Disqualification of 20 MLAs – the last nail in AAP’s coffin?

Regardless of the legal outcome of the disqualification case, it is mired in, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has lost credibility, perhaps irretrievably. Whether the present situation will be the last nail in its coffin or there are more nails to come, remains to be seen. But the coffin is already there and the party could be over for Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal & group by the time Delhi votes for a new Assembly.

Any party with a mass base can weather a storm or two and even come out stronger. This has been the case with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and various regional outfits. So why should it be different with the AAP? The difference is that while other parties dug inward and sought to address the key causes for the setbacks, the AAP continues to harp on external matters and refuses to acknowledge the inherent reasons for its decline. Besides, it has been left reeling with one crisis after the other coming in quick succession, and that has left the party with little time to engage in serious governance. Thus, lack of governance coupled with internal strife has dealt a double hammer blow to the AAP.

Arrogance and scant regard for rules and laws are at the root of the problems the AAP has faced in its three years of office. Having secured 67 of the 70 seats in the Assembly, the party lost no time in turning against those who had cautioned it against going the way of other parties and advised the leadership to protect the party’s unique public stature. Founders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan were shown the door along with others. People with questionable track records were made ministers. Soon, the past caught up with these people, and four of his ministers at various times had to quit in disgrace.

The more the pressure grew on the leadership to take corrective measures, the more the leadership became revengeful. When MLA and Minister Kapil Mishra accused the Chief Minister of presiding over a corrupt regime, he was sacked in May 2017. About a year before that, another Legislator, Devendra Sehrawat, was suspended from the party. A few other MLAs too raised the banner of revolt — though they are now being wooed by Kejriwal’s men. The one person the AAP leadership has failed to rein in is politician-poet Kumar Vishwas. If he has not been axed yet it is probably because of his immense popularity among the people. After 20 party MLAs were disqualified for holding an office of profit, Kumar Vishwas said he had warned the leadership a long time back about the folly of appointing them as parliamentary secretaries against the constitutional provisions. For his contributions, he has been sidelined and humiliated time and again.

The arrogance came from the numbers. The party leadership knew that much as its well-wishers (whom it saw as not just critics but also saboteurs) raved and ranted, its Government was not in danger. With the brute majority, the party has, Kejriwal and his henchmen couldn’t care less about proprieties. The likes of Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan and Mayank Gandhi were small fry; the AAP leadership even ignored the rebuffs of social activist Anna Hazare, under whose leadership Kejriwal and others became public figures. It was on account of the hugely successful anti-corruption movement which Hazare helmed, that the AAP became a reality and won the Assembly election. But all that is now forgotten.

And it was arrogance again which made the leadership to first appoint 21 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries and later amend the law to regularise the appointment. The amendment was subsequently struck down by the Delhi High Court as illegal. The recent choice of two outsiders as its Rajya Sabha candidates while overlooking the merits of leaders from within the party, such as Kumar Vishwas, is another instance of arrogance.

It’s now no longer an issue of the Government’s survival. There is no argument that even if the courts endorse the disqualification of 20 MLAs, the Kejriwal Government would not be threatened. The issue is of a more grave nature — the continuing erosion in the AAP’s credibility and its moral stature. There have been straws in the wind in the electoral sense too: The AAP lost the municipal corporation polls and had earlier lost an Assembly seat which it had held, to the BJP. But a truncated AAP could be more vulnerable to break-ups. And assuming that the regime lasts until the next Assembly election, it will have very little by way of an image to present before the voters and seek re-endorsement.

It is said that offence is the best form of defence. The AAP leadership has embraced this motto in a most perverse way. Confronted over sidestepping constitutional niceties in administering Delhi, the Chief Minister and his group have taken to slandering nearly everyone of consequence at the Centre — from the Lt Governor to the Minister for Home to the Minister for Finance, to even Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The ruling party in Delhi has not even spared autonomous constitutional authorities such as the Election Commission of India. If the BJP wins elections, the electronic machines have been tampered with; if AAP leaders come under legal scanner, it is the dirty department of the BJP at work; if MLAs get disqualified, the Election Commission of India is doing the Centre’s bidding; if the Lt Governor refuses to give a nod to the Kejriwal Government’s schemes on constitutional grounds, the Lt Governor is acting as a stooge of the Modi regime. There isn’t one instance where the AAP leadership has admitted to its blunder and sought to course-correct.

This is not the first time that Delhi and the Centre are ruled by two opposing parties. It happened when the Congress’s Sheila Dikshit was the Chief Minister and the country was governed by a BJP-led regime. There are other instances as well when Delhi had a BJP Government and the Centre was ruled by the Congress. There had been differences but they were sorted out within the constitutional framework. Ugly confrontations, initiated by the AAP, have today become the norm, challenging the federal spirit of the Constitution.

(The writer is senior political commentator and public affairs analyst. Views expressed here are personal).