‘I told Arvind that even dictators consult people’

PR Ramesh is Managing Editor of Open
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Rebel AAP leader Yogendra Yadav talks about the dictatorial style of Arvind Kejriwal and the differences between them in a wide-ranging conversation with Managing Editor PR RAMESH. Excerpts

What precipitated this crisis in AAP?

I guess that in the media, there is a tendency to reduce a process into an event and an event into a personality. But if you want to understand the issue, you have to see the larger picture. I don’t think it is a personality issue. Of course, I do agree that there are moments when personality becomes a bit of an issue. But to my mind, there is a great opportunity called the Aam Aadmi Party—the idea of the Aam Aadmi Party, the idea of politics that is clean, transparent, participatory and accountable. And then you have the reality called the Aam Aadmi Party. There is always a gap between the idea and reality. But in this particular instance, the gap is of a particular kind. There are two different paths the party could have taken. One was to take a long-term path which aims to build an organisation in the long run, go a bit slow and make sure that basic processes are not violated. The other was the rapid course—of fast politics.

And you opted for the second?
Yes, we opted for the second. For various reasons, an overwhelming majority in the party wanted the rapid path. But there are pitfalls in this path and there is danger of your slipping into things that you once opposed—some because of compulsions of the rapid path and some because of the sheer speed. You often don’t get time to reflect on key issues. The rapid path will force you to adopt the principle, ‘Let’s win the first election that we contest’. In the process, what was essentially conceived to be a nationwide movement became the party of one city. Not even a state. Delhi is a city-state. Then you are required to short-circuit decisions, processes and so on. This course prompts you to create charisma around one person, one face. And this is the standard style of other parties.

When did you feel for the first time that Kejriwal had started losing the plot?
Some time ago… I think a year ago, I told Arvind that he needs to read one book. The book is called Swaraj and it is written by a gentleman called Arvind Kejriwal. If you read the book and hear the man, they are two different personalities. The speech that he made at the [AAP National Executive meeting on 28 March] was that of a loser. It was certainly not by a man who headed the party to victory in the Delhi election. Probably, he was feeling embattled. In all fairness, he comes out worse than he actually is. He gave arguments that he knew were ridiculous. And I must tell you that all conversations in the party have not been that low. When it comes to corruption, you have to operationalise your principles. It is not enough to say ‘I believe in transparency, accountability, etcetera’. Whenever we pushed these issues, we met a dead end in the party. One reading is that Arvind never believed in those principles. But I would take a more charitable view—he believed in it, but the rapid path that he followed did not allow him to stick to principles. Arvind believes in winning elections at any cost. He wanted to establish a model of governance in Delhi for the rest of the country and the world to follow. And here, winning at any cost becomes important.

How intense were the differences of opinion within?
Now, I agree that [winning at any cost] was a dangerous proposition. That is what I and Prashant have been repeatedly saying. But Arvind’s favourite phrase was ‘saam, daam, dand, bhed’ (Chanakya’s teaching of employing various strategies to ensure a win over the enemy: to allure; to bribe; to threaten; and to punish). In Arvind’s case, once he has decided what the goal is—and the goal he insists is noble—he will not listen to anyone. When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency, how do we know what was in her mind? Can anyone argue that the objective for imposing it was noble? So means are equally important. Arvind has complete disregard for means.

When did you first meet Kejriwal? How close were you to him?
I met him for the first time seven or eight years ago. Arvind had invited me to chair a session on the RTI Act. [It] had just been enacted. Wajahat Habibullah had taken over as the Commissioner. He had agreed to attend an open session where RTI activists wanted to ask him questions. I was chosen as the moderator. They started asking questions. After a while, it became a session for grilling him. It turned uncivil. What followed was a barrage of accusations and shouting. I told the gathering, “Look, I am the moderator and I will not allow uncivil behaviour.” Arvind was the chief host. He was not uncivil. But for three days, there was slander against me—the usual, ‘This man is compromised’ etcetera. There were angry mails against me. After that, we had zero encounters for the next four years.

When did you both re-establish contact?
Arvind came to meet me after the Anna Hazare fast [of April 2011]. He wanted me to carry out a survey. I looked at the survey form and told him that this is not how surveys are conducted. At that point, I was writing in the media, supporting the movement. Then Prashant wanted me to join the movement. I told him that I have reservations about some of the things associated with the movement, particularly the personality cult. I spoke at the Ramlila Maidan. The next one year, I was kept in the loop about the activities of the Anna movement.

When did you veer towards taking the political plunge?
It is when Arvind did that fast which resulted in the party’s formation that we decided to be part of it. It was my line. I was of the view that this movement, sooner or later, should become political. I had said this at the Ramlila Maidan. But at that point, people did not like it. I was never close to Arvind. I cannot claim to be close to him. That could be partly because of my personality. I am not that kind of person. Before his fast that began in July [2012], I accompanied him on a tour of Haryana. Then it was quite clear that he had made up his mind to form the party. It has been a difficult relationship right from the beginning. But every collective effort is difficult.

When did differences between you and him crop up?
The real breaking point came immediately after the Lok Sabha election of 2014 when Arvind wanted to form the government in Delhi. That very evening of results, around 11 pm, we went to his home. Arvind said it is all over, Modi is going to rule for the next 10 years. I told him, “Relax, just have a good sleep. We will talk about it tomorrow morning.” But he kept insisting that we have to form the government somehow. The next morning, he convened a meeting of MLAs. That’s when we realised that it’s serious stuff. A meeting of the PAC was called. Arvind was in a minority at this meeting. He still said that he will go ahead. That’s when we put our foot down. We told him that it’s not a joke. A meeting of the National Executive was convened. And in this meeting, too, the majority was against forming a government in Delhi. That’s when he realised that we will not do his bidding.

What happened later? When did things take a turn for the worse?
Arvind had told us in June 2014 itself that he had never been part of any organisation where he did not have the final say. When we insisted on the committee system, he told us, “Tell me, which committee should I consult? But I will take the final call.” I told Arvind that even dictators consult people. Every general consults people. But they decide whom to consult and when to consult. In a democracy, there have to be binding consultations. It is [these] that matter. Everybody in the world consults, even murderers. If you bind yourselves to consultations, then it becomes democracy. We still thought that some institutional safeguards could work. We wanted this to survive. Prashant had lost all hope. He was at the edge for the past six months. I kept it dragging. I kept telling Prashant that this is much bigger than you and me. Thousands of people have invested their hope. We cannot let them down.