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Why Are Top Leaders Leaving The Aam Aadmi Party?

Ashutosh and the top brass’ departure shows that AAP will remain only a regional party in Delhi and Kejriwal will run the show as per his whims.

Nobody was surprised last week, when Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Ashutosh resigned from the party. He is not the first leader to leave AAP since its inception. Stalwarts like Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Mayank Gandhi, Anjali Damaniya are already out. Kumar Vishwas, Meera Sanyal, Ashish Khetan are almost inactive. Generally, Arvind Kejriwal is indifferent about outgoing leaders. But he refused to accept Ashutosh’s resignation and appealed him to reconsider his decision. Ashutosh did not respond publicly but has decided not to withdraw his resignation. He will probably return to his first love: journalism.

Ashutosh was amongst the first journalists who joined AAP after quitting a lucrative job in the media. He fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Delhi’s Chandani Chowk constituency against then UPA law minister Kapil Sibal and BJP’s Dr Harsh Vardhan. Ashutosh didn’t win, but put up a good fight by winning more than 3 lakh votes despite the Modi wave. He was the national spokesperson of AAP, and more importantly, popular among AAP activists.

So why did Ashutosh resign ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls? Popular belief is that he didn’t get the Rajya Sabha ticket. But sources close to him insist that that is not true. Kejriwal offered Ashutosh a Rajya Sabha seat which he refused because he had a problem with the controversial candidate Sushil Gupta. Ashutosh believed the decision to give Gupta a ticket would damage the moral fabric of AAP. He criticized the decision in the Political Affairs Committee of the party. He repeated it in a meeting of AAP MLAs, which left irked Kejriwal. Following the meeting, Kejriwal is said to have cut down all communication with him, deciding to not assign him party work. Obviously, Ashutosh was unhappy about it.

Like the other leaders who have since left, Ashutosh too had high hopes from AAP when he joined the party. But AAP turned out to be a one-man show. Like any other start-up, the party initially didn’t have the infrastructure of the established political parties. For some time, Ashutosh was entrusted with the responsibility at the national level, but nothing moved further as Kejriwal did not want to expand on the national stage after the defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. As an editor of a Hindi TV channel, Ashutosh was used to the day-to-day churning of politics. The current situation would have been suffocating for him.

Along with Ashutosh, another prominent journalist Ashish Khetan has moved away from AAP. Khetan has issued this statement on social media.

He may go to USA to pursue his legal career. Kumar Vishwas, who was the most popular face of AAP after Kejriwal, was sidelined purposely when he fell out of the good books of the supreme leader. More leaders may follow, say sources.

Former Maharashtra AAP leader Mayank Gandhi, who resigned after the 2015 tussle in the party, has written a book ‘AAP and down’, giving an inside account of the downfall of AAP. He describes Arvind Kejriwal as an authoritarian politician who does not care for his colleagues. He writes, ‘’Arvind told me I do not want intellectuals in my party, just people who say, ‘Bharat Mata ki jay’. Much like Anna Hazare who assumed he was IAC [India Against Corruption], Arvind started believing he was AAP. Everyone else was merely an extension of his image. If party members protested, they are to be removed. ‘Ek jayega to dus ayenge,’ Arvind used to tell me.”

AAP is like a half-broken dream now. After the defeat in Punjab assembly elections of 2017, Kejriwal seems to have abandoned his national ambitions. His government is doing some good work in Delhi, especially in education and health sector. But AAP activists in other states are not happy. No state other than Delhi has an inspiring leader, agenda or programmes. Once upon a time, Kejriwal challenged Modi. His 2015 Delhi assembly victory was historic. But AAP has lost all idealism after that. He proved to be a leader who cannot digest defeat. After the defeat In 2014 Lok Sabha elections and in the Punjab assembly elections, he refused to introspect and left loyal party workers in a lurch. Remember, BJP never did that. Hence, they traveled from two MPs in 1984 to a majority in 2014.

Kejriwal had a great opportunity. Ashutosh and the top brass’ departure shows that AAP will remain only a regional party in Delhi and Kejriwal will run the show as per his whims. Initially, AAP attracted talent from all over India. It had become a symbol of hope. Today it has become just like any other party that runs on the diktats of its supreme leader. Ashutosh, Ashish Khetan and Kumar Vishwas did not blame Kejriwal publicly for their exit. But Mayank Gandhi’s book explains why so many top leaders were unhappy and left the party. In future, Kejriwal may run AAP with his iron hand, but there seems to be little difference between his and Modi’s style of politics. For disgruntled leaders and activists of AAP, a dream is shattered.

Nikhil Wagle is a senior journalist.

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