Bittersweet victory

PTI1_8_2018_000142B Three cheers: (From left) AAP's newly-elected Rajya Sabha members Sushil Gupta, Sanjay Singh and N.D. Gupta | PTI

AAP’s Rajya Sabha entry has exposed the fissures within the party

With 66 of 70 MLAs in the Delhi Assembly in its kitty, the Aam Aadmi Party effortlessly bagged the three Rajya Sabha seats that had come up for reelection from the national capital. That was a given. But, what caught many people unawares were its nominees.

Initially, the party had wanted to nominate eminent personalities, who were not necessarily from the party, to the Rajya Sabha. Offers were made to 18 notable individuals, including former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, former chief justice of India T.S. Thakur, Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi and fierce critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi—Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie. All of them declined the AAP offer.

Within the party, names of leaders like Sanjay Singh, Ashutosh, Atishi Marlena, Pankaj Gupta and Raghav Chadha were doing the rounds, even as Kumar Vishwas publicly staked claim to a nomination to the Rajya Sabha. When Sanjay Singh’s name was announced by Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia after a meeting of the party’s political affairs committee on January 3, it was on expected lines. Singh had played a crucial role in the AAP’s spectacular victory in the Delhi assembly elections in 2015, and is now handling party affairs in Uttar Pradesh.

However, the next two names that Sisodia announced—of chartered accountant N.D. Gupta and Delhi-based businessman Sushil Gupta—evoked surprise, both within the party and outside.

Singh, Sushil and N.D. Gupta were elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha, taking the AAP’s tally in Parliament to seven members. However, the choice of the two outside names robbed it of the glory that would otherwise have accompanied the newbie party’s arrival in the Rajya Sabha. Questions are being asked on why party chief Arvind Kejriwal chose the Guptas, with allegations being made of a ‘deal’ behind nominating them. The reelection has also exposed fault-lines within the AAP, with Vishwas openly revolting against the top leadership.

The Congress and the BJP have pounced on the nomination of the Guptas, raising doubts about the real intent behind it. The Guptas, who have a standing in Delhi circles, are nowhere in the league of the eminent personalities who had been earlier approached by the party. Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken alleged that there was an understanding between the AAP and the BJP on nominating 72-year-old N.D. Gupta.

“N.D. Gupta [former president of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India] has been looking at the AAP’s income tax cases as chartered accountant,” said Maken. “And, he has close relations with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the BJP. This makes it clear why a person who has nothing to do with the AAP movement has been sent to the Rajya Sabha.”

Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari, on the other hand, said, “Kejriwal has been very vocal on corruption. But the manner in which he has blatantly nominated two outsiders, who are businessmen, to the Rajya Sabha shows his duplicity on the issue of corruption.”

Also, the AAP, which wants to be seen as a fresh alternative, has nominated an ex-Congressman in 56-year-old Sushil, who quit the grand old party only last November.

Accusations of quid pro quo are being made, with former AAP founder members like Mayank Gandhi and Yogendra Yadav alleging a money angle in the nominations. Gandhi tweeted that after communal and caste vote bank politics, the party had crossed the last bastion—corruption. Yadav joined in: “Agree, Mayank bhai. You did alert me to the money angle a few months ago, but I did not believe you. I knew their accounts are fudged. I knew some tickets in Punjab were sold. But I did not believe that Arvind may be directly involved in quid pro quo. Sorry!”

AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj, however, said, “The three Rajya Sabha leaders who represented Delhi were nowhere to be seen in debates on issues related to the capital. It is good for democracy that so much discussion is happening on these names.”

According to sources in the AAP, N.D. Gupta will have a role in forcefully defending the party’s funding as it faces charges of fudging accounts of donations in its submissions to authorities, including the Election Commission of India. Sushil, who runs a number of educational institutions and hospitals in Haryana, could help the party in its expansion efforts.

Meanwhile, the infighting between Kejriwal and Vishwas, who was originally being considered for the Rajya Sabha nomination, has intensified. Vishwas criticised the victory with a hint of sarcasm: “I want to congratulate the AAP volunteers because their voice had been heard and two ‘revolutionaries’ have been nominated.”

Vishwas, once close to Kejriwal, has been with the AAP when it was just an idea—his house in Ghaziabad was where the initial planning took place. Vishwas is a childhood friend of Sisodia, a long-time associate of Kejriwal. However, he has been sidelined and is upset over being given a raw deal even as other founder members have been rewarded.

Kejriwal, meanwhile, is convinced that Vishwas plotted against him in the wake of the AAP’s electoral debacles last year—it did poorly in the civic polls and other state assembly elections—and was eyeing the top post in the party. It will, however, be tricky for Kejriwal to tackle the Vishwas challenge. Vishwas, who is in charge of party affairs in Rajasthan, enjoys a sizable following among the party cadre and is popular with volunteers. But, sources close to Kejriwal said Vishwas’s capacity for damage had diminished after the party’s win in the Bawana assembly bypoll last August.

However, the issue of Kejriwal’s perceived dictatorial style of functioning is being talked about. After the Rajya Sabha nominations were announced, Vishwas said it was not easy for a person to continue in the party if he or she disagreed with Kejriwal. Also, there is discontent among the party leadership as well as volunteers with regard to the nominations. Many MLAs in Punjab and Delhi expressed their dissatisfaction, as did several councillors in Delhi.

The AAP’s arrival in the Rajya Sabha seems to have been eventful for all the wrong reasons.

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