In November 2012, as Aam Aadmi Party was launched, the national media romantically lapped up the idealistic vision and its call for a political revolution, with Arvind Kejriwal as the messiah. At the heart of such romantic idealism, were 12 founding principles, which Kejriwal vowed to follow, and codified it on AAP’s own national website to represent the USP of AAP as to ‘How we are different‘. Since that November of 2012, the nation has witnessed the wilful betrayal of each of those 12 founding principles in an alarmingly opportunistic manner, sacrificing at the altar of political expediency all the core beliefs of AAP. This article catalogues each of the 12 founding principles, and the chronology of how these principles were violated, to leave AAP without an ideology, at the hands of a leader who seems to have the taken the mould of political mercenary leading a party without a cause.
Principle 1: ‘There is no central high command in Aam Aadmi party.’
The testament to the devolution of AAP into a central high command led the party, did not come as much from the opposing parties, as from co-members within the highest national body of AAP itself – it’s National Executive. Between 2014 & 2018, 10 National Executive leaders, who represented nearly 44% of AAP’s National Executive, were either unilaterally sacked, quit out of severe disgruntlement with the high command culture or were ostensibly sidelined. This included leaders such as Ashok Aggarwal who quit in March 2014 saying AAP functions like a private limited company, Shazia Ilmi who quit in May 2014 citing lack of inner-party democracy, Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav & Ajit Jha who were manhandled in March 2015 by bouncers in a national council meeting while ousting them unceremoniously, Subhash Ware who quit in October 2015 citing the undemocratic way in which a state unit was dissolved, Professor Rakesh Sinha who was sacked in April 2015 for raising questions on the way Internal Lokpal was summarily dismissed, Mayank Gandhi who quit in November 2015 citing gutter-level politics, Ilias Azmi who quit in May 2016 saying he couldn’t bear Kejriwal’s autocratic style of functioning, and last but definitely not the least, Kumar Vishwas who was sidelined after being removed as the Rajasthan state-in-charge in April 2018.
Principles 2 & 3: ‘No MLA or MP of this party will use red lights or any other beacons on his or her vehicles.’ ‘No MLA or MP of this party will use any special security. We believe that elected people’s representatives need the same security as a common man.’
These principles were driven over soon after AAP tasted its first electoral success in 2014, with several ministers opting for swanky new official cars as a means of transport merrily abandoning the ‘Aam Aadmi’ modes of transport. By March 2017, the party MLAs in Punjab had en-mass segregated themselves from the ‘common man’ by accepting not just official vehicles, but also armed gunmen for security. In 2018, Kejriwal passed a resolution in the Delhi Assembly targeting the PM for “failing to ensure the security of an elected CM”. For a party that started with a principle of not needing any security for its leadership, to go on to condemn m the lack of adequate security through an assembly resolution is quite a remarkable volte-face.
Principle 4: ‘No MLA or MP of our party will live in opulent and luxurious government housing.’
It only took a mandate with 54% of the votes in the Delhi Assembly elections of 2015, to hang up on this principle. In March 2015, the CM Arvind Kejriwal readied himself to move into a 5 bedroom, 2 office bungalow with a sprawling lawn that could host 300 people. The bungalow was secured after a special request to the Urban Development Ministry. His Deputy Manish Sisodia took up the same bungalow as was accorded to the previous CM – Sheila Dixit and the rest of the AAP ministers followed suit.
Principle 5: ‘No one would need to buy an election ticket in our party. Candidates contesting elections from an area will be selected by the people of that area.’
This was a promise to hold primaries for every area to select a candidate. No primary was ever held. Instead, there were accusations flying thick and thin, on the amount of cash exchanged to secure tickets in AAP, and it reached a crescendo when AAP picked the cash-rich Gupta from the Congress party for a Rajya Sabha seat in early 2018, overlooking Kumar Vishwas’ popularity among the cadre. By the 2019 LS elections, the son of a Lok Sabha AAP candidate Balbir Jhakar was offering video testimony of 6 crores that were paid to Kejriwal to secure the ticket.
Principles 6 & 9: ‘In all political parties today criminals and mafia goons are given election tickets. Such people will never be given tickets to our party.’ ‘No two members of the same family will be eligible to contest elections in our party and no two members of the same family can become members of the Executive Body.’
By the second Delhi assembly election that AAP fought in 2015, AAP had 1/3rd of its MLAs in the assembly facing criminal charges. As of February 2020, AAP has improved this tally to an impressive 51% of its candidates facing criminal charges. For a party that was known to drop candidates on a whisper of wrongdoing, serious criminal charges among its candidate pool are now par for the course. And to those who insert the disclaimer of a lack of convictions, Jitender Tomar, convicted for defrauding the election process, secured an AAP ticket for his wife for the 2020 assembly elections, perhaps inspired by another convicted political criminal Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Principle 7: ‘This party will function with full financial transparency.’
Never has an avowed declaration of financial transparency been so transparently buried. In April 2014, the party shut down the web link that used to, until then, transparently post the donation data, citing technical reasons. The party continued to double down on this strategy as it blocked donor declarations on its website starting with the Punjab Assembly Elections in 2017, and in 2018 went on to ignore an Election Commission warning to declare donors in line with stated transparency norms.
Principles 8 & 10: ‘Every member of the Aam Aadmi Party will have to follow a strict internal code of conduct or internal Lokpal.’ ‘We will enact a Right to Reject law’
A member can only follow directions of an Internal Lokpal if it is allowed to exist. In March 2015, Arvind Kejriwal summarily sacked AAP’s internal Lokpal Admiral L Ramdas, without giving any tangible reasons, and anointed a successor. The internal Lokpal eventually decayed into non-existence, when Kejriwal refused to even appoint replacement members after the anointed one resigned within a month. The right to reject law faced a similar fate, with no action initiated either within the party or legislatively. In fact, the party’s defence of a convicted Jitender Singh Tomar, and subsequent awarding of a ticket to his wife, indicates the brazenness with which the party now operates.
Principle 11: ‘Aam Aadmi Party is fully committed to the principles of gender equity’
Even ignoring the fact that the party lost its National Executive member Shazia Ilmi by 2014, the fact that the current national executive of AAP has barely 4 women among 23 positions, and ZERO ministers in the Delhi govt points to its woeful inadequacy in adhering to this principle. Even the Indian National Congress has 5 women in its top body, the AICC.
Principle 12: ‘Aam Aadmi Party is committed to the principles of justice for all and will coopt representatives from the Dalit and other minority segments’
A woman Dalit national executive member resigned from AAP in December 2016 ahead of the Punjab Assembly terming the party anti-Dalit. In the 2018 Rajya Sabha seat contest, the party calculated carefully along caste lines to allot tickets to two baniyas, and clearly avoided any Dalit representation. In an analysis published in the outlook in 2016, it was dimly observed ‘the AAP’s key leadership positions remain with non-SC and non-OBC leaders‘.
So, what does a party, that has wilfully, systematically and repeatedly betrayed each one of the 12 principles on which it was founded, stand for? What should a voter or an AAP volunteer look towards as the core beliefs of a party that he/she votes for or supports if none of the core principles of a party survives? Is there any ideology remnant in such a party? Or is AAP a party without a cause, with a political mercenary at its helm?