An Open Letter of an AAM AADMI – The Punjab Mandate – Message for AAP
March 21, 2017
Dear Leadership and Volunteers of AAP,
I have been writing weekly Open Letters as an Aam Aadmi to the voters of Punjab since the second week of October, 2016 in the run up to elections on February 4, 2017. I promised to write my last letter of the series after the results of March 11. The people of Punjab have given a clear mandate in favour of the Congress Partyas against the general perception about AAP to hold the reins of power. But the wonders of democracy preferred and voted the Congress Party to power by unseating the Akali-BJP combine. It is time for a sincere introspection for AAP.
I have been a supporter of AAP since February, 2016. Along with others, I was also an aspirant of the AAP nomination for the Jalandhar West seat. Frankly, to put things in their right perspective, the party leadership in Jalandhar, from day one of my joining the party on February 24, 2016, made me feel and understand that I should focus and concentrate my activities on the reserved seat of Jalandhar West though my vote and residence was located somewhere else. I felt that it was an implicit message for me.
I worked diligently with the best of my abilities. I revived my contacts, made new ones and established rapport with the electorate in a planned and organized way on my own and also under the advice and direction of the party observers. Starting from June till October, 2016, I sent weekly reports of my activities and observations to the Central Zonal Observer under intimation to the high-ups in the party which were appreciated occasionally. At the time of nominations in October, 2016, I was side-lined and ignored and someone else who was propped up by the managers and observers themselves was favoured without even showing the basic courtesy of informing or consulting me. It was a painful surprise from the leadership of the party which professed to be a party with a difference. My faith in the party was shattered a bit, to be frank. I, like a disciplined soldier and a diplomat by training and experience, wrote to the Central Observers and the Punjab Convener of the party and conveyed my dismay and dissatisfaction. I wrote that the treatment meted out to me, it appeared, emanated from ‘ignorance or arrogance or both’ but at the same time conveyed that I joined the party not as a short term engagement but as a long term association based on my conviction of the agenda and mission of the party under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal. Without any further murmur, I continued to do my bit to support and help the party in my own humble way including my contribution to the Punjab Dialogue with regard to the manifesto of the party particularly with regard to the interests and concerns of Scheduled Castes. With a view to provide the right articulation to the AAP view point on various issues and concerns and also to give my suggestions to the leadership as a critique with a positive mindset to help the party, with the knowledge of the Jalandhar Observer and others, I started writing weekly ‘An Open Letter of an Aam Aadmi towards the end of October, 2016 which was circulated through my personal blog and social media organs like Facebook and also by E-mailing to a select segment of my contacts in the educated and intellectual class. The current letter is the last in that series. I understand it was received well. Towards the last leg of the election campaign, I wrote personal e-mails to the Central Observers and others and conveyed my observations and ways and means, to my humble understanding, to convince and attract the young SC voters to support AAP and its candidates. The purpose of my giving these details is to say that I tried my best to help the party in whatever small way I could.
The post election assessments were that AAP would make it and reach the corridors of power in Chandigarh. Even the exit polls were favouring AAP. My own assessment was that AAP would get 60-65 seats, if not more. I even wrote two letters to the AAP leadership a couple of days before the March 11 results and some suo motto suggestions to keep the powder dry in the run up to form the next government in Punjab. But that was not to be and AAP could not make it as expected. These are the wonders of democracy.
Obviously, the rank and file of AAP is disappointed and even frustrated. Everybody is taking shelter under one excuse or the other. It is said “Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan”. AAP is no exception. An in-depth analysis and a sincere introspection are needed. Of course, the party and the leadership would undertake the exercise in due course. Meanwhile, let me share with you, as an Aam Aadmi, my own perception and off-the-cuff assessment, not as an expert but as a commoner, of the disappointing results for AAP.
