Atishi Marlena wrote a letter to Prashant Bhushan pretty much declaring a parting of ways and in the grand tradition of Aam Aadmi Party, the letter is in public domain. Several of Arvind Kejriwal's supporters have been demanding that I comment on it. Presumably because they think it is a pro-Kejriwal letter or something.
Here are my thoughts on the letter.
Prashant Bhushan refused to compromise with the Kejriwal faction because of Shanti Bhushan
This is rubbish. Prashant Bhushan saying that can at best mean that he used it as an excuse. I don't, for a minute buy that Prashant Bhushan is incapable of making independent decisions. Even if he was, I fail to see how this is relevant to me.
Sanjay Singh, the hero
This comes as a surprise. Given that Sanjay Singh was publicly busy attributing all sorts of intentions to Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, the idea that he was secretly negotiating an agreement - that too an agreement that involved Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav tendering a public apology sounds like a hallucination.
More likely, he got the Kejriwal faction to agree to it, but Prashant Bhushan did not buy. Probably provoked by using a known trigger - his father's name. Given Kejriwal's august views about Bhushan and Yadav, I am unable to comprehend why anyone fails to comprehend the refusal.
The mythical agreement
There is a description of an agreement to fulfill Prashant Bhushan's demands. This, in itself screams that it is not the interest of Aam Aadmi Party. These demands are old, unfulfilled. Even now, the party hardly seems interested in fulfilling them for itself. It seems to be more of a handout to the holdouts. I understand from this that now that the agreement is not happening, the demands no longer need to be fulfilled, because the Kejriwal faction apparently has no sense of ethics of its own.
Prashant Bhushan is right to bring up previously broken commitments. This does not speak of the party's interest in the reforms themselves, more like something they are willing to tolerate in order to shut up the spoilsports.
Would have been nicer if the party went for an agenda of reform independently of the fate of Bhushan and Yadav, but that seems too much to hope for. The party has changed, and does not seem to be interested in old goals without duress.
Where does this leave dissenters?
Dissenters are not a monolith. As I have remarked earlier, there are multiple goals among them. There are those who would simply like to see Kejriwal, Bhushan and Yadav to no longer be fighting. An agreement such as the one Atishi described would make them happy. That it failed will probably disappoint them, if there is any disappoint left in them after the last month.
For those insisting on procedure, the agreement was irrelevant completely - which is my disinterest in this letter as well. To follow procedure, the party does not need Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav to agree to anything. They need to take their allegations and proofs in front of their formal authority and go through whatever process required for establishing guilt or innocence and act on the basis of that.
Without following due process, even if Kejriwal and Bhushan-Yadav reach an agreement, at best what it would mean would be that they are fine with processes being bypassed as long as they are not excluded. Unless of course their removal was reversed as well - which is unlikely and probably unwise.
All that the letter achieves is to show that for all AAP's commitment to democracy, there are actually very few people who understand it or are interested in learning. I could have lived without this further confirmation, particularly from someone who had been considered intellectually sound so far.
But mostly, for all practical purposes, this letter has no impact on my assessment of the AAP crisis.
This post comes on request that I stop criticizing and make useful suggestions. So here it is. I don't think it will help though, which is why I didn't do it to begin with.
First and most important thing to understand is that this devastation of AAP is a result of a series of deliberate choices powered by intent. Till intent changes, in my view, this cannot be recovered from.
A bird's eye view of the conflict within AAP
The basic issue is a difference of opinion. Where you have people you have views and they may coexist with some views and not with others. A piece in Swarajya titled "Yadav and Bhushan shouldn't be complaining" outlines a difference of opinion that has been present in AAP all through and sees it essentially as a socialist versus libertarian thinking issue though it does not put it in so many words. For purposes of this piece, I'm calling the two sides pragmatic and intellectual. This was further confirmed with a phone conversations with leaders trying to convince me that the disastrous decision of the 4th was a necessary step and good for AAP. I am not that gullible, but the recurrence of specific names and the tag "socialist" was very insightful. It was equally evident that those who held these views, did not adequately appreciate the "socialist" side of the story.
The perception was that "these people" did not work, prefered to be impractical rather than find solutions, intellectualized too much, criticized AAP, and wanted to replace Kejriwal as the National Convenor. Apparently working for AAP is suddenly only campaigning on the ground and Yogendra Yadav's formidable studio presence is called twiddling thumbs.
