It is by now known to everyone who follows the news that there is an AAP National Council (NC) Meeting scheduled for March 28, 2015. What is less well-known is that #AAP Volunteers have been putting in a lot of effort to ensure that ALL NC members are informed about the meeting, the notice of which was sent out by e-mail. As several volunteers have pointed out, the AAP has NOT made public the list the NC members; the list was eventually brought to light thanks to a sustained RTI appeal. Subsequently, volunteers began sending e-mails and conducted a calling campaign to inform NC members of the meeting, which was necessary since many of the e-mail ids of NC members were no longer functional.
Now this calling campaign is being dubbed "lobbying", even by mainstream media, with a Times of India article citing one such call to "party worker" Manish Guliya by a volunteer named Aarti. I quote the article verbatim here:
"Manish Guliya, a party worker, claims to have received a call from one Aarti on Tuesday morning, who spoke to him for close to 20 minutes in an effort to convince him to support Yadav and Bhushan.
"The call came at 9.30am and Aarti said she and some others had acquired a list of all NC members and were calling each of us to find out what we think about the open hostility within the party. She then tried telling me her version and how some decisions taken by Kejriwal were not in the party's best interests and how he is occupying two posts."
"She then asked me to attend a meeting on March 27, the time and location of which was not revealed. My problem is, whatever I may think about the issues of the party, this is not the way to call people and lobby like this," said Guliya."
It is debatable whether the writer of the ToI piece, Neha Lalchandani (@toi_NehaL), made any effort at all to find out who "Aarti" is, although I have inquired of her via Twitter if she has (and will update this post with her response).
By a curious quirk of fate, Aarti happens to be the same AAP volunteer through whom the information on the calling campaign and the RTI-obtained NC member list were made available to Aamjanata.com. Her rebuttal of the ToI piece, sent via e-mail, is reproduced below:
"We stick to the script and talk about the real issue i.e. long term sustainability of AAP considering the compromises on core principles. You have seen all my emails to AAP and NC members; that is basically my take.
- We are NOT taking anyone's name when we call
- We are asking questions you see in the script
- Question about Lokpal inquiry is asked only if people venture in that direction.
- We are working for #UnitedAAP and Not Lobbying for ANYONE.
- In fact we have voiced that we are not volunteering for any person(s). We volunteered for this movement!
Note that I have been writing to ALL NC members including top run leaders and L. Ramdas. So, nothing is a secret mission - Practicing transparency here."
Aarti has also shared the script distributed to those who volunteered to participate in the calling campaign, as well as the sample response sheet, as shown below:
Fig. 1 a,b,c: Directions for Calling Campaign
Fig.2: Response Sheet
Another fact that comes to light from Aarti's e-mail and directions is that NC members have also opted to meet informally on the 27th, i.e. a day before the scheduled official meeting. This, it appears, is an effort by some NC members themselves, as this letter from Dr. Rakesh Parikh (@drrakeshparikh), one of AAP's founding members, indicates.
In his e-mail to Aarti, Dr. Parikh mentions that "around 100 people have been touched upon and 70 have agreed". It may be asked if the ToI journalist's exclusively covering the viewpoints of a Manish Guliya and a Sadanand Rai, but not a Dr. Rakesh Parikh, is a clear case of cherry-picking. Has Ms. Lalchandani asked other NC members if they were also targeted for such lobbying? Also, how was she able to access Guliya and Rai?
It is also crucial to note that Aarti is not the only volunteer complaining about unfair reportage. A Facebook post by Raj Redij-Gill also adds to the tale, as quoted in full below:
"Incorrect reporting by media as usual. Volunteers across India and the globe are calling up the publicly available NC member numbers. None of them are battling for one side or another and this is a mischievous report to reinforce one view of this conflict. The reporter could also have added more balance on how Delhi based NC members are being called to meetings in small groups to put across a "pov" ....sort of velvet glove discussions. Just like how MLAs were arm twisted into signing the petition wink emoticonhttp://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/…/articlesh…/46603280.cms"
This sort of reporting is particularly damaging as top leaders of the party claim that the PAC, which met after Arvind Kejriwal returned to Delhi, is going to listen more to volunteers
The efforts by NC members towards meeting not once but twice, and those by volunteers to ensure that the NC members attending are the original ones, are both crucial to the functioning of the AAP, which owes its success tremendously to its volunteers across the globe. Unfair reporting thus stands to destabilize the very structure that gives the AAP its strength.
On the 4th of March, 2015, a meeting of the National Executive of the Aam Aadmi Party tabled accusations against Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan for anti-party activities and ended with a vote that saw them removed from the Political Affairs Committee. In my view, this decision was undemocratic and was arrived at in an unethical manner.
Allegations cannot be considered evidence
A letter making allegations cannot be considered evidence either. There was no independent investigation that resulted in any establishment of guilt. That the allegations were mischievous and factually problematic has been established by AAP volunteers alarmed by this development and specifically documented in this post on Saddahaq dedicated to explicitly addressing them.