AAP is a fledgling outfit emanated from a movement against corruption and as such is not a political party of the traditional ilk. Against much opposition and odds, its leadership led by Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Sanjay Singh, Kumar Vishwas, among others, carried the flag in spite of the fact that their colleagues like Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhusan and a few more left the caravan half way through. Some young activists like Durgesh Pathak and others who otherwise felt frustrated and defeated in the current system joined the bandwagon to satisfy their personal egoistic agenda like their views on reservations, pomp and show in the echelons of power, social and economic justice as professed by the likes of Che Guevara and Shaheed Bhagat Singh, inter alia. Following their leader Arvind Kejriwal, they ostensibly started living a frugal and simple life away from their homes. They inherited the traits, like noisy protests, slogan shouting, poster pasting, demonstrations and public marches, of their mentors and leaders which eventually became brand icons of young AAP volunteers. The early and visible victory in Delhi and Punjab in 2014 made them confident and assertive. Most of them are an educated lot but somehow could not settle well in life, to my mind. In some cases, power went to their head. It is said that power without responsibility and experience and maturity is a recipe for disaster. AAP entered Punjab with this band of people with élan and gusto to make inroads to the corridors of power in Chandigarh. Without establishing any party structure, a brigade of high headed observers and their assistants descended on Punjab by the mid 2015 to prepare for the 2017 elections. They worked with a missionary zeal with the help of people who were impressed by the movement against corruption led by Anna Hazare of which Arvind Kejriwal was the visible and accepted face. The people of Punjab were fed up with the misdeeds, corruption, highhandedness, ill-governance of the ruling Akali-BJP government. They wanted a viable alternative other than traditional parties like the Congress. AAP immediately caught up with the imagination of the Punjabi youth and the poor people at large. By the beginning of 2016, AAP registered itself as a harbinger of change in the psyche of the people. Political credentials of the party were increasingly accepted. Apart from the support of the general masses, more and more well placed and experienced people from various walks of life started joining hands with the AAP. I was one of them. Meanwhile, as usual, some vested interests and self seekers from political, business and wheeler dealers, seeing the flow of the wind, also jumped the AAP bandwagon with their narrow and selfish agenda. This latter category tended to win over and spoil the otherwise good central observers with malafide intensions and means. In most of the cases, they succeeded in their nefarious design. It was the sad aspect of the whole game. The political culture of the traditional parties crept in and AAP, which professed to be a party with a difference, also succumbed to the prevailing ground reality. The central leadership responsible for Punjab increasingly tried to centralize powers in their own hands, ignoring the local leadership. Sucha Singh Chhotepur and some more parted company. The leadership, rather than assuaging their concerns, further discredited them under the tendency of self-righteousness. The party suffered and lost creditability. There was no structural edifice of the party which could absorb the shocks. The central leadership in Punjab undermined the local leadership and talent and preferred to run the show with highhandedness and self righteousness. The decay was totally set in by the time of ticket allocations. The graph of the party was going down by the passing of every week. Arvind Kejriwal and some other well meaning leaders tried to salvage the situation but it was too late. The local leaders were made so helpless that they lost their will to stand up and rectify the situation. We entered the last phase of the election campaign with all these negatives standing by our side. Amidst all this and a social hype created by the campaign machinery working under the thumb and direction of the central observers of the party, February 4 came and the fate of our candidates was sealed in the EVMs. March 11 results stunned us all as against high hopes of forming the AAP government. That was not to be.
All said and done, without digging further details, let us see what went wrong? Some of my, prima facie, observations in this regard are as follows:
v Party remained an offshoot of a movement without structures. It was run by a band of nominated leaders from Delhi rather than by the emerging local leaders.
v The central observers and teams of Delhi volunteers did not have any direct stake in the show. They ignored and sidelined local initiative and tended to run the show with top heavy attitude and conduct. They all became “Sirs” for the grassroots volunteers.
v The Zonal observers, with a view to earn brownie points from the central leadership, propped up ticket seekers and created an artificial sense of competition among the aspiring volunteers. It also resulted in some sort of low level corruption by the junior functionaries deputed from Delhi. They tended to avail of small and fringe benefits from the propped up aspirants. The exercise resulted in avoidable internal conflict and bickering.
v With this, the well meaning professionals, public figures, intelligentsia, who joined the party without any personal agenda, were suffocated and frustrated. On the other hand, the self seekers, money bags, defeated and disgruntled politicians started to have good understanding and rapport with the observers and their teams.
v The party reached Sucha Singh Chhotepur phase. The party image received a direct hit in the public perception. It needs no further explanation. The attitude of central observers got further tightened which further alienated the local initiative and say.
v The ticket allocation procedure and process was a farce. The said nomination by the volunteers was a big hoax. The party became a butt of jokes on the issue. The favoured lot of candidates knew the outcome days before the announcement. The well meaning and serious aspirants were made to make lengthy applications under the wrong assumption that “nobody knows” and ‘who cares”. The local leadership, including the State Convener and Head of the Campaign, to my mind, had no say in the matter. They were mere spectators.