What no one apparently recognizes is that it is precisely these socialists that had allowed AAP to look friendly to social rights movements around the country in the run up to the Lok Sabha Elections. It is these views that have attracted idealists to the party fold for the "pragmatic" people to harness with their rough and ready effectiveness. While it is true that the "pragmatic" side of AAP has worked very hard for the Delhi Election win, they have failed to appreciate what this intellectual side brought them. It brought with it a rigor of looking at issues in terms of process. Of articulating complex ideas in a coherent manner. Of bringing dignity to the reputation the "pragmatic" side was rapidly gaining for reckless accusations. Yogendra Yadav in particular was spectacular at presenting the often chaotic AAP view in a refined manner on the fly. It brought AAP legitimacy as people who also have sound thinking - beyond mere good intentions.
This is not to say that there was no arrogance or behavior perceived as hostile. Intellectuals are often superior about their quality of understanding of issues (and I am not doubting that quality at all) and can tend to be dismissive of views they do not see as adequately refined. For example, ground up Swaraj is exactly that. Without it, there is no democracy. It must be done and while not done, we are false to our claims - to the point of not deserving a victory based on them? It is simply a trait - and an asset to a party like AAP, till someone goes and makes a big problem by pitting against it it, because the logic is likely to be unassailable - as we still see playing out in their calm statements to media. On the other hand, it is nice when intellectuals are adult enough to know that they can be difficult and to compensate.
For a while, AAP thrived from the diversity. The communication skills of the likes of Khetan did brilliantly with actions like the Delhi Dialogue, the exuberance of volunteers worked for the flash mobs or whatever, while Yadav and others created a formidable credibility by coherently articulating emotional zeal on a day to day basis. There was a lot of work done, and people fit well into their roles and did it. And it is because all did their best that AAP did its best. To own credit and treat those you dislike as deadweight will destroy unity.
The trouble with the differences in AAP
While the pragmatic side of the leadership was on a clear goal of doing whatever it took to get a victory in Delhi as an issue of the party's survival itself, the"socialists" were insistent on clear process. This was a divergence of method. Sticklers for the method could not tolerate cutting corners while those who had set their sights on the win were uncaring of the compromises they may have to take to make it happen - they may have believed it as a temporary deal with the devil, so to say, in order to achieve a larger goal.
This issue appears to be more with Prashant Bhushan than Yogendra Yadav. He is believed to have threatened press conferences leading to some difficult ego management in a party stressed about getting the win to happen.
While it takes two hands to clap, the clarity of ideas allowed Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan to uphold their side of the issue in a relatively dignified manner. If they were in a rivalry, it was specific and refined and on a relatively narrow band and completely invisible outside the party. Even their interviews after being removed only add dignity to AAP's values, while those opposed to them are increasingly sounding demented.
Methods of rivalry
Whether it is genuine good innocence and intentions or whether it is skill and cunning, whatever the rivalry the intellectuals had with the pragmatics, they managed to keep it low key. Press conferences may have been threatened, but they never happened. Yogendra Yadav was on Prime Time TV daily and never spoke or acted in a manner that showed AAP in a bad light. If either of them wanted to harm the party - with the access, visibility and stature they had, they would succeed without doubt. So whatever their ill intent that was raising the hackles of others, it did not harm the party, but strengthened it.
On the other hand, those acting against them have acted in poor spirit. Manish Sisodia's letter and Yogendra Yadav's reply to it is when this first spilled into the public domain. It is impossible to determine who leaked them and futile to make accusations without basis. If you read the letters, it is evident that Manish Sisodia made a personal attack on Yogendra Yadav alone for a dispute between two people. The letter was hostile, superior and showed Sisodia in poor light. It being leaked added to the damage, but even known to very few people, it would still show Sisodia acting to create hostility within the organization.
Words we have are a sort of wardrobe. You wear silk to a date, jeans on a picnic and you need to know when and how to dress. Sisodia had not bothered. Either he was unable to, or he did not think Yogendra Yadav merited civility, quite forgeting that in the process he was also addressing a senior member of the party he professes to be committed to. Yogendra Yadav's reply only drove the point home by not responding to provocation and instead taking a thoughtful and introspective tone way more appropriate to the situation AAP was in after the Lok Sabha defeat than what Sisodia was using. He completely refused to be drawn into the personal mud slinging - which in turn allowed the letters to look like open communication between leaders worthy of respect rather than a catfight, which is what Sisodia had started.
If AAP volunteers found Prashant Bhushan or Yogendra Yadav difficult as it is now being implied, they showed greater maturity than the leadership by never letting it spill on the party's image. If they didn't, well that would just make it yet another unsubstantiated allegation in a fast growing pile. The letter by Admiral Ramdas leaked, but the tone of both was clearly enriching for the party and neither raised any serious alarm that would harm the image of AAP.
