Lifestyle Books and Art 01 Apr 2018 You’ll come ou ...
Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist

You’ll come out of it with a dislike for Kejriwal

Published Apr 1, 2018, 2:29 am IST
Updated Apr 1, 2018, 2:29 am IST
Such self-awareness is touching but it isn’t reflected in the book he has written.
Arvind Kejriwal with supporters during his India Against Corruption movement days.
 Arvind Kejriwal with supporters during his India Against Corruption movement days.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is a remarkable phenomenon in South Asian politics. It has no equivalent as an urban movement that was produced bottom-up by volunteers and activists. There have been other attempts to do this elsewhere on the subcontinent but none that matches the AAP in terms of success. The party’s sweeping victory in Delhi Assembly elections requires a lot of understanding and analysis.

Very briefly, the party’s history can be summarised as follows: Around the year 2000, Arvind Kejriwal left the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) and began work as a Right to Information (RTI) activist in a Delhi neighbourhood.

 

Kejriwal helped citizens use the RTI as a tool to secure rights and information, meaning such things as rations, electricity connections and so on. During this period, he met and began working with Manish Sisodia who was also doing something similar. The work won Kejriwal the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2006 and he used the money to set up a trust on which former policewoman Kiran Bedi (now Governor of Puducherry) and lawyer Prashant Bhushan. The work focused on exposing corruption through RTIs, ironically a tool that the Manmohan Singh government had gifted India in 2005.

 

AAP & Down by Mayank Gandhi, Simon & Schuster, Rs 350.AAP & Down by Mayank Gandhi, Simon & Schuster, Rs 350.

In 2011, the group launched the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement in Delhi. In this, they roped in Maharashtrian activist Anna Hazare as its figurehead.

A series of “fasts-unto-death” in public spaces brought them in public eye and rivetted the nation, mainly because of coverage from television channels hostile to the Manmohan government. Series of stories on scandals like the 2G scam and the coal scam also helped.

The success of their activism encouraged the group to discard Anna, a volatile and mercurial figure, and launch a political party the next year.

 

They also gave up their hare-brained demand for a Lokpal with sweeping and dictatorial powers over an elected polity.

At this stage, people like Yogendra Yadav, the highly respected scholar and psephologist, also joined AAP, giving it credibility in the media and an intellectual heft that was absent from the wild ranting of Kejriwal, Bedi, Hazare and the lot.

How did AAP organise itself into a political force? What were the networks they set up? What did their thousands of volunteers actually do and how were they organised? How did candidates manage their campaigns within the budget and what did they spend the money on? These are the questions that would interest the reader.

 

Unfortunately, the answers to these are not to be found in this work, AAP & Down, by Mayank Gandhi, one of the members of the party’s national executive. Based in Mumbai, Gandhi’s role appears to be primarily twofold. During the IAC phase, which takes up 118 pages, he was managing Hazare, a difficult enough task for Kejriwal. After that, he was in the national executive which was a toothless body controlled by Kejriwal. Gandhi comes across as idealistic and well-meaning but vacuous. His constant exhortations to nationalism are tiresome and, in fact, alarming. And he is full of himself. The opening lines of the book are: “I request Mayank Gandhi to lead the India Against Corruption movement in Maharashtra,” Arvind Kejriwal announced at the National Conference for the Forum for Fast Justice in January, 2011.

 

Much of the book is in this vein. Gandhi became news when he wrote a blog revealing details of the bizarre way in which Kejriwal got rid of Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan (who were asking, politely, for decisions to be less concentrated in the person of Kejriwal). This happens after Kejriwal leads the party to a superb victory in the second elections in Delhi the party contested in 2015, winning 67 of the 70 seats. After this, Kejriwal turns inwards and sweeps the party clean of all those who want inner-party democracy and sets up a dictatorship.

 

Gandhi’s own role in the Yadav/Bhushan episode borders on the shameful. He abstains from voting on the removal of the two men even while he himself makes it absolutely clear that Kejriwal is victimising Yadav and Bhushan. He hangs around the party later even when it is communicated to him that he is not wanted.

This is the best part of the book and one cannot help coming out of it without developing a strong dislike for Kejriwal and the chamchas he has surrounded himself with. Gandhi communicates quite well the dignity with which Yadav and Bhushan sought to resolve the dispute (they offer to go away) and the viciousness with which Kejriwal treats them. Gandhi also explains clearly the crux of the rift between the poet and orator Kumar Vishwas and Kejriwal.

 

But for the majority of the book, there is not much to hold the reader and certainly the material and granular detail that one might expect from a participant of a phenomenal event are missing. There is far too much of Gandhi himself. There is a moment of honesty at the end: One day, at the Mumbai airport, I caught myself trying to make eye contact with people, hungry for recognition. I had to stop myself. What was I doing?

Such self-awareness is touching but it isn’t reflected in the book he has written.

Aakar Patel is a writer, columnist and executive director of Amnesty International (India)

 

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