Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues for an NGO – ‘Mass Education and Development in Asia’. She is a co-founder of ‘Parliamentarian.
Two scenes describe the ups and downs in the life of Kumar Vishwas which made him turn into a perennial dissenter. First one was witnessed by the world while the second one took place before a handful of people, therefore is unknown to the world.
Scene 1: Kumar Vishwas takes the stage as moderator during Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death (that really went on for 12 days) in August 2011. In between the speeches of India Against Corruption (IAC) leaders, he enthralls the one-lakh odd audience with his patriotic songs. He left a lasting impression, seen swaying the national flag on the stage all through the agitation. Vishwas, who had a captive audience of poetry-lovers till then, suddenly emerged as the new age revolutionary who along with Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, wanted to change the system for the better.
That was the beginning of a friendship and companionship that people thought would last long enough to effect some changes in the system and in governance. The country was witnessing a government in the throes of policy paralysis in the wake of eruption of scam after scam – Commonwealth Games infrastructure issue, 2G spectrum allocation, and Coalgate scam on allocation of coal mines to name a few.
Vishwas and Kejriwal complemented each other. Both had a clean record. Both had a good career. Kejriwal had left a cushy job as Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax to become a transparency and honesty activist. Vishwas left his engineering course midway to take up poetry and was immensely popular to command a fee of few lakhs for every appearance. He joined IAC and AAP because he wanted to change the system.
Scene 2: Kumar Vishwas enters a hotel room in Varanasi four days before the town is going to witness historical electoral contest between BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal. Already present in the room were AAP leaders Sanjay Singh, Ashutosh, Shazia Ilmi besides three or four other party colleagues. Ilmi asked how Vishwas’ campaign in Amethi against Rahul Gandhi and Smriti Irani had gone. Vishwas replies, “miserable”. Sanjay tries to console him saying that his feedback was different and that Vishwas had put up a good fight, but Vishwas is adamant, “No, it was very bad”. Ilmi again asks him what went wrong, since he was campaigning there for the past three months, Vishwas’s answer shocks everybody present: “I too was given the same treatment by the party which you suffered in Ghaziabad”. The underlying meaning was that party bigwigs and star campaigners did not turn up to help him and left him in a lurch to fend for himself. Even the party cadre and activists shifted from Amethi to Varanasi after Kejriwal announced his candidature from the Hindu holy city.
Sullying and Sulking
That was the beginning of differences between the two, Viswahs and Kejriwal. That soured to such an extent that they don’t want to see eye to eye on anything. Kejriwal accuses Vishwas of colluding with the BJP and trying to topple his government using then Water Supplies Minister Kapil Mishra. Vishwas camp accuses Kejriwal of being a despot who could not stand any person in his party who was equally or more popular than him. Also, he would not trust anybody especially those having a different point of view than him. That was the reason people like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav had been thrown out of the party and wiser people like Admiral Ramdas and Justice Santosh Hegde became disillusioned with AAP, contend those close to Vishwas who was overlooked by Kejriwal last month in selecting candidates for Rajya Sabha. He, however, has decided to stay put in AAP.
The storm in Aam Aadmi Party might have blown over. But beneath the tranquility on the surface, suspicion, mistrust and conspiracy theories are still being bandied about. The truce may be temporary and prove fractious before long.
The Kejriwal camp claims it was a near miss in May last year. His government in Delhi would have fallen and Kejriwal could have been consigned to history. After successive electoral debacles in Goa, Punjab and Delhi municipal polls, this would have been politically fatal for the party. Providence in the form of a driver, however, helped them survive.
This may sound like so much fiction, the plot of a Bollywood thriller. But if Aam Aadmi Party sources are to be believed Kapil Mishra – the later removed Water Resources Minister in the AAP government would have been the chief minister upstaging Kejriwal.
Though Mishra might have been the prime beneficiary of the plan, it was not conceived by him. AAP sources claim that the plan was hatched by Kumar Vishwas who was in touch with at least fifteen legislators, five of whom had already proclaimed their support to him in writing.
The plan was simple: foment mistrust among the Aam Aadmi Party legislators against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. First, replace Arvind with Vishwas as national convener of the party. And next: grab power.
It started about three months ago with Kumar Vishwas shooting numerous missives in the form of tweets, social media posts and TV interviews insinuating Arvind Kejriwal for shielding the corrupt, for incompetently running the government and for having abandoned the ideals on which AAP was founded.
Kapil Mishra, being the water minister of Delhi, squeezed the tap to create an artificial water crisis on the eve of municipal elections. AAP leadership was flooded with complaints of party MLAs and it repeatedly asked Kapil to improve water supply in the parched summer months. But he didn’t. AAP leaders now believe it was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the municipal elections.
AAP leaders, including Arvind Kejriwal, on the other hand requested Kumar Vishwas to campaign for the party in municipal elections. But he did not turn up even once. The plan was to wean away 15 AAP MLAs and then rope in 21 others, who faced disqualification on office-of-profit charges. That would get Mishra a majority, alleges the Kejriwal camp.