The really unforgivable thing happened on the first of March. There was abrupt dismissal of social media admins. Thus the first casualty of this war on Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav were actually bystander loyal role holders of Aam Aadmi Party who have no complaints against them and a lot of selfless service to their credit. The pragmatics just turned them into nobodys without explanation or gratitude. There is still no explanation provided for why their permissions were revoked without warning as though dismissing unimportant people.
Then came the organized slander campaign against Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav that was based on a series of allegations with zero evidence. Perhaps without the attack on loyal and completely innocent workers handling social media, there would be some basis to inclination to take unsubstantiated accusations against Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav as unavoidably urgent or necessary. But the completely unfair and disrespectful treatment of the admins to effect the hijack, combined with the unethical, inappropriate and immensely damaging use of the official handle to slander founders of the party cooked the goose of the pragmatics well before the meeting.
You cannot expect those who invest blood sweat and tears into creating anything to feel charitable about those destroying it. And that is exactly what is playing out. AAP volunteers are organizing against leaders they were devoted to with a ruthlessness that is as breathtaking as it is admirable. They are fighting for their beautiful creation to survive.
Another ethical (and legal) boundary that had been crossed with a "sting" operation of the journalist who published the story fell flat. Other journalists present with her had not filed stories with the damning data and one also denied that it was provided by Yogendra Yadav. On the other hand, many volunteers pointed out that the phone call itself appeared to be rehearsed. The sting that was used to base the only allegation against Yogendra Yadav not just fell flat, it exposed AAP for using illegal methods to monitor leaders and media. The venom that was now openly flooding against Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan has been revolting to even stray onlookers, let alone those who gave money and time to AAP and were now watching in dismay.
The opaque National Executive meeting that provided a result AAP volunteers explicitly didn't want still did not warn the arrogant people trying to manipulate reality to their will. But by now the volunteers were beyond hope and pleas. They were furious. They organized rapidly, demanding answers. Anjali Damania's accusations against Yogendra Yadav wanting to contest Haryana were countered with links to news reports of her announcing that AAP would contest in Maharashtra after Kejriwal refused. Campaigns demanding answers were organized. Other volunteers monitored the volunteer mood about the decision and more.
The leaders caught on the wrong foot had already had to retract slanderous tweets, but had no response to questions about procedure as well as questions raised by Prashant Bhushan about party democracy. They chose to keep repeating slander as though that was why volunteers were angry and the thing escalated to the point of people speaking the inside story exposing the leaders and how hey were acting against the interest of AAP.
When those still unwilling to open their eyes and smell the roses alleged that BJP was manipulating the results with bogus voting, volunteers started yet another survey of registered donors - since AAP has not released a list of volunteers, donation data is the only way they have of identifying genuine supporters.
The Delhi AAP handle was used to issue a press release with more slander against Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav and volunteers exploded. That Press Release has hundreds of critical comments verging from polite and disappointed to furious. If anyone liked that release, it is tough to notice in the river of rage in the comments.
It is a difficult place to recover from, even if possible. The arrogance is so profound and the damage it has done so vast that it is difficult to say that AAP can continue united - or even that it should, given the lack of ability to coexist.
What could be a way forward?
A good organizational development consultant could help resolve conflicts and coach basic skills for engaging respectfully with diversity. This cannot be recommended enough if AAP wants to recover. The consultant should NOT be an AAP volunteer/member but a real, independent one who is not stuck lower in the hierarchy from those s/he facilitates.
Dissolving the PAC and forming it afresh can bring some sense of justice. It is also democratically inappropriate to legitimize what is left standing and reinstating Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav will cause resumption of hostility triggers among those who kicked them out.
Lifting of all gags and guaranteeing that stating opinions will not bring retaliation. This is the leading fear among the dissenting volunteers.
Investigating and removing from authority EVERYONE who demonstrably acted against party interest - including people who hijacked the rights of others as well as Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav - though volunteers have pretty much shredded the allegations by now.
Norms must be created by means of which no people can have the authority to act against their equals unilaterally - that implies some being more equal than others. This means that conflict between leaders must be resolved through the Lokpal or by appealing to Kejriwal or referendum with volunteers, and not some leaders acting against those they want to target. Whether they take a vote or read tea leaves is immaterial. Disputes must not be solved by targeting one side - this is what has brought AAP to this point.
Prosecuting various illegal and unethical actions - illegal phone recording, planting stories in media, putting up communal posters... with the Lokpal and legal cases.
APOLOGIZING to dissenting volunteers - democracy really wasn't a terrible thing to ask for given AAP's ad campaigns.
