Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sandipan Sharma - The great AAP rift: Kejriwal plays Moriarty in a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes

In the first episode of the famous TV series Sherlock, a London cabbie forces some of his passengers to commit suicide by popping poisonous pills. At the end, even as Sherlock Holmes tracks down the killer and solves the mystery, it is revealed that the cabbie was sponsored and constantly advised by the detective’s arch enemy, James Moriarty from behind a veil.

The truth behind the ongoing drama within the AAP, replete with leaked mails, acerbic tweets, threats of expulsions and counter-threats of exposes, is as much a mystery as a Sherlock thriller. The only thing we know so far is the identity of the person who is directing all the drama from behind the veil—the Moriarty of this game.

Everything else is obfuscating. There are so many conflicting claims (passed on as evidence), selective leaks and lies that it has become difficult to know who is trying to break the party and who is trying to keep it united. The AAP story has turned into a study in 'stink'. Take the case of the mails written by Prashant Bhushan’s sister Shalini Gupta to some NRI volunteers and donors. According to several news reports, Gupta wrote a chain of mails to a group of around 800 volunteers and supporters to dissuade them from donating to the party’s ‘election fund.’

According to India Today, “in a veiled way, Shalini dissuaded the NRI volunteers and members from supporting the party financially and personally. ‘Since all of you are important stakeholders in the party, donating your time and money, some straight talk is warranted," she said in an e-mail sent on January 6.” But, as Oscar Wilde famously said, the truth in this case may not be simple and certainly not pure. Gupta’s mails have been published by many websites to argue that she was widening the schism within the party and working against the party’s interests, but really the evidence may have been tampered a bit.

According to Newslaundry, a crucial mail by Gupta that could have put her communication in the right perspective was held back from the media. According to the website, Gupta's last response to the mail trail was: “I think since the review process is going on, there should not be any cause for concern at this point.  This is a satisfactory solution for now.” “Also, the email by Gupta wasn’t sent out to “members of the AAP Global Group, which consists of 700-800 NRI contacts of the party” as reported by Scroll but to only eight core volunteers based in Chicago. One of the respondents in the email trail told Newslaundry that it was “self explanatory that the facts have been twisted”. According to the person, false stories were being routinely planted against the Bhushans.”

This isn’t as intriguing as it sounds. What seems to have transpired here is that Gupta asked a few core volunteers to be a little circumspect before making donations or ‘adopting’ a few constituencies since the integrity of the concerned candidates was under scrutiny. (There were complaints against 12 AAP candidates). Later, she seems to have expressed satisfaction with the review of their candidature by party ombudsman Admiral (retd) L Ramdas.

The core issue here seems to be the selection of at least a dozen candidates who, according to the Bhushans, did not fit the strict criteria the AAP had adopted, at least during the 2013 election.
In the run up to this election, there were rumours, allegations and insinuations that the party had made several compromises by ignoring complaints of impropriety against some of its candidates. Winnability, it seems, was the only criterion for selecting a candidate.

Since the AAP had prescribed a strict moral code for selection of candidates, Gupta may have been right in raising the red flag, and later lowering it once an internal review was initiated. Many other AAP allegations against Yogendra Yadav and the Bhushans sound flimsy. When it is alleged that Prashant Bhushan was threatening to hold a press conference—to expose the party’s dual standards on candidate selection—it is difficult to understand what could have restrained him if he had really made up his mind. Until we hear from the lawyer himself, this confusion will prevail.

When a well-known psephologist like Yadav puts his neck out publicly to predict that the party may win more than 50 seats (nobody had predicted this before elections), it is difficult to believe that he was preaching the exact opposite in private. Also, why was Yadav defending the AAP and attacking its rivals with so much conviction and force on TV if he wanted it to lose? Wouldn’t he have benefitted more by just staying away? Or is this a classic case of the AAP elephants having two sets of teeth?

Frame-up is a common phrase among cops. When they want to pin the blame of a crime on a particular person, cops plant evidence, manufacture facts and prop up witnesses, either through coercion or coaxing. From the way things are unfolding in the AAP, the verdict against Yadav and Bhushan is pre-decided. The Arvind Kejriwal faction is now just arranging witnesses and evidence for the prosecution. The Kejriwal faction may have got its calculation slightly wrong while planning the end-game against Yadav and the Bhushans. The original strategy, as alleged by senior leader Mayank Gandhi, may have been to force them to quit; or to humiliate them so much that they would walk out exasperated and angry.

But Yadav seems to have checkmated their political expediency with his obduracy. “No chhorenge, na torenge; sudharenge or sudharenge,” he said after his eviction from the party’s PAC, suggesting that he will not quit. But allowing Yadav and Bhushan to hang on could be dangerous for the Kejriwal. The two senior leaders already have the support of several volunteers, leaders and state units. Kejriwal would like to get rid of both of them before the meeting of the National Council of the party, scheduled in the last week of March.

Kejriwal knows that it would be difficult to dictate and control the agenda at the meeting since— unlike the PAC where his loyalists command the majority— it will be attended by volunteers and office-bearers from across the country. So, he wants to end the game in a hurry. But everything may not unfold according to Kejriwal’s script. Bhushan and Yadav are ready with their own version of facts against the allegations against them. Once they reveal their side, we will perhaps get a bit closer to the truth.