Vishwas instead released a 20- minutes long video on social media criticising the political situation in the country and lambasting the Arvind Kejriwal government as well.
As a result, a series of statements came from Vishwas and Janakpuri MLA Rajesh Rishi, blaming the party leadership for the debacle. Kapil Mishra was the first to publicly ask Arvind Kejriwal not to blame EVMs for the poll rout. It was during this war of words that another MLA Amanullah Khan termed Kumar Vishwas as an RSS agent who was out to sabotage AAP.
An enraged Vishwas demanded Khan be sacked from the party. His demand was immediately seconded by Kapil Mishra, Somnath Bharti, Adarsh Shastri, Rajesh Rishi and Alka Lamba,
In the meantime, Kapil Mishra’s driver spoke to another driver that his boss was soon going to be Chief Minister of Delhi. This second driver mentioned it as a gossip to his boss who was close to Kejriwal. This guy in turn alerted Kejriwal. Pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place.
The action was quick. They were able to figure out that Mishra along with Vishwas had contacted about 15 MLAs promising them lucrative postings minister or equivalent post. About half a dozen had even pledged their support to Mishra.
AAP leaders started calling the MLAs one by one. This frenzy scared the fence sitters as well those who had crossed the line. Former state Law Minister Somnath Bharti said he was in Shimla. Adarsh Shastri was found in Ranikhet. Alka Lamba, Rajesh Rishi were in Delhi and on being confronted admitted that Kapil Mishra had contacted them individually with a lucrative offer. By now it was clear to Mishra that his game was up.
All senior AAP leaders rushed to Kumar Vishwas’ place to placate him. Mishra on the other hand was summoned to Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia’s official residence on the night of May 4, to be sounded about a mini cabinet reshuffle being planned in which he would be divested of his portfolio.
AAP sources claim Mishra quietly heard out Sisodia. He went out apparently to speak to Vishwas on the phone only to return after 15 minutes later, and thundered, “I know I am being victimised. I will ensure that Kejriwal is completely ruined and goes to jail.”
Next day, Mishra launched a media broadside against Kejriwal saying he saw the CM accepting Rs two crore bribe from his cabinet colleague Satyendra Jain. Interestingly, Jain had not visited the CM’s residence on the day he was being accused by Mishra of having given the bribe. Mishra accused Kejriwal of having given government contracts to his brother-in-law Surendra Jain and having paid him on bogus bills.
Having checked the potential damage in time, Kejriwal has embarked on a massive confidence building exercise among his legislators to avoid the possibility of any such coup again. He has spoken to all MLAs first in groups of five and then individually. “Most MLAs complained of Kejriwal’s inaccessibility. He has made himself more accessible for legislators. We don’t foresee BJP’s designs succeeding in Delhi. Yes, it was a major scare. But its over. Now we are looking only at the future about how to consolidate our party”, says AAP spokesperson Ashutosh.
The Kejriwal camp accuses Vishwas of aiming for lucrative positions while shirking responsibility. He did not campaign during the Delhi Assembly elections in 2015, nor during Punjab polls held last year; and he did not visit Uttarakhand, the state put under his charge by the party.
On his part, Vishwas confidantes say he was completely sidelined by the party and never asked to campaign in Delhi or Punjab. He was made in charge of Uttarakhand but party refused to contest the polls, making the responsibility meaningless.
They feel the least Kejriwal could have done to honour Vishwas was to send him to Rajya Sabha. “He would have made life miserable for the Modi Government. But Kejriwal sold off the seat to moneybags like ND Gupta and Sushil Gupta, who never contributed to the anti-corruption movement, the foundation on which the party was created,” says a leader close to Vishwas.
After being denied a seat in Parliament, Vishwas finds that he is being increasingly isolated in the party, with its top brass turning a deaf ear to his plans for an electoral campaign in Rajasthan. Vishwas supporters claim that he stopped campaigning in the state because of “lack of support” from the leadership.
There had been no response from the party leadership to Vishwas’ demand that a bank account be opened to deposit donation money for the polls and for MLAs to campaign in the state. “Why will people trust Kumar bhai if the central leadership doesn’t support him?” the leader asked.
The incidents reflect the growing isolation of the leader, who is a part of the all-powerful Political Affairs Committee of the party and an AAP spokesperson, but largely out of the decision-making process.
AAP leaders are keeping a close watch on Vishwas’s activities to see what his next move would be. He has contacts in the top echelons of the BJP. But he wants AAP to take action against him so that he can go out as a martyr a person who gave his sweat and blood for the party but was left to rot. In the meantime, he would keep ‘exposing double standards and hollow ideals’ of the party. Damaging the party by an insider would be more potent and credible than by an outsider.
At a function to mark AAP’s fifth anniversary late last year, Vishwas had taken a jibe at his detractors and likened himself to Abhimanyu, the warrior son of Arjun in the epic Mahabharat, saying that he would be victorious even in death.
Those knowing Vishwas’ nature say that he is a die-hard idealist, and therefore a political misfit. Even if he joins the BJP, if ever he does that, he would soon become disillusioned and turn a dissident.
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