[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]Allegations and conspiracy theories cannot be considered evidence.[/tweetthis]
Therefore the use of the allegations and avoidance of a factual investigation in order to remove Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav from the PAC indicates an unsubstantiated and malicious action against them.
Differences cannot be resolved by attacking one side
If there were differences between two camps, a due process to resolve them would address both sides of the divide. The allegations, in the absence of establishment of guilt amount to little more than that. Yet action was initiated only against Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav by those targeting them. Their attempt to call for a re-election of a PAC with irreconcilable differences was dismissed - which would be appropriate to do in the event of differences between equals in the leadership. It would empower the larger organization to have a say on such a crucial issue. It was rejected in spite of them offering to not contest to be on the PAC again - which would definitely mean that they were not attempting to avoid being removed. As with all their other suggestions available in the public domain, this would be congruent with the party's stated values of ground up democracy.
Mayank Gandhi put it in a nutshell:
I was taken aback by the resolution of removing them publicly, especially as they themselves were willing to leave. Also, this decision to sack them was against the overwhelming sentiments of volunteers from all over the world.
The vote that was taken was manipulated
The spokesperson for AAP RAjasthan,Rakesh Parikh has gone on record saying that while the state unit did not want the removal of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, AAP National Secretary had a representative of his choosing vote in the NE resulting in the opposite vote being cast.
"Since Rajasthan convener Ashok Jainji was unable to attend, he had nominated me to go and convey our position to the PAC. But Pankaj Gupta insisted that only Sunil Agiwal, a party member, can attend. As a state unit, we had wanted this vote to be avoided, and a proper investigation on charges against Bhushan and Yadav to be done by internal Lokpal Admiral Ramdas to ascertain if allegations against them were true. Only then should action have been initiated."
"All of those who joined AAP after victory in 2013 elections have grown more influential than those of us working for the last four years. People like Ashish Khetan and others have taken over the party,"
Rajasthan convener Ashok Jain confirmed to the Economic Times that a state resolution in favour of "postponing the PAC meeting to a later day was not heeded". Pankaj Gupta also confirmed that he had suggested Sunil Aigwal to represent the party.
[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]Manipulating votes is neither honest nor democratic[/tweetthis]
Additionally, members of the NE, who had moved the motion against Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav consulted with two members of the Delhi State AAP (Ashutosh and Ashish Khetan, both of whom had entered the party to assume important roles directly) who had been attacking Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav publicly before dismissing their very reasonable suggestions that would put them out of the PAC without harming the party's stated ethics. It is after this consultation that the vote targeting Prashant Bhushan was taken and this vote has caused irreparable damage to the Aam Aadmi Party's credibility as well as support base, as evidenced by official role holders speaking up against it as well as drastic drop in donations.
Is this enough evidence to set aside the vote because of rigging, and for action to be taken against those manipulating organizational decisions unethically? I doubt. AAP is defending this vote against all logic now.
Deliberate withholding of information from party volunteers
It is a little ironic that one of Prashant Bhushans key issues with transparency was the lack of a mechanism to incorporate views of volunteers into the party as well as lack of transparency in party decisions by not publicly posting minutes of meetings. It is ironic because at least two of the charges leveled against them would be confirmed or demolished if the minutes of meetings and tabled documents were available to volunteers. According to information posted by Saddahaq in the post linked above, minutes of the meeting that ended up with Kejriwal's often quoted "Let's go for broke" approving the contesting of elections nationwide would establish who exactly it was that made the suggestion, and whether the final approval came from Kejriwal or not. This is among key accusations agaonst Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan.
Yogendra Yadav is alleged to have submitted a document recommending contesting a mere 100 seats. This document is also not publicly available allowing spin masters to claim whatever they wish independently of factual proof or risk of verification - depending on whether the document is as claimed.
Additionally, minutes of the NE meeting that removed Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav from the PAC are also not available.
For a party that claims to be accountable, key decisions in the party being taken in an opaque manner and official gags issued to deny volunteers information is not just undemocratic, it is a deliberate violation of AAP's claimed ethics and constitution.
Misuse of official media channels to target individuals
In the absence of allegations being proved, all that is established is a one sided targeting of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, that they have not retaliated to at any point. On the other hand, abundant first hand accounts exist of AAP leaders going public to target both of them as well as official Social Media presence being misused by the faction attacking Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav.
Sanjay Singh and Anjali Damania interviews were broadcast on television channels are are publicly available videos. Ashish Khetan, Anjali Damania and more leveled accusations on Social Media - some of which were later deleted on seeing the anger of volunteers.
Below are two accounts of official members of AAP's social media team that demonstrate how AAP's social media was misused to create a perception that the entire organization was against the two, when in fact it was merely the hijacking of control of Social Media by one faction.
I am seeing a lot of back and forth emails debating, speculating and fighting between many well-intentioned volunteers. And I feel its not right on my part not to disclose what I know. I am a member of AAP social media team. And this is what happened in that group. (As Mayank Gandhi said, I will also be kicked out of the team soon. So be it )
Things were brewing since late December. Ankit and Abhinav (the social media leads) had stopped listening to most of the team members. I personally raised the issue of too much AK glorification stuff on our national page (before & after election), but all I got was arrogant replies from Abhinav & silence from Ankit.
On March 1st, Ankit posted on our group--"As directed by the National Secretary all page roles are being reshuffled". And he took out all of our admin privileges. There was an uproar in the group about this, but Ankit didn't care.
As soon as he did that, Ankit, Ashutosh, Ashish started tweeting against YY & PB. Most of us in the group raised our objection on what's going on. Ankit, simply ignored it.
On March 2nd--Abhinav posted Sanjay Singh's press conference. All of us raised our objection for using the AAP platform to take sides. We strongly told them to post YY's interview as well. The answer we got was that, "SS's press Conf is the party's stand & YY's interview is his personal stuff". All of us fought as much as we could, but Ankit simply ignored it completely.
In short, in my opinion, a VERY SMALL section of AAP core members misused their power and hijacked the platform to kick out two whistle blowers and tarnish their personal image. (Let me emphasis again, its just a handful of people. Their control on social media a reach of 15million people just made them look like a way larger crowd).
Personally I DO NOT know if this was done with AK's knowledge or not. I am not going to speculate that. But this incident clearly shows how easy it is for a VERY SMALL team of people to take control & hijack this great organization that we all worked together. So it is very important that democracy and transparency which is THE CORE message of AAP should be instilled within the party.
None of us can afford to leave the party at this juncture AAP because then AAP would become nothing but worse than BJP/RJD/Cong/SP. All our efforts for the last 2+ years would vanish. So it is very important to raise our voice and bring democracy and transparency within the party. I hope all of you would do that.
-- Regards Priya James
Ankit Lal's letter briefing SM heads on specific accusations to be made against Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan.
This letter includes as "proof" a bogus sting operation conducted months ago and debunked thoroughly by SP Singh, another journalist present at the meeting where Yogendra Yadav allegedly planted stories in media against Arvind Kejriwal. The journalist puts that "proof" six feet under, but two points alone are adequate to demolish its credibility as an accusation.
If media briefing was done to three journalists, how come only one published the information? The other two were too stupid to recognize a scoop when they received it in a specific off the record meeting?
SP Singh had also received a call asking about his meeting with Yogendra Yadav, which asked him about the "planted" story and he had replied then itself that the journalist would have had other sources. So those doing the "sting" were clearly aware that the information had probably not come from Yogendra Yadav, yet see no hesitation to use it months later as "proof" to achieve their malicious agenda.
There is a letter by Shashank Kumar who has worked on the ground as well as designing the AAP Manifesto, Delhi Dialogue campaign and other graphics and design support. He contributed to the hashtag #UnitedAAP after being alarmed by AAP leaders viciously attacking Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav and seeing the toll it was taking on the cohesiveness of the party. The whole letter is well worth a read. It names AAP leaders acting to destroy the party from within and how. At no point does he claim that Prashant Bhushan or Yogendra Yadav are innocent, merely insists on a proper investigative process like the thousands of others infuriated by this witch-hunt playing out.
NRI volunteers had started the "ghanti bajao" campaign in the absence of a mechanism to register volunteer views, where volunteers called the members of the NE directly to express their displeasure over the factionalism. They had also recommended that the NE meeting be videotaped and the footage to be under the control of Admiral Ramdas to be made public if necessary in the event of a dispute. What is sad is that no one in the NE apparently has made a sting video. Would have cleared many things.
Admiral Ramdas on his part had seen this brewing and had written a letter warning against exactly this outcome.
All wisdom discarded, the faction targeting PrashantBhushan and Yogendra Yadav went ahead with their vendetta in the most dramatic manner possible ignoring even offered methods of doing it in a manner that would not harm Aam Aadmi Party.
And now those leaders are busy explaining how this was the right thing to do, and in their mythical Swaraj, the furious voices of supporters are just so much noise to be conned with mumbo-jumbo like "ardha satya" (half truth) or "anti-party activity" and to "wait" - clearly meaning wait for an answer you won't get, but hopefully your anger will be defused enough for us to bear no consequences. The gag on releasing information to volunteers who built the party remains, while mysterious allusions to information behind that iron curtain continue. Information that will miraculously turn an explicitly undemocratic process into something respectworthy, apparently.
Clearly the volunteers who have invested their faith in the values of the party are not listening. This isn't going to die down. "Swaraj will prevail, or AAP will finish," a volunteer declared passionately, exhorting me to "not give up on the party and only be angry with those who did wrong instead of the whole party."