For a party that places special emphasis on transparency in public life, it is surprising that Swaraj India has not placed on its website the votes each of its candidates polled in last month’s municipal elections in Delhi. Such a display of results will give the people an opportunity to judge what chance Swaraj India has of achieving its mission, whether it can even survive the birth pangs typical of any incipient organisation.
Obviously, it is flawed to link the future of a political party’s quests to the results of one or two elections. Yet it is precisely the factor of winnability that its leader Yogendra Yadav invokes to sound the death knell for the Aam Aadmi Party, which he was once part of.
In an eloquent interview to Outlook magazine, Yadav said that AAP represented the ideas of ethical politics, good governance, and electoral viability. He claimed the party squandered the opportunity to provide ethical politics and good governance many months earlier, and now its defeat in the Punjab Assembly elections and Delhi’s civic polls marks the death “of the political project that had enthused millions, holding a promise of alternative politics.”
With Outlook and other media outlets, Yadav barely dwells, if at all, on Swaraj India’s performance in the civic elections. It is as if it did not even contest the polls. Yadav can very well argue that he is not to blame for this omission as no one cares to question him on his party’s performance.
Nevertheless, Yadav palpably relishes the media space he has been given to criticise, in dulcet analytical tones, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. This is understandable – not only did both part acrimoniously, Yadav blames Kejriwal for killing a movement, for forgetting the avowed mission of the Aam Aadmi Party.
Yet, ironically, some of Yadav’s old socialist comrades blame him for doing to their movement what he claims Kejriwal did to the political project that was crafted and created through the efforts of many.
But that is running ahead of the story. First: What was Swaraj India’s performance in Delhi’s civic polls?
Swaraj India and the Delhi civic polls
Yadav told Scroll.in that the party bagged 1.2% of the total votes, and 1.5% of votes polled in the seats it contested. Swaraj India fielded 212 candidates. The election in one ward was postponed because a candidate died.
Percentages tend to conceal a deeper story. It is difficult to track Swaraj India’s performance because its candidates did not fight on a common symbol. They were clubbed in the category of Independents. I identified Swaraj India’s candidates from other Independents by matching names mentioned in the list of candidates I was forwarded and also there on its website.
This has its own complexities. The names of Swaraj India’s contestants in the Election Commission’s Form 18, which gives the votes each candidate receives in a constituency, did not always match with those given on the Swaraj India website and the list I was sent. For instance, Harbeer Singh fought as Harbeer Yadav in Vasant Kunj, as that is his name in all official documents. Sheol Singh fought as Shevol Singh from Hari Nagar-A. Geeta Jarnail Singh fought as Geeta Yadav from Mehrauli.
Calculation errors are therefore to be expected. My calculations show that Swaraj India got 1.18% of total votes, close to Yadav’s figure of 1.20%. Swaraj India got 84,362 out the total 71,36,862 votes that were polled. Another friend having more than a passing interest in psephology has calculated Swaraj India’s votes to be 86,296 and its vote share to be 1.21%. These variations are minor and, therefore, irrelevant.
What is relevant, though, is the nature of Swaraj India’s losses. Ninety-five of its candidates polled even less than NOTA or None Of The Above – the button that voters press to show they do not back any candidate. One candidate beat NOTA by 10 votes, another by five, a third by four, a fourth by just two.
Then again, 36 Swaraj India candidates received less than 100 votes, 63 between 100 and 199, 33 between 200 and 299, 21 between 300 and 399. Only 19 candidates crossed the four-digit mark, the bulk of whom – 11 – polled between 1,000 and 1,999 votes. Nobody crossed the 4,000-vote mark. Two missed it by two and seven votes respectively.
If election results were to be the barometer to judge the health of a political formation or a movement, Swaraj India does not seem to have a sparkling future ahead.
Quest for transformation
No doubt, the odds were stacked against Swaraj India. In a piece published in thewire.in on April 26, the day the municipal poll results were announced, Yadav wrote: “Smaller players like Swaraj India, constrained by lack of resources and media attention, tried to bring the debate to municipal issues, but with very limited success.”
It had limited success because Yadav trained the spotlight of criticism, so to speak, on the Aam Aadmi Party. It is also possible that the media cherry-picked his remarks on AAP to grab eyeballs. This is the nature of the beast, of which Yadav has acquired much experience over his many years of interacting with the media. As for finances, Swaraj India must have been cash strapped, as was AAP.
