New Delhi: ‘Shiv ji ki baraat’, is how Arvind Kejriwal often describes the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — an amorphous political outfit where people from divergent ideological streams are welcome, be it the political Left or the Right.
Kumar Vishwas by his own admission is a tad Right of the Centre. The poet became an activist during the Anna Hazare movement. He donned the political hat to contest against Rahul Gandhi from Amethi in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Now Kumar Vishwas is a rebel within — voicing his disaffection with the party openly, in party platforms and in the presence of AAP’s top leadership. But is the party listening in to one of its top crowd pullers after Kejriwal?
Last month, AAP revoked suspension of known Vishwas baiter Amanatullah Khan. The Okhla MLA had accused Vishwas of being “an agent of the RSS”.
Khan’s return to the party was strategically timed, just ahead of the AAP’s National Council meet. Vishwas, though rankled, chose to attend the party conclave. His name was not among the top speakers at the meet, and though he was invited twice to speak, he chose not to. Not even on Rajasthan — a state of which Vishwas is in charge.
Recently, at the AAP’s fifth foundation day celebrations at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, Vishwas was the only leader (there were delegates from 22 states) to strike a discordant note. “The surest way to extinguish a movement is to turn it about faces,” Vishwas said in a thinly veiled attack on Arvind Kejriwal.
Vishwas also remembered friends and colleagues who had been alienated, ‘ek saathi aur bhi tha’, due to ‘lack of communication’, ‘miscommunication’, ‘ego’. Visibly uneasy, AAP leaders, Manish Sisodia, Ashutosh and Pankaj Gupta sat with their heads bowed as Vishwas continued his tirade — lashing out against the growing ‘ personality cult’ in AAP.
All eyes were on Kejriwal as he walked onto the stage but he did not betray even a single sign of unease, in fact, he sat right next to Vishwas. It was Gopal Rai who took a dig at “some Mir Jafars who are amongst us donning the trademark AAP cap”.
With the rift out in the open, Vishwas on Sunday called a meeting of disaffected party volunteers at party office. At the AAP office, it was an uncommon sight – the party had not only opened its doors for the rebel leader but also treated the disaffected workers to endless cups of tea.
Sandeep Narwani, volunteer who has been with AAP right from the beginning and was with Vishwas during 2014 campaign in Amethi, says,” I am not able to live with this infighting, best of friends have gone to different camps.’
And then there was Zahiruddin from Mustafabad who was concerned with the organisation becoming weak. He feels “it is evident that our leaders are not united and this is causing pain, the more united our leaders are, the more motivated we will be…parivaar mein tod nahi hona chahiye”
Most of the workers who had gathered complained that Arvind Kejriwal as Chief Minister had become inaccessible which was not the case during the Anna movement.
Mehendar Prasad Vishwakarma, a party worker from Tughlakabad, said, “When the party was formed Kejriwal had time for us. After coming to power, there is no time. Party workers are not given weightage.”
Later in the afternoon, Vishwas addressed the press and proclaimed it was time for ‘AAP 2.0’. He also gave a call to all those who had been thrown out of AAP or moved out to make a return specifically, Anjali Damania, Subhas Ware, Mayank Gandhi, Dharamveer Gandhi, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. Vishwas added for good measure that talks with all these individuals, were already on!
AAP leader and close Kejriwal aide Sanjay Singh, however, was quick to nip any talks of rapprochement with Yogendra Yadav and others. Ashutosh, another close aide of Kejriwal, played down the challenge thrown by Vishwas at the party office remarking that it was a sign of ‘internal democracy’.
Meanwhile, Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India, said “There is not an iota of truth in news reports about our talks with AAP or with Kumar Vishwas. Nor do we see anything like this on the horizon. As for Kumar Vishwas’ statements about AAP, I see no reason to comment on it”.
Prashant Bhushan also tweeted that the report was absurd. “There are no talks or possibility of our returning to AAP which has betrayed all the ideals of the anti-corruption movement.”
However, that was not the only point of conflict between Vishwas and AAP. Two months ago, the AAP Rajasthan in-charge took a stand to that of the party and things got even more messier as he attempted a clarification that he was not against BR Ambedkar, and that VP Singh’s implementation of the Mandal Commission report had widened the caste divide.
AAP leaders said these were personal views of Vishwas, while he claimed he was misinterpreted. It was MLA Rakhi Bidlan statement that did not go unnoticed, “ This can be someone’s personal opinion but the party doesn’t stand with him. Nor will the party ever do so in the future.”
One year ago, as Kejriwal was trying to find his feet outside Delhi, Vishwas had accompanied the AAP convener to Somnath Temple in Gujarat. But twelve months in politics is a long time. Today, Vishwas is his most vociferous critic.
Vishwas’s recent avatar, a party source allege, it triggered by his ‘desire for a Rajya Sabha seat’. AAP is set to send three members to Rajya Sabha early next year and Vishwas is unlikely to be one of them. Vishwas suggestion that AAP’s Rajya Sabha nominees should be decided through Swaraj in the National Council and National Executive is an idea the party may not entertain.
Vishwas’ isolation was formalised at the AAP’s National Executive meet in June. At this closed door meeting 25 of the 26 members of the NE, grilled Vishwas on his public statements against the Chief Minister just three days ahead of municipal elections and his defence found no takers.