Instituting organizational structures as promised, including methods to take feedback from volunteers. Is it not ironic that the party that claims Swaraj not just had no mechanism for volunteers to register dissent, but when they self organized and formed their own platform, they got disowned! Also things like putting up lists of volunteers, minutes of meetings, accounts and more. I imagine much healing can happen if volunteers are apologized to and invited to help bring AAP on track by creating these things.
There. I have written the post. But I think volunteers underestimate the AHANKAR of those controlling the party right now. Apologies are not going to happen. Accountability and punishment for slander is not going to happen. I have no idea how this post will help you, but I have promised support out of respect, so here it is.
In the National Executive (NE) meeting yesterday, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) removed Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan from their Political Affairs Committee (PAC). This action comes after a long growing rift within the party, which some staunch Kejriwal followers sneeringly referred to as "socialists". Another explained that the party was socialist overall, but these people called themselves socialist - or whatever that is.
[tweetthis]Leaders of AAP's Delhi state unit are bringing disgrace to the party with their unfounded and toxic witchhunt.[/tweetthis]
There are several allegations against the duo that have been brought out into the open by the party in ways that do more to reveal the ugly methods to achieve political objectives than shed light on the supposed crimes of Prashant Bhushan or Yogendra Yadav. Addressing some here.
Yogendra Yadav is ambitious
This accusation coming from the blind supporters of the person who has not let ultimate power rest in any hands other than his own since the birth of the party is so absurd as to make no sense. In a party claiming to be against high command, it would be logical to expect that once Arvind Kejriwal was Chief Minister, someone else would take over the party's command. Not even BJP and Congress have this kind of singular control over power. Without ambition, AAP wouldn't exist. It now appears that the sole ambition to lead must be Kejriwal's and all other ambitions must be to support. I see nothing wrong in expecting Arvind Kejriwal to resign.
Yogendra Yadav made a public spectacle of differences in the party.
This is not true. Manish Sisodia started the public accusations game (READ THESE AGAIN) in the wake of the Lok Sabha Elections disaster with a public letter criticizing Yogendra Yadav for his differences with Naveen Jai Hind. The very fact that Yogendra Yadav alone got what amounted to an "expose" of inappropriate behavior for a spat between two people shows which side of that spat Manish Sisodia fell on. Yogendra Yadav's reply to this letter STATES HIS PREFERENCE to keep this quiet and replies with generic but important issues plaguing AAP - the questions raised in this letter were never addressed to the best of my knowledge. Incidentally, Naveen Jai Hind has continued his vicious vendetta against Yogendra Yadav to date and it is currently widening fissures in Haryana AAP.
Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav threatened press conferences, sabotaged party campaign
I have not seen evidence of this. Raising questions where party is clearly going wrong, in my eyes amounts to support of the party and not sabotage. If these questions raised repeatedly are never answered, while the opposite claims are made in public, it would be the duty of any honest person to be the whistleblower - incidentally something AAP respects a lot except in own party. Several Kejriwal supporters have claimed that "Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav had to be constantly managed to not harm AAP." Considering that Prashant Bhushan could draw attention to anything he said any time and Yogendra Yadav was routinely appearing for the party in national media, this accusation is absurd.
If they wanted to damage the party, they could have done it any time. What they appear to be doing is raising urgent and genuine questions about party functioning to strengthen the party - which got managed by shutting them up over and over and the problems remain. These questions have been asked by me as well as many others who thought AAP actually was being honest about its values. The Kejriwal faction clearly appears to be fine with the lack of democracy as long as they get power in Delhi. The damage to AAP does not appear to be a concern, since the core circle of power is sitting lush with self importance right now and have no wish to contest further elections. It appears that this is being projected as "socialist" - a disturbing echo of BJP's contempt for democracy.
This is about greed for Rajya Sabha seats
So what if it is? Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan have both acted in the interest of the party. Denying seats is very different from running a public vilification campaign against them. One is a party decision, the other is party sabotage.
Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav have embarrassed the party publicly
Increasingly, the much acclaimed honesty of the Aam Aadmi Party appears to be the "appearance" of honesty rather than actions of honesty. If dishonesty in a party committed to honesty is exposed, it is an opportunity for reform. If dishonesty in a con is exposed, it is a trigger to shoot the messenger. In my view, a party that doesn't follow appropriate decision making procedures but makes big claims of representative democracy is dishonest. This was also reflected in their all male cabinet, independently of any influence or accusations by either Prashant Bhushan or Yogendra Yadav. When a senior party leader has communal posters put up, while the party claims to fight communalism, it is dishonesty. For an honest party, the embarrassment is that these things happened, for AAP, the embarrassment appears to be that these things got exposed. It is like saying "it is okay to steal as long as you don't get caught" - a far cry from the advertised adamant principled stands.
