshing experience. Internal democracy was at work. Decisions were taken by successive stages of open discussion, debate and then secret ballot. Transparency was clearly present. In a lighter vein the letter of Invitation to the Swaraj Samvad had said: “Members are allowed to take pens, mobiles and cameras inside the meeting.” The press was permitted inside in large numbers and allowed to do their work without any interference. Donations were collected at the end by spreading a sheet of cloth in which more than a lakh of rupees was collected in no time.

If this is not Swaraj at work, what else is Swaraj? It was indeed befitting of the day being Ambedkar Jayanti that just as Dr Ambedkar started the Movement for Temple Entry by the Dalit community, so too this Dialogue decided to launch on this very day, the Movement to Free the Society and the Party of Corruption, Dictatorship and Hidden Agendas.

Aurobindo Ghose is an advocate and social activist.