AAP 'rift' with Yadav, Bhushan is much ado about nothing: Kejriwal will carry the day-FirstPost-By R Jagannathan
The media has reported a rift within the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), with three founder members - Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan and his dad Shanti Bhushan - reportedly unhappy over Arvind Kejriwal's tendency to overturn collective decisions of the party.
Take my word for it, this so-called "revolt" will go nowhere.
The centralisation of decision-making in AAP actually signals its coming of age. First, it is rapidly metamorphosing from a mass movement to a normal mass-based political party, even if its footprint is currently limited to Delhi and some pockets of Punjab; second, it is a clear recognition of the Indian reality that so-called "collective" leadership does not work.
No political party anywhere in India has succeeded in capturing power without a single powerful leader at the top. AAP under Kejriwal has recognised this reality and this is why his personality looms above the rest. The rest can carp and grumble, but only Kejriwal matters for AAP’s mass connect right now. It was the projection of Kejriwal as CM that played a big part in AAP’s landslide win over BJP in last month’s assembly elections. Collective leadership did not contribute much to the win.
The media tends to make a big issue of intra-party differences in political parties but India's political history proves them to be consistently wrong. In the end, only the top leader matters.
Consider the case of the BJP in 2013. The media went to town about the intra-party feuding and LK Advani's dissenting letters opposing the anointment of Narendra Modi as the party's prime ministerial candidate. What happened? Advani is now in the emeritus category, part of the "margdarshak mandal". Modi delivered the goods.
The same happened with the Congress party with repeated splits. Only the party led by a dynastic leader survived. Other splinters (Trinamool and NCP, for instance) did manage to become regionally strong, but nationally they are small fry relative to the Congress party. From Nehru to Indira to Rajiv to Sonia, the Congress has had only one power centre.
Take any regional party in India - DMK, AIADMK, TDP, TMC, JD(U), Samajwadi, BSP, NC, PDP, RJD or LJP - and you will find only one supreme leader, not collective leadership. The CPI(M) and the BJP were exceptions till recently, but it was the BJP's abandonment of collective leadership that enabled the party to break through to a majority in the Lok Sabha.
Collective leadership led it to defeat in 2009. The party's earlier success in the 1996-1999 period was also the result of the building of the Atal Behari Vajpayee cult as the supreme leader.
The CPI(M) still claims to believe in collective leadership, but the party's successes in the past needed a charismatic Jyoti Basu, an EMS Namboodiripad, and VS Achuthanandan to pull it off. At some point, the CPI(M) will also have to acknowledge this reality by anointing a formal CM candidate in the states it hopes to make an impact in.
It is easy to attribute this Indian preference for a strong leader to the advent of TV and the shift to a presidential type of campaigning. But this would be only a surface observation. The truth is this phenomenon of parties with one supreme leader predates the advent of TV or presidential style elections. At best, presidential style campaigns are an adaptation to the Indian voter's need to see someone as supreme leader.
The question then is: why are we like that only?
My answer is that we are too diverse and too argumentative a people to believe that collective leadership can work. Endless argumentation and extreme diversity make it vital for the voter to see some coherence at the top, and a final arbiter when there are differences. Without the supreme leader at the top, we find it difficult to believe that there can be order amidst argumentative chaos.
Collective leadership is for homogeneous societies, not diverse societies which have yet to establish a truly neutral rule of law. When the latter does not exist, we want individuals to make the law to end arguments and disputes. In a fundamental sense, our preference for strong leaders stems from our realisation that we are a low-trust society and can't easily come to compromises from below.
This is why successful political parties tend not to have collective leadership. Modi proved that in 2013-14. Even in the Congress party today, the problem is the emergence of Rahul Gandhi as a source of dissonance in the party even with Sonia Gandhi as president. One of them will have to move into the background. This is what Rahul Gandhi is trying to force by his "introspective" leave of absence right at the start of the parliament session.
Arvind Kejriwal has discovered the same thing now. His party needs one leader, not a cacophony of leaders, no matter how undemocratic that sounds. Make no mistake: this is a battle Kejriwal will win – and must win - hands down. His detractors will fail.