Behind the storm that engulfed the Aam Aadmi Party this week is the story of thwarted ambitions of Kumar Vishwas, the TRP-friendly singing poet with little political clout.
The debacle in the Delhi municipal elections precipitated a bruising crisis in the ruling Aam Aadmi Party, spotlighting the neglected but the popular leader Kumar Vishwas’ thwarted ambitions.
In the last few days, Vishwas became the face of a mini-rebellion in the party that is quickly coming undone in a quicksand of its own making. After a controversial viralling video, marathon party meetings, emotional television bytes and political threats, the crisis appeared to weaken today when the party offered a role in Rajasthan to him, the state where he began his career as an assistant professor of Hindi.
That the party will fight the election under Vishwas’ leadership in Rajasthan next year is not really an impressive gift to someone who is sulking in front of national television cameras, especially when there is not much traction for the AAP in the northern state.
Is Vishwas’ rebellion over? Was he merely mounting a faux-rebellion?
His list of valid grievances is long. He exploded into national limelight as one of the signature faces on the stage during the Anna Hazare agitation – singing songs, waving flags and shouting slogans. He backed Arvind Kejriwal when he formed the political party, even though his mentor Anna Hazare was opposed to it. The party sent him to one of the toughest political hotspots in India to mobilise the people against Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi in Amethi in a doomed-to-fail David versus Goliath like fight. He could not even save his deposit and got just 25,507 votes, a mere 2.92 per cent of the votes polled in the constituency.
When AAP formed the government, Vishwas did not find any important position. He was a member in the party’s political affairs committee. His sidelining became more apparent as Sanjay Singh – who lived in a room in Vishwas’ home in the early days – became more and more powerful in the party.
But during this time, his popularity as a singing poet rose and he became the darling of Hindi television channels during their Holi diwas shows and poetry competitions. When his name did not appear in the Punjab list of party speakers, Vishwas urged some of his friends in those channels to run the story. It was only after that the party included his name in the second list of Punjab campaigners that was sent to the Election Commission.
Vishwas was not given a significant role in either the MCD or Goa elections.
But what made the sidelining of Vishwas more stark was his growing popularity as a popular cultural figure. His stage shows around the world, in college festivals and the countless kavi sammelans earned him a fortune and an enormous television and digital fan following in the Hindi heartland. He is known among the kurta-salwar wearing Hindi poets as a “dude-kavi” because of his flamboyance and persona.
Much like Navjot Singh Sidhu in Punjab, Vishwas is seen as a part-time politician in the AAP. His disappearing acts, moodiness, and his frequent praise of Narendra Modi haven’t really endeared him to party leaders in the political affairs committee. In September 2014 when AAP was campaigning extensively against the BJP in Delhi, Vishwas praised Modi shocking many AAP followers. He even invited senior BJP leaders such as Om Mathur, Vijay Goel, Ravi Shankar Prasad and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to his birthday celebration in February last year. AAP chief Kejriwal skipped the party.
When the AAP blamed EVMs for the loss in Punjab, Goa and municipal elections in Delhi, Vishwas took a counter position and asked the party to introspect and not blame EVMs. On 14 April, Vishwas released a recorded video message in which he criticised Kejriwal for not taking action against corrupt members of the party.
A leader in the party said Vishwas is not ready to press the exit button yet.
“He just wants to be assuaged and consulted, and for that he is using his association with BJP leaders as leverage to gain prominence in the party. His real ambition is getting a Rajya Sabha seat in 2018,” the leader said on the condition of anonymity.
After the crisis appeared to blow over, Vishwas demanded that there should be no compromise on corruption, nationalism and focus on party workers.
But many in the party said, that even as the crisis quietened today, they are not sure he will stay for long.
“He will go soon. He is not taking us seriously, we are not taking him too seriously either,” the source said.
-Rajgopal Singh is a Reporter at ThePrint. You can follow him on Twitter @Rajgopal88
Picture Courtesy: Twitter @DrKumarVishwas