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Posts Tagged ‘Yogendra Yadav

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Yogendra Yadav is gearing up for the Haryana Assembly elections. As he criss-crosses the state, the AAP leader tells Sonia Sarkar that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral campaign was brilliant and that he wants to learn from it

Some say the bubble’s burst, but Yogendra Yadav will have none of that. He has hit the road and is travelling across Haryana to talk to workers of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which emerged with a bang last year and now appears to have dwindled into a whimper. Yadav, the soft-spoken face of the party, is gearing up for the polls in Haryana, slated to be held later this year.

Clearly, AAP — Arvind Kejriwal’s political alternative — is putting its house in order. “We have to focus on our sangathan (organisation), sampark (connect with people) and sambad (communication) before the Assembly elections,” Yadav says, talking about the party’s new programme, Mission Vistaar. “We are discussing the lessons that we have learnt from the Lok Sabha elections.”

AAP’s rise and fall took place almost at the same velocity. It rose to its peak by winning 28 of the 70 seats in the Delhi elections in 2013, and almost turned to dust a few months later, winning only four of the 400 seats it contested in the Lok Sabha elections held this summer.

Among those who lost — a grand list that also includes party leader Arvind Kejriwal — was Yadav, whose 80,000 votes from Gurgaon put him in the fourth place.

“In the course of campaign, I knew I was No. 3. I didn’t know I would come down to No. 4. That was a disappointment,” he says.

Yadav, occasionally wearing the party’s trademark boat-shaped cap and otherwise fiddling with it, is on his way from Panipat to Ambala, where he has a meeting with party leaders. Our conversation continues as he stops at a roadside dhaba for a cup of tea, which he has with the paranthas and aloo sabzi that his sister has packed for him.

He plans to travel to all 21 districts of Haryana to understand how to make a fresh start before the state polls. “We are trying to reach the last person in every district,” he says.

The Lok Sabha poll results came as a shock to AAP leaders, who had thought they’d perform a lot better than they did. Party chief Kejriwal, in fact, had claimed that it would win 100 seats. “That was his political judgement. Before the Delhi elections, he’d said we’d get 47 seats, but we got 28,” Yadav says.

“Getting 100 seats or so was an unrealistic hope. I have a technical background. I didn’t say a word on the number of seats because I knew we were going for a single digit win,” the psephologist adds.

But he also believes that if the euphoria that was created after the Delhi victory had continued till the end of the general elections, the party could have ended up with 100 seats. “Dilli chunaao ke baad hamari aadat kharab ho gayi thi (we got spoiled after the Delhi elections). That time, our feet were not on the ground. That sort of quick success brings you to power sooner than you deserve. But the people punished us for quitting Delhi,” he admits, referring to AAP’s decision to exit power after ruling for 49 days. The excuse was the failure to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill — an anti-graft platform that the AAP rode to power on.

The buzz in political circles is that it was Yadav who advised Kejriwal to step down.

“I shared the view that if we could not pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in Delhi we had no moral right to remain in the government. But I wanted this decision to be taken in consultation with the people, which did not happen,” Yadav rues.

The differences of opinion within the AAP are out in the open. People have been walking out of the party ever since the poll debacle. Yadav, too, resigned from the political affairs committee last month. In a letter to his colleagues, he referred to the lack of organisational building, absence of mechanism for consulting volunteers and policy deficit as among the many drawbacks in the party.

“This is not the first time that I have raised these questions. This time the public got to know about my concerns because the letter was leaked. Though it is a cause of embarrassment that it is out in the public, I am not ashamed of what I said,” adds Yadav, whose resignation was not accepted by Kejriwal.

In his letter, he said Kejriwal behaved like a party “supremo” and not a leader. It’s not a subject that he wants to elaborate on, but says, “I write more carefully than I speak, so I would rather that my written words be trusted.”

But Kejriwal, he adds, has an “extraordinary ability” to pick a single relevant fact from a heap of irrelevancies. “He has a superhuman capacity to remain focused. He has the gift of bringing people together.”

Yadav and Kejriwal have known each other from the time Kerjiwal ran a non- government organisation called Parivartan to press for the implementation of the Right to Information Act. Yadav had held public hearings on the then newly-appointed Central Information Commission on behalf of Parivartan.

But it was Anna Hazare’s drive against corruption in 2011 that brought the two together, though Yadav had his doubts about the movement.