Indeed, Swaraj India is to AAP what AAP is to the BJP, which overwhelms all parties in the financial resources it has at its disposal.
But Yadav cannot be expected to have empathy for AAP, bitter as he is against Kejriwal for having killed a movement, as is clear from the Outlook interview. From his perspective, this is understandable given that Yadav left his old comrades in the socialist movement to join AAP, believing that despite their collective efforts over several years, they had failed to bring about the transformation they wanted.
Yadav and the Samajwadi Jana Parishad
Few would know of the Samajwadi Jana Parishad, which was established in 1995 by Kishan Patnaik, who was elected to the Lok Sabha at the age of 27. With the socialist movement disintegrating, Patnaik hoped the Samajwadi Jana Parishad would combine the diverse social movements that had emerged to unleash a new energy in the political realm. The Samajwadi Jana Parishad fought elections in its pockets of influence, but never created a ripple.
Patnaik died in 2004, and the person who became the party’s principal inspiration was Sunil, a contemporary of Yadav’s from his Jawaharlal Nehru University days, who lived among the Adivasis of Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh, to lead their movement for the rehabilitation of Tawa Dam oustees and establishing a fishing cooperative of Adivasis.
In an interview to this author, Yadav said of Sunil, “If they [Adivasis] could, they would make a temple in his honour. Yet they did not vote him when he stood for a parliamentary election. He lost his deposit.”
The failure of social movements to even win the votes of its supporters became an issue of debate in the Samajwadi Jana Parishad in 2011-’12, as the India Against Corruption movement gathered momentum. Yadav wanted the party to join it. He argued, as his old comrades recalled, that for a party to matter in electoral politics, it must have a threshold of 10%-15% of votes. The party was nowhere near this threshold.
Yadav also made the point that India Against Corruption, and subsequently AAP, was a genuine mass movement and that the Samajwadi Jana Parishad should not shy away from it. Others, however, countered this argument, saying they needed to know what AAP’s principles were on issues other than corruption. As one of them said, “Yogendra argued that principles can evolve just as the party too evolves.”
There was also a proposal that Samajwadi Jana Parishad members could join the anti-corruption movement in their individual capacity. This seemingly was not acceptable to Yadav and Ajit Jha, much praised for his organisational skills. Both left the Samajwadi Jana Parishad for AAP.
“But he [Yadav] took with him more or less our entire unit of Haryana, Odisha, and many in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,” another former comrade of Yadav’s told his writer.
He said this “split” greatly disappointed Sunil. One of the casualties of the factional and ideological feud was the Samajwadi Jana Parishad’s impressive publication, Samayik Varta, of which Yadav was the editor. When Yadav left to join AAP in 2012, the publication became Sunil’s responsibility in Hoshangabad. In 2014, Sunil suffered a haemorrhage and died in Delhi. There are now plans to shift Samayik Varta’s publication to Varanasi.
“It is ironical, isn’t it?” said Yadav’s former comrade. “Yadav accuses Kejriwal of killing a movement, but many of us blame him for adversely affecting ours.”
When these charges were communicated to Yadav, he said, “I was amazed to hear what you say. Ajit Jha and I along with many others resigned from the SJP [Samajwadi Jana Parishad] in September 2012 to join AAP when our proposal of merger or alignment with AAP was not accepted unanimously. Our proposal enjoyed majority in national executive, yet we decided not to enforce the majority decision and came out.”
But this is in reality a quibble – a national executive through majority voting can declare a merger legally, but it is impossible to compel dissenting members to follow suit, particularly those who would prefer isolation than to go along with a proposal that they feel compromises their beliefs. Obviously, they would be denied the party’s name and structure. Though the Samajwadi Jana Parishad did not legally undergo a split, a sharp division did seem to have occurred on the ground.
In this back story of Yadav and his comrades, and in the current one between him and Kejriwal, one theme is common to both – men who invoke Gandhi every time they trigger protests have failed to imbibe from him the virtue of forgiveness, of letting sleeping dogs lie.
Having said that, such has been the firestorm that Yadav has unleashed against his erstwhile party, it would seem he considers Kejriwal and AAP to be a bigger ideological foe than even Narendra Modi and the BJP. That is a disservice Yadav is doing to his own past, perhaps even his present.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid.