The recent convulsions in the Aam Aadmi Party have left liberals deeply deeply disillusioned with the outfit. Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, two left wing luminaries, have been kicked out. Medha Patkar has resigned in protest. Its funding is drying up. And, as polls reveal, its reputation lies tarnished. There is no doubt that the AAP Arvind Kejriwal is today in control of is purged of dissent.

Let’s recap the drama. Kejriwal’s abrupt resignation from Delhi chief ministership in 2014, followed by AAP’s debacle in the general election, probably sowed the first seeds of dispute between the Yadav and Kejriwal camps. The ensuing panic – when the pundits who praise AAP now dismissed it – drove Kejriwal to work with the Congress in a desperate bid at keeping AAP relevant in Delhi. But the unilateralism of that decision upset Bhushan and Yadav. Divisions broke out again when Kejriwal, in an effort to consolidate AAP’s morale, vetoed the other camp’s wish to contest polls in Haryana and other states.

In the end, however, Kejriwal’s advocacy of patience and conservation of strength worked. AAP returned with 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi, and Kejriwal became the undisputed saviour (and leader) of the party.

Corporate hierarchy

Following the expulsion of Yadav and his supporters last month, liberal-left pundits and activists have begun to despair. Many of them criticise Kejriwal for disavowing the “democratic principles” he claims to hold dear. They allege that he subverted “intra-party democracy” and “swaraj” by stifling discord. But all this vexation is pointless. Liberals should not worry: Party squabbles are, to an extent, inevitable in politics.

For one, political parties, like a corporate organisation, necessitate a hierarchy for proper direction. The first condition for any collection of groups to stay united is to have a fundamental agreement on the rules of the game. This principle is what gives Indian politics its stability.

If two camps in a party hold radically different views – as was the case between Kejriwal and Yadav camps on questions ranging from the method of screening candidates to deciding on elections – and each claims the authority to spearhead changes, fallout is inevitable. Kejriwal won this battle because he had greater support both within and outside the party.

In democratic politics, the ability to win votes is the indicator of power. It is as simple as that.

Which brings me to my second point. Kejriwal, who single-handedly carried the party back to prominence, cannot be expected to co-opt in decision-making two individuals who between them have never successfully run for election. Disagreement is fine, but a party rival threatening the leader with outright defiance, vehement public criticism and planted stories – as Yadav did – has to have some power base of his own. If not, expulsion is inevitable. Intra-party democracy in this case should have been disagreement in private, unity behind the leader in public.

First among equals

The versions of AAP’s National Council meeting, held on March 29, are varied. Officially, AAP says the National Council ejected Yadav and Bhushan (along with their supporters) from the Political Affairs Committee and National Executive in an open election. Critics however maintain that the entire affair was scripted and stage-managed, with lines borrowed from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

But here is the catch. The expulsion of Yadav and Bhushan did not occur in a slugfest between two equally matched allies as Napoleon and Snowball were in Animal Farm. Rather, it was the purge of irksome co-workers who refused to toe the line their stature dictated. The two had never posed any threat to Kejriwal’s pre-eminence.

Is that ugly? Certainly. But is it inevitable? Probably.

Kejriwal felt the 2015 Delhi election results and the general support within the party gave him the mandate to take unilateral decisions on the party’s functioning and future – a mandate he believed could not be ascribed to the Yadav camp. The AAP fight was not about philosophies and members’ predispositions, it was about who calls the shots.

In the short term, the purge has cost the Aam Aadmi Party a pair of extremely well-spoken and sophisticated ideologues and some donations from the middle classes. But in the long run, the expulsions will not matter since the most endearing aspects about AAP – Kejriwal’s appeal and grassroots base – are intact.

The activist-liberal fan base of the party needs to comprehend that power, the contest for which remains the essence of politics. Intra-party democracy is a good thing but it cannot come at the cost of undermining leadership and unity in public. The leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, for instance, would not tolerate a cabinet member publicly disagreeing with party policy, unless explicitly given the freedom to do so.

In his interview with Barkha Dutt, Yogendra Yadav described the recent leadership struggle using the analogy of Stalin and Trotsky. The purges in AAP may be Stalinist, but Yadav is certainly no Trotsky. As far as AAP is concerned, Arvind Kejriwal is its Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin.

Akshat Khandelwal's Twitter handle is @akshat_khan. He can be contacted at