India's upstart anti-graft party shows signs of unraveling
Mar. 29, 2015
NEW DELHI (AP) — Just a few weeks ago, the upstart Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man's Party, was seen by many as a breath of fresh air in the chaotic, corruption-tainted world of Indian politics, promising to root out graft and display complete transparency.
Now, however, with its top leaders spending the weekend slugging it out in public, it seems the party that promised to transform India's political landscape is more likely to bring disappointment to millions of Indians despairing of their politicians.
"To think that commentators were actually advising older political parties to be more like #AAP seems #AAP has decided to be more like us (smiley face)," Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of Indian-controlled Kashmir, tweeted Saturday.
The Common Man's Party, formed in late 2012, emerged out of hugely popular street protests against the deeply entrenched culture of graft in this nation of 1.2 billion. The party chose former tax official and longtime anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal as its leader.
After some initial hiccups, the AAP appeared to hit its stride last month when it was swept to power in local elections in India's capital, crushing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party. It won all but three seats in Delhi's 70-member legislature.
In that moment of ecstatic victory, it seemed that the party had the potential to one day parlay that success to being a serious player in national politics.
But the cracks in the party's leadership appeared quickly.
Over the last few weeks, sharp differences began to emerge between Kejriwal, now Delhi's chief minister, and two top leaders of his party who had been his allies since the AAP's inception.
This past week, a secret recording of Kejriwal accusing the two men, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, of working against the party made the rounds of several television stations. On the tape, Kejriwal threatens to walk out of the party with the lawmakers who support him if the two rival leaders aren't thrown out.
The two men then came out in the open and denied Kejriwal's charge, and led a bitter attack against what they have described as his autocratic way of leading the party.
At an AAP meeting on Saturday, both were booted out of the party's national executive group for what a statement described as "anti-party activities."
At a hastily called news conference, the men said the meeting was a sham in which they were booed and heckled and their supporters kept out by bouncers hired by the Kejriwal camp.
Yadav called the meeting the "murder of democracy," and Bhushan said the party that promised to clean up Indian politics had "resorted to the kind of hooliganism that other political parties display."
The party denied their allegations and said 247 of 311 members who attended the meeting voted to remove the men for anti-party activities.
As the Common Man's Party has unraveled under the constant media spotlight, it is now open season for India's older political parties to mock the party that once held the promise of being a serious threat to them.
Congress party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi took to Twitter to call the party "corrupt" and "immoral."
BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli said the Common Man's Party "on a daily basis tries to level false allegations against somebody else to cover up for its own nonperformance or quest for power. Now, they are making accusations against each other within the party."