Prashant Bhushan wanted a post for his sister.
So what? The question ought to be one of merit, yes? Last piece of propaganda was all about merit determining this - and all the people making the accusations actually didn't have an issue of merit about her. As for family members, I hear Ankit Lal wanted a ticket for his wife that Yogendra Yadav didn't allow? Notice how he hasn't been kicked as head of social media for wanting it.
Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav interfered with the candidate selection process
[tweetthis]Where did AAP follow its much claimed candidate selection process that Bhushan or Yadav interfered?[/tweetthis]
What candidate selection process? From the much hyped start, we have seen people walk into the party to get seats. If they flagged names for scrutiny and two candidates actually had to be withdrawn, it only shows that their concerns were legitimate. Perhaps the Kejriwal club wanted to run with the problem candidates for reasons of their own?
Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan supported AVAM
I have said this before and I say it again. If an argument has merit, it has merit. If it doesn't, it doesn't. Regardless of who incites and who funds. While the mysterious 2 crore funding was not illegal, it was clearly dubious that no one in AAP has any idea of who gave so much money. For a party that made a huge fuss about donations received on social media, not a single day reported such a massive donation. I had independently asked Ankit Lal about this and he explained that only online donations get reported on social media. I went to the extent of asking him to confirm the payment with their accounts with bank, as they could just as easily be planted if the website got hacked.
Regardless, it seems rather strange that no one celebrated such massive donations received in a day for a party that got thousands of tweets celebrating a few lakhs received routinely. This amnesia is rather strange, even if not illegal for the party and does raise questions of who exactly this mysterious donor is to donate such a massive amount without anyone noticing. More importantly, even after the controversy broke, there is no attempt to find out the source of the donation - which to me indicates that the source is known to those who matter and can order an investigation. So I don't see AVAM's questions as entirely irrelevant, though their timing was certainly mischievous and motivations unknown.
If people raising questions about party functioning gravitate toward others raising questions about party functioning, I don't see this as a conspiracy so much as long festering questions that are important enough for people to persist in seeking answers and raising the pressure. To dismiss them as anti-party activity is as good as saying expecting transparency from AAP is against the party culture - regardless of TV studio claims.
Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav were hungry to contest elections
Unless it is only Delhi that needed the oh-so-honest party, I fail to see the problem with this. The Lok Sabha defeat was more because of Kejriwal's stunts in Varanasi that appropriated party resources disproportionately to fight from a deliberate position of disadvantage AND key speeches ignoring what AAP was promising to focus on random allegations and accusations. If he'd stayed in Delhi, there would be far more people in the Lok Sabha today. But a growing conspiracy theory says that this was pre-planned, just like the BJP sweep of UP was pre-planned. This is further supported by the fact that a disproportionate number of bogus voters found in Varanasi has not led to so much as a whimper of protest or call for repolling by Aam Aadmi Party. 6.5 lakh duplicate names in a constituency with 17 lakh voters can hardly be a "mistake".
Incidentally, the push to contest Lok Sabha Elections nationwide is what got Kejriwal the flood of volunteers from all over India, arriving to saturate the Delhi Campaign on the ground. They immediately got thanked in the form of "Thanks for Delhi, but we won't be contesting in your area, we will focus on delivering here." All of a sudden the government that claims to have delivered miracles in 49 days is in a desperate rush to be able to deliver its promises at all in five years to the point of not finding any women worthy of delivering them and the chap holding the ultimate leadership not even attending an NE meet as crucial as this one (but has time to handle party responsibilities if Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav and their pesky questions are removed).
Obviously Kejriwal can't do both. And he can't let go of power enough to let the party grow either.
The bottom line is clear. Kejriwal & Co have got what they wanted. Now they intend to enjoy it and ignore any questions raised because no one can do a thing to them anymore. Not the people of Delhi, not supporters, members or donors of the party. If they all turned against him, they still can't do a thing for the next five years. Accountability is no longer an issue. Kejriwal has no time for anything except... um... 10 days delivering promises to Bangalore district of Delhi. The rest was a fantasy woven to con enough people into donating and supporting.
Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav got removed democratically
This is complete nonsense. If Arvind Kejriwal not only clings to power, but uses the affection people have for him as a weapon to influence party decisions, it is not democratic. If Kejriwal submitted a resignation as National Convenor and refused to withdraw it unless Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav were removed, it is emotional blackmail. Plain and simple. It is a misuse of the affection people have for him to use their wish to continue following him to eliminate people from positions of power. It is not democratic to request Mayank Gandhi to refrain from voting and Mayank doing so raises questions about his commitment to party democracy as well. The replacement of the representative from Rajasthan was clear cut "vote rigging". After all this tamasha, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav were defeated by a mere three votes. Democratic my foot.
[tweetthis]The ouster of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav from the PAC is brute eviction of dissenting minority.[/tweetthis]
If the NE decision actually represented the views of the party, there wouldn't be supporters still using "paanch saal Kejriwal" pictures for their profiles furious about the ouster of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. Staunch supporters have abruptly stopped. This was a wrong decision on every level. You can rig "democracy", you cannot make a decision that doesn't reflect the interests of those it claims to to "feel" right.
With this decision, the Aam Aadmi Party has openly shed the burden of ethics weighing it down for so long. With five years of government secure, and Kejriwal in no mood or need to contest anything anymore, the Kejriwal camp has simply abandoned the party in the rest of the country with their reckless actions for ego.
In the process, what the AAP seems to have forgotten in their intoxication with themselves is that governments come and go. Five years is not very long in the life of a nation. An anti-corruption party targeting Prashant Bhushan with an underhanded hate campaign and removing him from the PAC is its own one sentence self-explanatory story.
India Today and its sister channe Headlines Today seems to be unusually prone to "inadvertent" mistakes that surprisingly consistently look deliberate as well as designed to influence the public opinion against Aam Aadmi Party and in favor of Bharatiya Janata Party.
I am no lawyer, but mentioning several "coincidences" that seem a little unbelievable as "inadvertent". Presenting my arguments here in case anyone wants to take this ahead.
Shanti Bhushan had never written that article. It is unclear how an article echoing a popular disinformation among bjp supporters wanders onto a news website on its own and the founder of the party it defames becomes its author "inadvertently". While the artice was removed after Shanti Bhushan sent a legal notice, the pattern of fake and/or biased coverage continues.
This show traces a decade old blog post about the Topsites scam - not a news organization. A blog that is about as popular as this one. So I imagine this "expose" of paid media influencing electoral outcomes should be investigated at least as vigorously as a decade old post. Looking forward to a call from India Today asking me to appear on a panel.
How reliable are Conrad Longmore exposes? This is among the top results:
The purpose of this post not being to do a hatchet job on Conrad Longmore, I simply leave it at this. When a blogger with an unverifiable credibility makes a post, and a news channel does a 3 month investigation on it, one must ask why, because there is no shortage of bloggers with allegations. Your basic tech reporter would know this, but what do you expect when a masala journalist collects a bunch of political blabbermouths and runs a 3 month long investigation based on a decade old post without realizing something as basic as there not being special domain registrars for porn domains and that the buyer buys what they want and a SOFTWARE sells it to anyone wanting a domain, and automated directory content is not created by a human? You might as well sue google for their results containing porn and ban all Google employees from contesting in elections. Or declare that spammy phone directories like Just Dial are not a respectable way of earning a living. Let me not even get started on the Bag It Today scam that happens to be an affiliate of India Today and has the dubious distinction of lowest ratings, complaints of spam, over priced sales, refusals to refund, non-delivery and more - unlike Topsites.
The show does not mention a single law in India that Somnath Bharti broke, yet has political commentators known to have a pro-bjp stand saying things like "Even if pornography were legal, it is hardly a respectable way to earn a living". That was Madhu Kishwar, in case any one is interested. It also features Vinod Kumar Binny, who has been in a permanent state of slander against Aam Aadmi Party informing authoritatively that claims made by Rahul Kanwal are true and that is how it happened. What his authority is, for certifying this is unclear. Also unclear that if he knew that porn domains were being sold by Somnath Bharti, why did he not alert authorities? The programme can only be considered biased, since last I checked, neither Madhu Kishwar not Vinod Binny know their head from their ass on internet crime, have a known anti-AAP agenda AND were invited to comment on the panel on an issue that solely deals with cyber crime. So their invitation to the panel can only be for their comments on the person and not the alleged crime - of which they seem to be as ignorant as Rahul Kanwal, perhaps more.
Which leaves the question of which competence of theirs qualified them to comment with any authotity on scraper directories, spam, scam or Spamhaus - which, incidentally is an anti-spam organization and service with zero legal authority or independent oversight. If a Spamhaus listing is prosecutable in India, we can prosecute a third of our elected leaders based on ADR India lists too? He is speaking of money that should show in tax returns, but there is no evidence of Somnath Bharti having got that money in the first place.
Additionally, this expose ran on their website next to a targeted advertisement for Modi, which also used the misleading acronym "CAG" - which, on clicking turns out to be a team to support Modi. This advertisement no longer runs - probably because of the model code of conduct.