“I thought it was a very positive movement but didn’t like it the way they were carrying it forward. I told Kejriwal that if he wanted to do satyagraha, he had to read Gandhi. I thought he would never get back to me because not many people like criticism. But he did, and asked me to be a part of the movement. And I joined them.”

Yadav — with his well-modulated voice and felicity with words — was soon one of the leaders of the party that was formed in late 2012. It helped that he spoke both Hindi and English fluently. “I learnt my Hindi from textbooks and Doordarshan. So my Hindi does not bear any regional influences,” says Yadav, dressed in a blue cotton kurta with white pyjamas.

Originally from Saharanwas, near Rewari in Haryana, Yadav, now 50, grew up in Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar, where his father was a lecturer in economics.

Yadav says that his father was seven when he saw his own father, a hostel warden in a Haryana school, being killed in a communal riot in Hissar in 1936. “The rioters wanted the Muslim children in the hostel,” he says. “My grandfather told the rioters he would rather have his head chopped. So they chopped off his head. My father saw it all happening,” Yadav narrates.

It was this incident — and the Hindu-Muslim killings during Partition — that made his secular father name him Salim. AAP workers brought the name up during Yadav’s electoral campaign in Haryana, leading to a barrage of scornful tweets and comments on social media sites, describing it as a gimmick aimed at the Muslim vote.

But though the name is used by some friends and family, most people know him as Yogendra. Yadav explains that he asked his parents to change his name because his Muslim name led to taunts in school when he was a small boy. “So I was rechristened Yogendra,” he says.

Unfortunately, he adds, the communal divide that his father witnessed as a child continues to haunt India. “The new generation of India wants to move forward. They don’t want to be in the shadow of 1984 or 2002 but politics will not allow them to do so. It wants to drag them back,” he says.

His own political leanings were given shape when he was studying in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University by socialist leader Kishan Patnaik, who headed a political body called Samata Sangathan.

“My initiation into public life, in fact my understanding of politics, dates back to that period. But party politics of the visible kind is a new thing in my life,” he says.

Yadav, who taught politics at Punjab University for eight years, joined the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for the Study of Developing Studies in 1993. Under the United Progressive Alliance government, he was a member of the National Advisory Council, from which he resigned, and the University Grants Commission, from which he was removed last year.

A political observer for many years and an able number cruncher, the Phanishwar Nath Renu fan now finds himself knee-deep in politics, leaving him with little time for reading or writing (“that’s a deep regret”), or for his family — wife Madhulika Banerjee, who teaches political science in Delhi University, daughter Sufi, 15, and son, Sahej, 10.

“The first thing I do every morning is check the newspapers to see if there is a stupid story about AAP,” he says.

He also wants to learn some lessons from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral triumph. “It was a brilliant campaign executed to near perfection. If you get two seats in Parliament, you should not lose hope, you should continue to work,” he says, referring to the BJP’s 1984 electoral defeat which left it with just two members of Parliament. “One needs to be consistent for a long time to be able to achieve anything,” he says.

Yadav is doing that, as AAP gets ready to rewrite its own story.

 

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“How can I join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP),” the Facebook user asks on her page. The answers come in droves. “Here’s a list of offices in the cities,” someone replies. Another user sends a link to an academic for membership forms. “I have made my first member,” he exults when the academic duly fills it in.

When it comes to volunteers and members, AAP should have no complaints. After winning 28 seats in the just concluded Delhi Assembly elections, Magsaysay winner Arvind Kejriwal’s outfit, started only over a year ago, is raring to go. But where will it go, and how?

“We have to go beyond television interviews. We have to go places,” senior AAP member Yogendra Yadav tells visitors pouring in from all parts of India to congratulate party leaders. “We have to find out if we can spell this magic in the rest of the country.”

The 2014 general elections are round the corner. Voters tired of the existing political parties are pinning their hopes on AAP. But its leaders stress that it’s too early for them to take a decision on how many seats they will contest out of the 543 parliamentary constituencies.

“We don’t intend to form a government (at the Centre) but we are sure that we can win 50 seats or more,” senior advocate and AAP national executive member Prashant Bhushan says.

The party has already started taking baby steps to that effect. Its youth leader Kumar Vishwas may fight against Congress’s Rahul Gandhi from Amethi. “I don’t claim I’ll win. But I want to challenge dynastic politics,” says Vishwas, who teaches Hindi literature in Ghaziabad’s Lala Lajpat Rai College.

