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AAP no Longer The Party we Founded, But Not Damaged Beyond Repair: Kumar Vishwas

Kumar Vishwas spoke to News18 in an exclusive interview and spoke of how he felt betrayed by senior party leaders in the past and why he thinks the AAP has lost sight of its values.

Uday Singh Rana | News18.com

Updated:October 31, 2017, 5:59 PM IST
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AAP no Longer The Party we Founded, But Not Damaged Beyond Repair: Kumar Vishwas
File Photo of AAP leader Kumar Vishwas.
New Delhi: In May this year, fresh after losses in the Punjab Assembly Polls and Delhi’s civic polls, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) averted a crisis after founding-member and senior leader Kumar Vishwas expressed his displeasure with the party’s direction.

As a compromise, the party suspended Okhla MLA Amantullah Khan, who had called Vishwas a “BJP agent”, and made Vishwas in-charge of the party organization in poll-bound Rajasthan.

Five months on, and just two days before the party’s National Council Meeting, the AAP revoked Khan’s suspension. That has triggered a fresh reaction from Vishwas, who is unhappy with the decision.

Vishwas spoke to News18 in an exclusive interview and spoke of how he felt betrayed by senior party leaders in the past and why he thinks the AAP has lost sight of its values.

AAP MLA Amantullah Khan called you a BJP agent. The party first suspended him and then revoked his suspension. What are your thoughts on this move?

Amanatullah is a leader who has come from the LJP and has been accused of spreading communal hatred. I don’t even want to comment on him. He is just a mask. Six months ago I went to a leader, who had joined us from another party. I said that one of our oldest volunteers, who had been with us since the Anna days, was upset with him. That leader told me, these Anna guys are a nuisance and we should make a separate party for them. I told him that this party was created by Anna’s people and you have joined later. I have always been an advocate of going back to basics.

People loved us because we brought alternative politics. We don’t do what other parties do. We shouldn’t put pictures of leaders on our posters. We shouldn’t look at caste or religion calculations. For example, in the 2013 polls, we fielded Shazia Ilmi from RK Puram, a so-called Hindu seat, and from Mustafabad, a so-called Muslim seat, we fielded Kapil Dhama. People liked it. I disagree with the party on certain national issues but that doesn’t mean I am a rebel. This is internal party democracy if I can voice my opinion on the party forum. The party should learn to listen to differing voices instead of stifling them.

You said Amanatullah Khan is just a mask and there is someone else behind him. Who are you referring to? Are you pointing at Arvind Kejriwal?

The people understand everything. I will not point at anyone. Our volunteers and supporters know everything.

How have your relations with Arvind Kejriwal been?

I believe personal relations between leaders shouldn’t influence the party’s affairs. I won’t be able to talk about this on a public platform. But what I will say is that those who have been with us since the days of the Anna movement should be fearless and speak the truth. They should say what is right and what is wrong.

Is Kejriwal not speaking the truth?

He isn’t saying anything. I haven’t heard any statements from him in recent times. But I will keep speaking on all issues. If the External Affairs Minister goes to the UN and exposes Pakistan, I will praise her no matter what. I will stand with her. This is despite the fact that Sushma Ji has blocked me on Twitter after an argument we had. But if girls are beaten up in BHU and the Prime Minister is sleeping, I will also speak out against the government.

So how do you react when people in your own party call you a BJP agent?

I have never been a member of any other party. Those who say this about me have been followers of leaders in other parties like Samajwadi Party and Congress. We even have a person who has been an RSS member for the last 40 years. Now these people will tell me what loyalty to the party is all about?

The National Council meeting of the AAP is on November 2. What direction do you hope the party will take?

The agenda of the NC meeting is pretty clear. Sanjay Singh Ji will speak on the economic situation of the country and Ashutosh Ji will speak on political resolutions. This is the first NC meeting in which I am not a speaker, so I will go as a listener. If the party asks me to say something, I will. In the future, we will have to go back to basics. We will have to go back to our values of zero tolerance against corruption, principles of Swaraj and inner-party consensus.

Many of the original founding-members of the AAP have now left the party, but you have stayed. Do you think the party has lost its way? And if so, is it damaged beyond repair?

No, it is not damaged beyond repair. But it would be wrong to say that this is the same party that we founded. People used to respect us, but many of them don’t anymore. We will have to sit and discuss why we have lost the people’s respect. After the Delhi Assembly elections, we have lost seven elections. We only won the Bawana bypoll. The people who went out could not handle the attack on their personal dignity. They should have stayed in the party and fought.

Do you think people who left the AAP should come back?

I keep meeting people who went out and tell them to come back. I tell them that it is their movement. They tell me that it was a mess. I tell them that the mess has to be cleaned and we will all have to do it together. Some of the most brilliant people in India were in this party. People saw us and thought this is how a party should be.

What about Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan?

I haven’t had much contact with them. Prashant Ji and I are polar opposites in terms of our ideology. I am Centre-Right and he is a staunch leftist. But I have always been a fan of his fearlessness, his ability to fight and his honesty. I may disagree with the way he implements some of his ideas, but I do respect him. Till the last moment, I tried to get them to stay. I want that everyone who loves this country and fights for it should come back to the party.

It could be argued that you are doing all this now to build pressure on the party so that you get a Rajya Sabha ticket.

I have never held any post and I have never taken anything from the party. I have only given to AAP. If I get a ticket, it’s all good. If I don’t, then that is fine too. Everything is in God’s hands. I have been raising issues related to the party ever since the Punjab elections. Other people said that we lost Punjab because of EVMs. I said that EVMs are only one of the reasons why we lost. But there were reasons of our own. We have to look at those.

Were you given charge of Rajasthan just so that you could be placated?

I did not ask for Rajasthan, it was zabardasti (forcibly) given to me. I told them give me charge of a part of the organizational structure. I wanted to be in charge of communications. I said I would handle social media and show these BJP spokespersons in TV debates what AAP is made of. They said no, Ashutosh will look at that. I was fine with that because he is senior. They then asked me to take charge of a state. I said fine, give me Delhi. They said no. Then I said, give me Punjab where I can prepare the ground for the next five years so that we have a chance of coming to power there. They said no and gave me Rajasthan, a state where we had no presence. Today, in a matter of a few months, we have reached a powerful position in Rajasthan. In the recent University elections, CYSS (AAP student wing) got 50 seats.

Was this a way to sideline you?

People say this was Amethi Part 2. In 2014, the party told me that we are being accused of being pro-Congress. So they asked me to contest against Rahul Gandhi. I said I won’t contest elections, even my wife was telling me not to. Senior leaders came to my house and convinced me to contest. They said they would all camp out in Amethi and campaign for me. But nobody came. They all went to Varanasi. I still did not back down and forced a tough contest on Rahul Gandhi. People said Rajasthan is Amethi Part 2. But I take this as a test, in which I have to succeed.

How is AAP Rajasthan, which you head, different from the AAP in other places?

In Rajasthan, the volunteer is running the party. See the posters and banners there. My face is not on them. I do not lead the rallies. This is a painful process, but it has to be done.

Is the link between you and Arvind Kejriwal weakening? Is there a communication gap?

Whoever is the head of the family has to take everyone along. I hope my party does the same thing. Many people left the party and yes, it was their loss too. But it was a much bigger loss to the party.
| Edited by: Ashish Yechury
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