Together, these demonstrate a pattern of deliberately presenting an impression of members of Aam Aadmi Party declaring that it is party with bad practices.
Rahul Kanwal has also consistently made false allegations against Somnath Bharti on Twitter. An example. The person replying to his comment is Conrad Longmore, who originally did the expose of Topsites, in which Somnath Bharti was a minor name.
This has continued after elections were announced and Model Code of Conduct was in place. In the India Today Conclave, Rahul Kanwal anchored a discussion between Digvijay Singh, Amit Shah and Manish Sisodia where he remarks that Digvijay Singh and Manish Sisodia are sitting together opposite Amit Shah. This is another echo of BJP's accusations of AAP being a Congress ploy against bjp. Later on the same evening, when Arvind Kejriwal was answering audience questions, Rahul Kanwal brought up the Somnath Bharti "expose" again accusing him of inaction against his own party members. But Rahul Kanwal has to date never mentioned a single India law broken by Somnath Bharti - so what would the investigation be on the grounds of? TRPs?
Somnath Bharti had sent him a legal notice, which he ignored and continued his campaign of defamation. Today, he has produced a "Somnath Bharti" signature - which is not identical to his signature and is asking people to "see for themselves". While the blatant misrepresentations have been downplayed as "mistakes", and the consistent calls for naming the laws broken by Somnath Bharti are ignored, he continues to exploit the gullibility of masses who rarely examine the evidence on display and go by the confidence in claiming that it is proof of wrong doing.
There is a leaked video of "serial liar Arvind Kejriwal asking Punya Prasun Bajpai" (to use Niti Central lingo) to play up parts of the interview. This video was clearly leaked by someone at Aaj Tak, another channel from the India Today group. Their disclaimer on the leak makes no mention off how the footage was leaked or if this is professional protocol, but instead makes a point of stating that *they* broadcast the full interview. Subtext being "whatever Arvind Kejriwal may have requested". Casual conversation between interviewer and interviewed person is normal, as is normal for the person interviewed providing their view of what is important from the answers in terms of editing. I have never been interviewed on TV, but every single print publication that interviews me gets several "guidelines" from me regarding how my interview answers are used. This is because I have been misquoted in edits very often to the point where I don't do these interviews on phone and reply by email telling them strictly to copy-paste answers or not change any meaning. I also often find that something peripheral becomes a highlight and the crux of my argument gets a passing mention if at all. So I often stress that "This blah blah" is the most important from my answer. For someone like Kejriwal, who has had stray comments eclipse crucial issues in media coverage, I don't imagine this concern is wrong at all. It is his answer, and he has perfect authority to say what is the most important point in what he said - which would be the highlight of his answer. Whether channels do it or not, or leak the request rather than derail the interview, and so on is up to them.
I would like post interview footage of other political interviews by India Today group to be examined to establish whether such conversation is a unique thing that happened with Arvind Kejriwal, or if they are in the habit of such undisclosed instructions, which get leaked only for some people. The leak is clearly from within the organization and by a person with reasonable authority over footage tapes - which would be a specific number of people - I assume these aren't left lying around to be lost.
Someone was also able to edit it nicely to engineer a perception. Here is an "expose" of the "expose" by angry AAP supporters.
I also want to note the media bias over the lack of outrage over far more damning exposes by Gulail and Cobrapost that show actual crimes, as opposed to a casual conversation post a joint experience on camera. We have a media creating a perception that a comment really made being important in the interview and thus deserving highlight is a greater outrage than illegal use of state machinery for illegal surveillance of a private citizen for the personal interest of the Chief Minister. Or stings showing how Social Media can be used to manipulate Electoral outcomes. But then, for our media, fair elections seem to be a far more inferior priority than peddling their desired outcomes. We have so far seen manipulated poll surveys as well.
The bias is further enhanced through "hit and run" reporting, where stings against AAP proved to be doctored are broadcast, but not their being proved false. Where Conrad Longmore's expose is quoted, but not him mentioning that there wasn't a single case against Topsites for fraud. Where the "Nigerian raid" is reported, but not the fact of their complaints about forced prostitution and trafficking with collusion of police - which strangely were brought to their "assaulter" instead of those touchingly defending them. Yeah, Harish Salve vanished - to save other people. That is where that "outrage" went, but that was omitted from broadcast.
This clearly points to an attempt to influence electoral results by inventing and perpetrating a negative image about Aam Aadmi Party using television media and violates the right of citizens to receive accurate information through news.I do not believe that an editor does not notice if it is really Shanti Bhushan doing a submission or someone else. Or that they have no idea who they invite on talk shows or remain mysteriously unaware that the party that boycotted them didn't send anyone to participate in their show (or perhaps was not invited). I find it unbelievable that even a tamasha journalist would mistake Madhu Kishwar or Vinod Binny as experts on cyber crime.
