The Aam Aadmi Party was a dream that thousands of people breathed life into. Among them were three close friends — Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Kumar Vishwas. As AAP turns five this month, it seems unlikely that the trio will ever be a cohesive group again. Recent developments indicate that the rift between poet-turned-politician Vishwas on one side, and Chief Minister Kejriwal and his deputy Sisodia on the other, has widened to an abyss. Sources from the two camps believed the strain in the friendship has hit a nadir. Bitterness has reached a point where a détente seems unlikely, they said. The party’s National Council meeting held last week reflected this. Vishwas alleged that for the first time he was not among the speakers at the high-level meet. “I thought only the Congress and the BJP were scared of me,” he later said, taking a dig at the AAP leadership. The founder-members of the party, who participated in the anti-graft campaign that was the precursor to AAP, were known to be close friends. Vishwas often fondly reminisced how key decisions over the formation of the party took place at his residence in Ghaziabad. Vishwas, who fought – and lost to — Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, has been upset with the leadership for some time now. A section of AAP close to Vishwas believed the rift had been caused by a “coterie” around Kejriwal which, they claimed, was against Vishwas, in charge of the Rajasthan unit of the party. Vishwas believes he has been overlooked by the top brass.
One bone of contention is the tussle over a Rajya Sabha seat. With its brute majority in the 67-member Delhi Legislative Assembly, AAP can send three people to the Upper House of Parliament. Vishwas sees himself as a strong contender for one of the seats. “But the leadership has apprehensions about that. What if Kumar starts attacking the party after becoming a Rajya Sabha member,” asked an AAP leader considered close to Kejriwal. Vishwas is also troubled over the top leaders’ relationship with Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan. Recently, the party revoked the suspension of Khan, who, after AAP’s debacle in the MCD elections, had accused Vishwas of being an “agent of the RSS” and trying to split the party.
Vishwas took strong exception to that and threatened he would quit the party if action was not taken against Khan, who he described as just a “mask”. Khan was suspended, but the Vishwas camp said he was never out of favour. The Okhla legislator was included on crucial panels of the Delhi Legislative Assembly and Kejriwal attended an iftar party organised by Khan, which was seen as a clear snub to Vishwas. The Kejriwal camp had its share of grievances against Vishwas, whom they disparagingly referred to as a “part-time politician” because of his professional commitments as a poet.
It referred to a video in which Vishwas was seen making a veiled attack on the Delhi government over alleged corruption before the MCD polls. “This damaged AAP’s image ahead of the crucial polls,” said a party leader, who also claimed that Vishwas was not free to campaign for the MCD poll campaign. There was apprehension that he was being “instigated” by somebody outside the party, the leader said. An AAP member close to Kejriwal also referred to fears that a “coup” was being planned at the behest of sacked AAP minister Kapil Mishra.
“After the MCD poll defeat some leaders and MLAs said Vishwas should lead the party. But he did not trash the idea. This added to the mistrust that followed the video episode,” he said. What does the future hold for VIshwas? Will he be removed from the party, or will the rift be healed? The Kejriwal camp stressed that the possibility of a patch-up was bleak, but it was unlikely that the party would crack the whip as Vishwas is popular with the rank and file and has proven oratorical skills.
But sources close to Vishwas said it was also unlikely that he would back down. “Politics is all about timing and patience. Every leader goes through a low phase and Vishwas should wait for his time,” said a leader close to Kejriwal. Vishwas and Sisodia are known to be close childhood buddies from Pilkhuwa, a small town in western Uttar Pradesh. The bond between Kejriwal, a civil servant, and Sisodia, a former journalist, grew stronger when the two started an NGO to work for the downtrodden in Delhi and later for the RTI campaign.