NEW DELHI: What is happening in AAP?

In the last few weeks first Ashutosh resigned. So the belief that the exit of Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Anand Kumar was a fleeting problem, was false. Then Ashish Khetan left politics to go to the law profession, giving up politics.

These two, Ashutosh and Ashish were part of the brains trust of AAP. The defence and achievements of AAP have not been adequately explained and publicised since Arvind Kejriwal and colleagues boycotted TV major channels and other forms of public interaction like the mohalla sabhas.

AAP leaders and cadres must introspect and reorient those policies that are critical. Above all they must reach out to those who are wavering and confused. For this there is no better alternative but systematic mass interaction and the media.

An unique political force and experiment is on the verge of very serious confusion bolstered by attacks by its critics, especially those who are fiercely against the AAP model.

How did this come about? Firstly, there was a widespread feeling in Delhi that a new Delhi leader was the need of the hour. The redoubtable Sheila Dikshit who was widely respected as a politician who had worked tirelessly for the development of Delhi was getting old, and the Young Turks in the Congress like Ajay Maken considered themselves to be the new generation.

In this period an RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal with the blessings of Anna Hazare himself a legend for his support to important causes apart from RTI, against corruption, and for clean governance, was clearly working for a new pro-people party. AK, also known by his initials, was propelled to the leadership of the Aam Admi Party (AAP).

This adventure led to the AAP faring well in the Delhi Assembly elections in 2014, but not enough to win. But it was the first major sign that AAP was a formidable force. It took up grassroots issues like, cheap potable water, cheap electricity, hygiene especially when the dengue menace rose, mohalla clinics with patients having access to hospitals, and the promise to ensure better and inexpensive school education. Some of these assurances did take time, but the building and refurbishing of schools with an expansion of trained teachers was a boon, for the less affluent families, though more affluent families also enjoyed these facilities.

Alongside however a wide coalition of activists, intellectuals, media personnel and others joined the AAP campaign for the Lok Sabha seat of Varanasi in 2014, in which Narendra Modi was the candidate. From Admiral Ramdas, former Navy chief; Lalita Ramdas, many others from other parts of India, like Prof. Anuradha Chenoy, AAP leaders from Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Sanjay Singh, Anand Kumar, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, and I among a host of others including BHU dons, all campaigned. Narendra Modi with the huge resources of the sangh and others won, but the AAP pushed the Congress to third place.

But this wasn’t all. In the later Assembly election in Punjab, AAP entered the fray. But this time the confusion and bickering of seats was a major issue. The earlier convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur was removed. He was replaced by AAP leader Sanjay Singh who knew less about Punjab. The comic and MP Bhagwant Mann put in his candidature for Chief Minister of Punjab.

A worried AAP decided not to pronounce anyone as the CM candidate. This was a continuation of blunders, especially when AAP was facing the redoubtable former CM Amarinder Singh. The rout was inevitable, though AAP managed to be a poor second above the Akali Dal-BJP alliance.

The position in Goa was even more daunting. Many of us, including those in Goa at that time, sent messages to the AAP leaders, as well to AAP members in the social media, that a sole speech by Arvind Kejriwal in Goa, was grossly inadequate. All of us there knew the importance of the panchayats in Goan politics, but the ill trained though enthusiastic AAP cadres were relatively few and no match for the BJP and Congress.

However from Varanasi, Punjab and Goa, an important lesson was learned once again. There is no alternative to a robust, open minded, progressive party system including a sensitive, people oriented and accountable organisation. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Of course, this is not easy but it is essential. Instead, the party system of AAP became, in part, a bureaucratic order, in which a number of activists fell by the wayside.This is a prime reason for disenchantment and even resignations in AAP.

There is little discussion in the AAP media on the meetings in the National Executive and other bodies. What are the strengths and weaknesses? How many new members are brought into AAP bodies, including women, backward classes, minorities, young people, including youth? What are the decisions, actions and criticisms that are discussed? When experiences, suggestions and ideas don’t flow in and out of critical political bodies, the training and building of activists and the fine tuning of activists cannot take place. This is a very serious matter for the organisation.

This inadequacy or even confusion must be replaced by renewal and more openness. A large network of mohalla sabhas, meetings and smaller interaction with disheartened and confused members is imperative. AAP is in danger of unravelling. It must rethink, develop an even broader drive to further strengthen schools, mohalla clinics, ration shops, clean water, cheaper electricity, public cleanliness which AAP has been reputed for. AAP has done a lot of this before. Now in this situation it must work even more on the ground.

There is a systematic campaign against AAP by several parties and leaders. Cadres must be developed and empowered to rebut and expose false charges by opposing parties and members. But that requires considerable effort to develop and orient cadres and even leaders who need intellectual and political inputs.

Moreover, some inputs by skeptics or opponents may have some merit. These should be dealt with sympathetically, to clarify policies and actions. The leadership and cadres must rise to the occasion.

After all, AAP is not just a Delhi phenomenon but a beacon for political renewal.