In my view, Rahul Kanwal, and other sources of these mysterious mistakes that only "inadvertently" happen in a way that shows one party in bad light happen should be investigated for electoral fraud, and there should be a gag on Rahul Kanwal till the investigation is complete, in the interest of democratic rights of Indians. Parties should be chosen or rejected based on their deeds, not invented media campaigns.
If Rahul Kanwal is genuinely that stupid, then he shouldn't be on air anyway.
Prashant Bhushan was beaten in his Chambers yesterday in full view of TV Cameras. The attacker slapped and manhandled him before others in the room subdued him. The audacious attack shocked people awake even as claims of culpability by Tajinder Bagga of Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena trended on Facebook. First things first, here is the attack itself.
Almost immediately after the incident, questions started coming up asking why the crew did not help him instead of continuing filming. Then, more knowledgable people started questioning why the cameraman didn't panic at all with the attack. Remember how our media normally acts in crisis...
Its Editor, Arnab Goswami, is always polarising people and taking open editorial positions against human rights activists and authors like Arundhuti Roy. In fact there are lots of unanswered questions about the how-come and whys of the presence of Times Now crew in Prashant Bhushan's room when the attackers entered and started beating up the Supreme Court lawyer.
Had the Times Now team been forewarned by the Ram Sene group and had they quickly taken an appointment with Mr Prashanth Bhushan in order to ensure they were present ? Ram Sene and organisations like that are known to pre-warn the media (particularly TV channels) so they get all the coverage when they attack.
The article speaks of Arnab Goswami attacking activists verbally on his show. I remember watching his interview of Arvind Kejriwal and Shanti Bhushan during the Jan Lokpal movement where I actually ran word counts on the transcript and Arnab had spoken over 200 words more than both his guests put together. The intervew barely listened to anything they had to say.
Is it a coincidence that Prashant Bhushan is a member of the same team as these two - people Arnab has already attacked verbally in the name of interviewing, and a Times Now interview is happening while he is attacked? I don't know, but definitely needs to be investigated, in my opinion, if the crew was tipped about a possible attack and landed up to film it.
In that article she describes OB vans from three Channels present before the attack in position to be able to cover the event live. Times Now was among the channels along with NDTV and News 24.
She also mentions an earlier attack in June by two men on motorcycles after a false report in PTI which was also accompanied by cameramen (coincidence? I doubt). The channel of this cameraman is unknown. I was not able to find the clip. If someone has access to it, please do share link.
The Hoot article lays it out:
Any veteran television person will tell you that the cameraman was prepared and not surprised one bit by the attack ! The fact that the Times Now managed to get a news coup by not only showing this footage exclusively, but later allowing all channels to use it with a Times Now logo suggests that there was more to it then meets the eye.
This, to my mind brings up the question of where the lines blur between reporting and criminal culpability. It is something our media needs to think about. Already, our media has a reputation for covering only commercially viable news. At no time was this in starker contrast than the pathetic coverage of the floods in Assam, the isolation of Manipur, the Sikkim earthquake and the Orissa floods - all these incidents are from this year - from within the last few months and most Indians are barely aware of the dire straits of these places.
I have remarked in another article the need for these calamities to be covered adequately because lack of awareness results in lack of aid for those who need it desperately. It was the ultimate in irony that a prominent news channel was soliciting photos of floods in some areas of Delhi by its readers, when over 2 million people had been displaced and thousands of villages submerged in Orissa.
The Hoot article is a must read because of the many examples it brings up and the worrying pattern it points out with regards to ethics in coverage. One sentence that stays in my mind is:
Rogue media cannot be allowed to go unchecked as it tarnishes everyone in the business.
And I wonder if it is already too late to trust media to self monitor.
Update: Much after this post was published, an attack on a Mangalore Homestay by thugs from the Hindu Jagran Vedike led by Subhash Padil also took local media along, though in that case the journalist alerted the police and later provided statement about happenings in the assault.
Tajinder Bagga of the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena has officially joined the BJP and is currently known to be spreading disinformtation against the AAP in Varanasi and Delhi to support Modi's win in the Lok Sabha Elections.
Hindu Jagran Vedike was disowned by the BJP, but the head of the Woman's Commission for Karnataka, Manjula C of the BJP Mahila Morcha blamed the teenage victims for the brutal assault on them, as various other Sangh members defended the assault. HJV is known to be a sort of youth wing of the RSS and had represented them in kabaddi tournaments a couple of months before the attack, even as their leaders were denying any association.