Words spoken in the past often come to haunt the speaker in very ironical ways in the present. Watching Yogendra Yadav sit with a handful of followers at the venue of the Aam Aadmi Party’s National Council meeting on May 28, in protest against the alleged irregularities in conducting it, I was reminded of the insightful interview he gave me months before Delhi went to the polls in December 2013. Yadav was then scathingly critical of the inability of the country’s progressive forces to forge links with myriad popular movements.

Past theory

During the interview he constructed a veritable theoretical paradigm to explain the malaise afflicting the progressive forces. He said,
“… (It) is the legacy of Marxism which said you had to have a map ready before any action takes place. Then, in a sense, you plot real life events on that map. If they fail to conform to that map, then it isn’t revolutionary. What looked nice on the map turned you against all the revolutionary and progressive transformations that were actually taking place on the ground, simply because it didn’t match your script.”

He then went to pass a sweeping judgement on the failure of progressive forces to capture the popular imagination. Yadav said,
“So instead of radicals and progressive being where the people are, somehow they – the radicals, the progressive of this country – have always managed to not be where the people are, and to be where the people are not.”

Further on in the interview, he quipped,
“… instead of discovering what is radical in actual practices on the ground, you set out a map from the top and say, match me otherwise you are out. Arrogance. Elite arrogance…”

In the bruising, unseemly factional fight of AAP, Yadav and his friends – Prashant Bhushan, Anand Kumar, and Ajit Jha – would define themselves, as would also many outside the party, as the progressive wing of the party, trying their utmost to uphold the best democratic practices, implement the idea of swaraj in the party, and expand the party elsewhere in the country.

Fatal flaws

Yet Yadav and his group, too, seem to have not learned from the fatal flaws of the progressives, about whom he had been so contemptuous in the 2013 interview. For one, he does seem to have strayed where AAP volunteers are not. Despite the widely conflicting accounts of what precisely transpired at the National Council meeting, the groundswell in favour of him wasn’t quite visible.

It wasn’t so at the press conference held a day before the National Council meeting, nor at the venue of its meeting, nor at another presser he held the same day. At all these interactions, few turned up even though text messages were sent around asking volunteers to speak out. Those who turned up in support of Yadav were largely from his home state of Haryana. You may say these are still early days, but neither Yadav nor Bhushan seem to have captured the imagination of party volunteers as, say, VP Singh did when he raised the banner of revolt against the Congress leadership, and was mobbed and felicitated as he went around the country.

Then again, Yadav seemed to have a map ready for the party’s expansion even before it could consolidate its gains of 2013. In fact, despite the severe battering AAP suffered in the Lok Sabha elections, which earned it the sobriquet of Zamant Zabt [Deposits Foefeited] Party, he wanted it to contest in the assembly polls of Haryana and Maharashtra. Partly, his keenness to have the party contest in Haryana springs from it being his home state, where he did endeavour to build a viable organisation and hoped to spearhead it.

But partly, Yadav’s wish to have the party wade into the backwaters of Haryana arose from his own ideas of electoral politics, conceived and polished over two decades of studying and analysing elections. He didn’t think AAP performed deplorably in the Lok Sabha elections – he was quite pleased, as he said in several interviews, that it was no mean achievement for a debutant to bag two per cent of the total national votes.

This is because he fervently believes, as he told me in the 2013 interview, in the three-step political expansion that BSP leader Kanshi Ram propounded – first fight elections to lose, then to ensure that some established parties are defeated because of your participation, and, finally, to win and capture power.

From this perspective, AAP’s poor performance in 2014 was supposed to be a baby-step to its eventual victory in the 15th year. A seasoned psephologist as Yadav, for sure, knew that AAP’s participation in the Haryana assembly elections couldn’t have brought it a rich harvest of seats, but might have led to an incremental increase in its vote-share and ensured its volunteers didn’t leave for other parties.

Four factors

Yadav’s theoretical construct didn’t have the endorsement of Arvind Kejriwal and AAP’s Delhi unit. For them, it seemed vital for AAP to win its redoubt of Delhi or else it ran the risk of courting oblivion.

One, they believed participation in the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly polls would have depleted the party’s meagre resources and undermined its potential to mop finances for Delhi.

Two, it could have also exhausted the energies of AAP volunteers, on whose enthusiasm the party depends to offset the crippling disadvantages of paucity of funds.

Three, it would have entailed Kejriwal, inarguably the party’s most popular face, campaigning in at least Haryana, which neighbours Delhi, and where he studied for most of his life. This would have hamstrung his efforts to re-capture Delhi, where he was, beginning July last year, hopping from one locality to another, asking forgiveness from the people for resigning as chief minister. Then again, had he not campaigned in Haryana, he would have been accused of being Delhi-centric, as has been done in the bitter factional fight this entire month.

Four, the pragmatists in AAP believed disastrous results in the state assembly polls would have been popularly perceived as a measure of AAP’s declining popularity, thus marring its chances in Delhi.

Caste-class barrier

These factors apart, there are sound reasons why AAP can’t emulate Kanshi Ram’s model of political expansion. The politics of BSP is predicated on caste; it ventured into the political arena to capture power for the benefit for the Bahujan samaj, or the Dalits and religious minorities. AAP’s politics is based on class, which, to a great extent, drives Delhi. Inherently its appeal remains limited to urban pockets and rapidly urbanising states or, say, in Punjab, where deprivations from social inequalities aren’t as severe as in Uttar Pradesh, even Haryana.

Unless AAP showcases a governance model which transcends the caste-class barrier, Yadav’s script or map of AAP contesting elections to expand is unlikely to get translated into reality. Again, AAP’s growth chart has been remarkably different from the BSP, which wasn’t swept into power on its debut election. Incremental increase in vote-shares therefore inspired BSP cadres. By contrast, AAP’s heady success in its first year implies its volunteers expect a higher threshold of success – and the party in Haryana, for sure, couldn’t have scaled that.

Power struggle

Perhaps Yadav’s intellectual hubris had him feel belittled over the year, turning him into a contrarian voice in the party. It isn’t a mere coincidence that three of the national quartet of rebels are academicians – Yadav, Anant Kumar and Ajit Jha. The only MLA who has joined them is Pramod Pushkar, again, an academician.

Indeed, the rejection of Yadav’s script of political expansion in the National Executive meeting at Sangrur, Punjab, triggered the power struggle in the party, culminating only now. The demand for giving autonomy to state units can be traced to Kejriwal’s rebuff of Yadav. Similarly, the proposal for having a channel of communication between the national leadership and volunteers has its provenance in the National Executive rejecting the Haryana unit’s push for participation in the assembly polls.

The power struggle has been dressed as a battle of ideas and a fight for transparency. Few would remember that Yadav last year ejected from his campaign team that worked for him in the Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency a lieutenant whom he rightly perceived to be inclined to the BJP. His lieutenant believed AAP and Yadav were pursuing a flawed strategy in attacking Modi instead of the Gandhis in Haryana.

By that token, shouldn’t Shanti Bhushan have been asked to explain his endorsement of Kiran Bedi a fortnight before the Delhi polls this year? To have condoned Bhushan’s utterances implies a combination of intellectual hubris and a sense of entitlement arising from class superiority. “Arrogance. Elite arrogance…” you might say, much in the same way Yadav spoke of the progressives and radicals in 2013.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, published by HarperCollins, is available in bookstores.