How Arvind Kejriwal Averted a Midnight Coup Within AAP

Kejriwal claims to have "irrefutable evidence" that the BJP attempted to effect a leadership change within the AAP and take over the Delhi government.

New Delhi: Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal faced a full-fledged coup from within his party after the Bharatiya janata Party’s big victory in the recent Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) polls. The Aam Aadmi Party leadership says it now has “irrefutable evidence” that the national BJP leadership had remote-controlled an elaborate plan to effect a change of leadership within the AAP legislative party and take over the Delhi government through water minister Kapil Mishra and Kumar Vishwas.

Mishra was to be projected as the new chief minister after a bloodless coup and Vishwas was to be made national convener, the sources alleged. Kejriwal was alerted in time by some MLAs and a young officer on special duty working in the office of Mishra, after which the attempted ‘coup’ was thwarted by the chief minister taking rearguard action.

According to AAP sources, one legislator called Vishwas on the phone in Kejriwal’s presence and was told by him that 34 MLAs were already on board to effect a change of leadership and only a couple more were needed to get a majority in the assembly. This turned out to be a somewhat exaggerated claim as most of these MLAs were sitting on the fence waiting to see how far Mishra succeeded. The OSD in the water minister’s office also gave some critical inputs to Kejriwal. Armed with this evidence, Kejriwal confronted Vishwas, who denied being part of an attempted coup. Once Vishwas stepped back, the overall plan began to unravel and most of the 34 MLAs pledged allegiance to Kejriwal.

Incidentally, it was soon after this incident that Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan, who was also a member of the political affairs committee (PAC) of AAP, had raised the issue of Vishwas approaching him to engineer a split in the party. He had charged that four MLAs and a minister were also involved in executing the conspiracy to topple the Kejriwal regime.

Though Khan was first ousted from the PAC and later suspended from the party and Vishwas was made party in-charge for Rajasthan, sources in the party say the crisis is far from over.

However, sources close to Kejriwal say the chief minister is under no illusion that his problems are over and that he believes he has won the battle only temporarily. The AAP leader is convinced, they say, that the Centre and the BJP leadership will make further attempts to create dissension within his party – something Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have tried in other states like Assam and Odhisa.

Kejriwal may seem more vulnerable especially after the the BJP’s impressive victory in the UP assembly polls and its big win in the Delhi municipal election. The tendency of politicians in other parties seeking to align themselves with the BJP is evident in Delhi, as in other states. As it is, the Delhi chief minister’s legitimacy has been eroded by de facto governor’s rule in the state, as important files are not being put up before him or other ministers and are instead being cleared by the lieutenant governor. This is what provides ideal conditions for the BJP to effect a coup from within rather than try some messy way of splitting the AAP and luring MLAs to join the BJP, AAP sources say. While this strategy may create sympathy for Kejriwal,  a coup within the AAP will be seen as Kejriwal’s own failure to keep his flock together.

After the BJP’s victory in the MCD polls, the Centre seems to have decided not to press ahead with certain matters that had relevance until the elections. For instance, the Centre’s law officer formally hinted in the high court recently that the LG would not insist on AAP paying Rs 97 crore to the exchequer for all the advertisements placed by the AAP government. The Centre’s law officer said the suggestion that the money be repaid was a mere advisory and not a mandatory order. This gesture also shows the Centre does not want to be seen as creating direct problems for AAP. It would rather depend on a covert strategy to ensure that the party implodes on its own, the sources said.

What is Kejriwal’s strategy likely to be from here on? AAP sources say he will play for time and try to focus on consolidating his hold over the party in Delhi. This will not be easy because he knows the BJP is out to destroy his reputation and the Congress is tacitly happy about it. The charge by Mishra that Kejriwal received Rs 2 crores from another minister is being seen by the party as part of that strategy.

With Kejriwal now fighting with his back to the wall. there is a realisation within the top leadership of AAP that it should move away from personally attacking Modi all the time and focus on issues where the BJP might be very vulnerable. Part of Kejriwal’s fresh strategy will be to coordinate such efforts with other non-Congress opposition parties to create a common front. Party sources said AAP would now also be reaching out to other political parties to join forces on major issues such as unemployment and farm distress. In this regard, it has already begun sending out feelers. But the party is also aware that opposition unity is constrained by CBI and Enforcement Directorate investigations against leaders of various opposition parties, including that of AAP.

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