v The often professed ‘Three Cs – Character, Corruption and Criminality’ idea was abandoned halfway through. The integrity of some of the AAP candidates was not beyond doubt.
v The qualified and experienced professionals and highly placed retired bureaucrats who were aspirants of AAP tickets were sidelined and ignored as against candidates apt at political expediency. My personal feeling is that some of the young and inexperienced up-starts sitting at the helm of affairs are allergic to talent and position.
v Though the party professed to be secular and anti-caste yet the ticket allocation was done on the basis of caste. Just to give an example of reserved seats in the Jalandhar Parliamentary constituency – Jalandhar West to a Bhagat (Kabirpanthi), Adampur to a clean-shaven Chamar, Kartarpur to a Balmiki and Phillaur to an Amritdhari Ravidassia Sikh as against availability of highly qualified and experienced candidates.
v The party leadership particularly the central observers did not think fit to take into confidence the well meaning and serious aspirants. A sense of self-righteousness prevailed. The aspirants of ticket who were made to work and spend money by the managers and observers were left in the lurch. With this, obviously, the campaign was derailed.
v The lead time, comparatively much more than the AAP opponents, provided to the AAP candidates did not result in favour but the other way round. A sense of fatigue crept in before the D-day. The party observers and their team did not allow the candidates to manage their own campaigns. It was always a dictation from the top, be it LCDs, Projectors, Vehicles, Public meetings, Road shows etc. The local initiative was missing. The hangers-on and vagabonds have had a field day as a good pastime.
v Social media hype was created by purpose and design. The sycophants, hired ‘Bhaade Ke Tattu’ and self seekers, with knowledge of the Delhi teams, were made to work overtime at the cost of candidates under the pretext of ‘Door to Door’ and public connect. It was unnecessary and non productive.
v By the time the other parties started their last leg of the campaign, the AAP machinery, volunteer force and the candidates were already exhausted. There are rumors that some of the candidates were lured with financial considerations by the ruling alliance.
These were some of the systemic weaknesses of the AAP campaign in the run up to the election. The image of AAP as a party with a difference did not get registered with the masses. Besides this, there are few more observations which may be of interest:
· The leadership was totally insular. There are people like me who cannot make beelines before offices or living rooms to meet them. I preferred to write and communicate and which I did. But it was futile. There was no response irrespective of the fact that they have had their functional offices with aides to manage. It is true for our MPs, Central Observers, and State Convener and also Heads of some of the Sectoral outfits. Some of the E-mail IDs of high-ups, obtained from Jalandhar Zonal Office, were non functional and communications bounced.
· The managers of the “Punjab Dialogue” responsible for the AAP Manifesto also did not respond or even acknowledge the suo motto contributions made by volunteers like me. It seemed that they were more concerned about making more noise about their work with regard to the manifesto to secure and ensure their own tickets and positions.
· It is a common knowledge and ground reality that dalits make 33% share in the Punjab demography. The position in the Doaba region is such that in some of the constituencies it makes from 40% to 60%. I have been advising to the party bosses to make some focused efforts to bring along the dalit youth and educated lot. But nobody listened and responded. As a result, AAP lost miserably in Doaba. It is matter of gratification that AAP could bag about 10 reserved seats out of the total of 34. In the Malwa region dalits supported AAP. In Doaba, the psyche of dalit communities is different which required special handling. The AAP leadership could not understand this.
I may conclude this long letter with the hope that the AAP leadership spares some time to read these observations of an Aam Aadmi unlike the fate of my earlier attempts to awaken ourselves to the emerging situation and to face the challenges of the future. Let us not give way to the blame game. If I go by the media reports of today, March 21, the swords are already drawn. We need to have a sincere and in-depth introspection to set the matter right. I am happy to note that Arvind Kejriwal has undertaken the exercise of damage control by writing a circular letter to the rank file of the party of which I also got a copy on my E-mail ID. I quote from the letter of Arvind Kejriwal:
“The questions we should ask ourselves is whether the current political system is fine. Have rampant corruption and crony capitalism disappeared? Is there justice for all? Are the common people getting what they deserve? If the answer is ‘No’, we have to continue and strengthen our political revolution.”
हुबैदा आज अपने ज़ख़्में पिन्हां कर के छोड़ूगा;
लहू रो रो के महफ़िल को गुलिस्तां कर के छोड़ूगा !
Ambassador – IFS (Retired)