Kejriwal Vs Kumar Vishwas Likely To Turn A Whole Lot Ugly

The poet-turned-politician of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Dr Kumar Vishwas seems to have hit the end of his political role in the party with Arvind Kejriwal not responding to even his messages asking for a meeting citing their 12-year-long association. Vishwas' serial messages and phone calls have been resolutely been ignored by Kejriwal for nearly a month now.

The rift is over the three Rajya Sabha seats that the newbie party is entitled to and it has exposed the endemic ugly infighting of the party. Vishwas first went public in an interview to me for NDTV and laid claim to one seat. For himself.

Kejriwal feels that Kumar Vishwas, who, along with him and Manish Sisodia founded AAP, tried to plot a coup against him and is unshaken despite Vishwas getting his supporters to pitch tents at the AAP office, demanding the party honour their request. Vishwas feels hard done by in forever being the bridesmaid and never the bride and let down by his friends who themselves have accrued lofty offices.

To ensure that Vishwas was outsmarted, Kejriwal is learnt to offered the three seats to several "eminent personalities", but without any luck. Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan said a public "no thanks"; quieter but similar responses were allegedly issued by rebel BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, former Supreme Court Judge T S Thakur, well-known lawyer Gopal Subramanium, industrialist Sunil Munjal and Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy.

One of those who rejected the offer told me on the condition of anonymity that he felt he could not jettison his reputation on the maverick politics of AAP. "What if I were asked to make a personal attack on Modi in the House?" he asked.

After the string of nays, senior AAP leader Sanjay Singh has made the cut and is preparing his documents. Two outsiders, N D Gupta who is a chartered accountant, and Sushil Gupta, a businessman earlier associated with the Congress, are on the shortlist, according to media reports. This will effectively end the Upper House dreams of all senior AAP leaders including former journalist Ashutosh who was apparently in strong contention. Both cadre and legislators are reportedly upset. AAP MLA, Alka Lamba openly punted for former banker Meera Sanyal on social media, saying that Sanyal deserved the Rajya Sabha seat. A senior AAP leader tried to gloss over the problem by saying "We see Ashutosh as Lok Sabha material" to justify his exclusion.

Delhi minister Satyendra Jain and two other legislators have been tasked by Kejriwal to ensure that AAP legislators vote for the two outsiders. A party was held by one of the hopefuls and attended by over 40 MLAs last week.

Sources say that the rift between Vishwas and Kejriwal began over "nationalist" issues. Sources close to Vishwas say that he openly chided Kejriwal for questioning the surgical strikes against Pakistan and for pandering to "Khalistani elements" in the Punjab election. They say he was asked to back off and told not to campaign in Punjab. Vishwas blames a coterie around Kejriwal for his fall from grace and had told me on record in his exclusive NDTV interview that Kejriwal was clearly threatened by him and his popularity among the public and workers.

Vishwas is now a virtual pariah in AAP with all senior leaders steering clear of him. He has been dubbed an "RSS agent". To make his outcaste status clear, he is not even invited to the book releases of party members.

Sources close to Vishwas deny the coup charges but they seem to have stuck.

The Vishwas problem poses a larger dilemma for AAP. The idea of sending eminent people to the House of Elders was a sound apart from the obvious element of checkmating Vishwas. But, the fact that all the "eminences" want to stay miles away from AAP show the limitations of the politics adopted by it.

AAP as a party is isolated in the opposition with the Congress, which it decimated in Delhi stubborn, in its refusal to act in concert with AAP which it dismisses as the "B" team of the BJP. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and a section of the Left have tried hard to talk the Congress around, but to no avail. Kejriwal's politics of name-calling have ensured that senior leaders of other parties remain wary even though he has stopped all personal attacks on Modi.

AAP was a maverick disruptor when it started out but the acrimonious exit of senior leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav and the imminent end-of-the-road for Vishwas reinforces the criticism of Kejriwal as an authoritarian leader who won't tolerate any strong leaders. This has upset workers who have an emotional bond with Vishwas.

While on the surface, things are calm, and Kejriwal's writ will run, expect AAP-style fireworks of sting operations and CDs as part of the inner war.

The Vishwas camp says he was offered a Rajya Sabha seat by the BJP when Navjot Sidhu quit the party and bolted for the Congress and he rejected it. Now after this public snub, expect very public washing of very dirty linen.

After the final meet tomorrow where the candidates will be finalized and publicly declared, the poet, who will not attend the session, may go public with his pain.

Kejriwal has the edge, but both sides will play low. No wonder the "eminent" said no.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.