OPN AAP Arvind Kejriwal
Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal Image Credit: ANI

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has gone from being India’s most successful political start-up to currently being on the verge of implosion after founder Arvind Kejriwal was jailed in the alleged liquor gate case. Kejriwal, with his band of crusaders, had promised to change and revolutionise politics.

Instead, it changed him comprehensively. From swearing on the lives of his children that he would never join politics, he immediately did. From claiming that he would not live the luxury lifestyle complete with heavy-duty flashing security that all leaders in India live, he made it even more excessive with his bungalow (which he had sworn not to live in) being dubbed “Shish Mahal” for its over-the-top opulent renovation.

It is an open secret in AAP that Kejriwal operates like a “dictator”, calling all the shots, in some ways a diminutive version of Modi whom he opposes fiercely. The minute Kejriwal scented office, he threw out his original partners Prashant Bhushan, the distinguished public interest crusader, and Yogendra Yadav.

Other popular AAP faces like the renowned Hindi poet Kumar Vishwas were sidelined as Kejriwal promoted his groupies, forcing Kumar Vishwas to eventually quit the party, blaming “Arvind, who made a fool of all of us and the people”.

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Conspicuous lack of ideology

After winning Delhi and becoming Chief Minister, Kejriwal’s ambitions knew no bounds, yet Delhi’s status as half a state with the police being under the central government authority was a huge check on him. Kejriwal even considered shifting to Punjab after he won power there as he would have all the executive power he lacked in Delhi.

A reality check made him appoint Bhagwant Mann as CM, but Kejriwal ensured that the state plane was put to good use by taking Mann and, by extension, the state plane wherever he travelled. “So much ‘Aam Aadmi,’” said a former AAP leader who had fallen out with him after fighting with him about how much the party had deviated from its original course.

In Delhi and in Punjab, the AAP rode to power on the twin agendas of freebies and anticorruption, seemingly without any coherent ideology to animate it. Kejriwal kept mum during the Delhi riots, totally steering clear of taking a stand on the communal bogey bedevilling India.

This silence and conspicuous lack of ideology made Kejriwal think he could get away by saying “Modi in the centre and Kejriwal in the state”. To ensure he could cunningly walk the tightrope, he threw out former comrades who had founded the party with him. They were replaced by new favourites like Raghav Chaddha, whom Kejriwal sent to the Rajya Sabha and made Punjab in-charge.

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Defied ED summons

Kejriwal was seen beaming at the opulent and flashy marriage of Chaddha with Bollywood actor Parineeti Chopra. Ironically today, as the AAP faces an existential crisis, Chaddha is nowhere to be seen, having left for London for an eye surgery.

It’s been nearly two months and the entire party is wondering why Chaddha is not returning. Speculation is rife that he is all set to join the BJP. Swati Maliwal, who was also nominated to the upper house by Kejriwal, left for the US just before the crisis broke.

In fact, except for Sanjay Singh, a veteran party leader who has just got bail after six months, notably none of Kejriwal’s picks for the Rajya Sabha, including former cricketer Harbhajan Singh, have said a word in Kejriwal and AAP’s support.

Angry party cadre is wondering at the conspicuous silence and saying that Kejriwal is paying the price of rewarding “Khaas Aadmi” (special people). “Kejriwal got dazzled by the state plane, the security, the huge bungalow. He liked hanging around with cricketers and rich donors. He forgot that they belong to no one,” says an AAP leader bitterly.

Kejriwal used to make bitter unsubstantiated attacks on leaders and industrialists accusing them of corruption. Ironically, he’s now in jail because of some allegations made by a former loyalist turned Enforcement Directorate approver. Kejriwal defied ED summon after summon, fondly imagining that he would not be touched.

A dizzying pace

Now in jail, he wants to continue running Delhi as CM from jail. This is an untenable situation. Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren resigned just before he was arrested by ED. Clearly, Kejriwal thinks he’s special but, the real reason is that Kejriwal is now unable to trust any of his party leaders to keep the chair warm for him.

In a surreal display, his wife Sunita Kejriwal, who resigned from the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), addresses the public briefing them on what Kejriwal said from jail.

This, mind you, from a man and a party who rode to power on an anti-dynasty ticket. So what’s next for AAP? Kejriwal is counting on getting bail so that he can resume his role as his party’s chief campaigner, but that will depend on the courts.

Having no ideology and promising freebies is a game of diminishing returns. People get used to what they have already got and demand more.

The politics of freebies is a zero-sum game. And, popular AAP schemes like the ‘Mohalla clinics’ are practically defunct now. The AAP education initiative was spearheaded by Deputy CM Manish Sisodia who himself is languishing in jail in the same liquor case.

AAP rose to power at a dizzying pace and reached heady new heights. Now, will it implode as quickly? The jury is out.