Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) founding member and former Vice-Chairman of Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC) resigned from the Arvind Kejriwal-led party, making him yet another name in the long list of AAP founding members who have quit the party.
While Khetan denied any differences with the party and claimed he took the decision to focus on his legal practice, the departure raises the question – why have so many founding members abandoned the ship?
While Khetan announced his resignation on Tuesday, August 22, sources said he had sent his resignation to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal on August 15, the same day that another founding member, Ashutosh, had resigned. “My personal decision to move away from party and electoral politics, should not be viewed as a reflection on AAP, in any way whatsoever. I have only received love and respect from the party and its members and volunteers. And I will be forever grateful for that,” Khetan had said in a Facebook post on Wednesday evening, hours after announcing his departure.
Reports said that both Khetan and Ashutosh were miffed with the party for not accommodating their requests. While Khetan reportedly wanted to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from New Delhi, a seat he had lost to BJP’s Meenakshi Lekhi, Ashutosh was said to be upset as he was not chosen to be the party’s pick for the Rajya Sabha. This year, AAP had the numbers to elect three MPs to the Rajya Sabha.
The dissensions in the AAP have been constant and started as early as 2014, when the party was not even two years old. Founding member Shazia Ilmi was among the first to quit citing “disagreements with the leadership” and lack of “inner-party democracy”. Ilmi joined the BJP soon after her exit.
But the big split in the AAP came a year later, when two key founding members Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan were sacked from the party. The party was split down the middle and supporters of the Arvind Kejriwal camp claimed that Yadav and Bhushan were planting “false stories” to malign Kejriwal’s image. In a public spat, that got ugly, both Yadav and Bhushan were expelled from the party, who later went on to found Swaraj Abhiyan. Soon after this sacking, Mayank Gandhi, yet another founding member, quit the AAP, accusing Kejriwal of indulging in “gutter politics”.
Just when it looked like Arvind Kejriwal had steered his Aam Aadmi Party clear of one crisis, another one hit the party in 2017. Kapil Mishra, who used to be in the Delhi Chief Minister’s “inner circle”, was sacked from the cabinet. A day after being sacked, he alleged that he had seen Kejriwal receive Rs 2 crore in “illegal cash” from cabinet minister Satyendra Jain. Mishra’s allegations received cover fire from BJP leaders on the airwaves and social media, giving rise to speculation that this was being orchestrated by the saffron party. For most AAP MLAs, this turn of events came as a shock. Mishra continues to be an MLA but is an AAP member only in name.
Arvind Kejriwal once described poet-turned politician Kumar Vishwas as his “brother”. But today, the two are not even on talking terms. In November 2012, Arvind Kejriwal, flanked by his trusted lieutenant Manish Sisodia, formally launched the Aam Aadmi Party. Sisodia announced a list of 23 names that would be on the party’s national executive body. Kumar Vishwas, the poet-turned-politician, found a place on the body as one of the party’s founding members. Slowly, however, Vishwas and Kejriwal drifted apart and he was edged out of the leader’s inner circle. Kejriwal began relying increasingly on others such as Sanjay Singh for advice.
The party’s biggest gamble last year were the assembly polls in Punjab but Kumar, once an essential cog in the wheel, was kept almost entirely out of the party’s Punjab campaign. Party sources said that the leadership was worried that opponents would dig out some old comments by Vishwas that could be deemed derogatory to Sikhs, hampering the party’s chances. After the loss, Vishwas called openly for introspection into the direction the party was taking. Sources said he had thrown in the gauntlet to challenge Kejriwal’s leadership of the party.
While Vishwas continues to formally be a member of the AAP, differences between him and Kejriwal are said to be irreparable. The party has kept Vishwas in limbo, neither removing him from the party nor giving him an active role. In April, he was replaced as the party’s Rajasthan in-charge by Deepak Bajpai.
Even as founding members continue to leave, AAP is battling another crisis in its Punjab unit. Khaira had drawn flak from the AAP central leadership last month after reports emerged of him allegedly supporting a referendum for independence for Punjab. He was lambasted by Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia in a meeting and ignored by party chief Arvind Kejriwal following his alleged comments supporting the Punjab Referendum 2020. Khaira had allegedly said: “I support the Sikh referendum 2020 movement as Sikhs have the right to demand justice against atrocities suffered by them.”
He, however, denied the allegations that he was a separatist and issued a “clarification”. “I dare Captain Amarinder Singh, Sukhbir Badal and Shwet Mailk to produce even a shred of evidence that I support 2020 referendum,” he had said in a statement. Khaira was removed as the Leader of Opposition by the AAP but since then, he has been rallying a group of AAP MLAs behind himself and challenging the diktats of the high command.