The party leaders realise that they have to strike while the mood is in their favour. “We have to be quick. If we don’t respond to the wave now, it might go up in thin air,” Bhushan warns.

Growth is already being mapped. Since it was formed in the aftermath of Anna Hazare’s 2011 anti-corruption movement, the party now has a presence in 309 districts across 22 states, with active units in Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, besides Delhi. New units are being opened in Bangalore and Kochi.

Mumbai’s offices have expanded in recent times with donors giving the party space in Kandivali, Borivali, Mulun, Ghatkopar, Andheri (W) and Santacruz. Mumbai secretary Preeti Menon says 3,000 volunteers are active in Mumbai. “There is a momentum building up across Maharashtra,” Mumbai-based national executive member Mayank Gandhi says, adding that he received around 1,000 text messages from people wanting to join AAP after the Delhi results were out.

The leaders, however, admit that AAP’s magic worked in Delhi because it was the centre of Hazare’s anti-corruption movement. Its name — which means common people — and its symbol, the broom, also touch a chord in the masses.

But what worked in Delhi may not bear fruit at the national level. For one, the party does not have the numbers needed for general elections. “Though we don’t lack leadership qualities, we have a dearth of recognised leaders at the national level,” Yadav says. “The problem is many in the party are reluctant politicians,” a senior AAP leader adds.

Decisions on candidates will be taken in the next few months, but the focus will be on those with a clean image. AAP will also assess the candidate’s strength in a particular constitution and his or her leadership qualities.

“The real challenge is the screening,” says Gandhi. “Recently, a BJP leader came to me and asked what post he would get if he joined us. I told him that if he was joining the party for a post, this was not the place for him.”

AAP members claim that their party is inclusive — and that will continue to be its focus. Of the 12 newly elected Scheduled Caste MLAs in Delhi, nine are from AAP. The three women MLAs in the Delhi Assembly are all from AAP which, however, fielded only six women for the 70-seat Assembly.

“We need more women participation,” agrees party spokesperson Shazia Ilmi, who was fielded from R.K. Puram and lost by a small margin.

But almost all the 28 candidates who won in Delhi were novices, Patparganj MLA Manish Sisodia stresses. “That clearly proves that people vote for the party, and not for an individual.”

The main problem that AAP is now going to face is the lack of an organisational structure. While the list of volunteers is never ending, it doesn’t have the manpower that parties such as the BJP and Congress have.

“We have researched and found that for a Lok Sabha election, there are 15-18 lakh voters in each constituency and an average of 14,000 polling booths. We need three volunteers to man each booth,” a Mumbai volunteer says.

The party also feels that it has to expand in the east. “In Bengal, people were disappointed with the Left and pinned their hopes on chief minister Mamata Banerjee. But they are now disillusioned by her, and are looking for an alternative. That’s our constituency, and we have to tap it,” Yadav says.

The mood in Odisha is upbeat. There is talk of the party joining hands with the Maoist frontal organisation Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh. “We want people to see AAP as a grievance redressing party,” AAP Odisha convener Nishikant Mahaptra says.

But to expand, the party needs resources. The offices have mostly all been donated, the furniture and computers have come free and the workers are all volunteers. The Delhi election is believed to have cost the party Rs 20 crore, which came from donations. “But we would need Rs 200 crore to fight the general elections,” Bhushan says.

They may need more. A source close to a former MLA in Maharashtra says that every day one has to spend nothing less than Rs 1.5 lakh when it comes to the Lok Sabha polls. There’s the cost of paying and feeding supporters; besides, in slum areas, women are given sarees and the men liquor as incentives to come out and vote. On election day itself some candidates end up spending over Rs 1 crore, and that’s a conservative estimate, says the source on condition of anonymity. Indeed, Maharashtra BJP leader Gopinath Munde admitted that he spent Rs 8 crore in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, though he backtracked when the Election Commission quizzed him on this.

But even money is not enough to script the success of a political party — it needs political acumen, strong leaders and a mission. AAP’s advantage is that it has emerged at a time when the image of national parties is at an all-time low. “With the decline of the Left, the space for AAP is getting wider as the party talks about real issues,” feels Manisha Priyam, ICSSR fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

Delhi was one step for AAP. It now hopes for a giant leap.



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  • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
  • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...