Once a close associate of Arvind Kejriwal and feisty television spokesperson during the mercurial rise of the Aam Aadmi Party, Shazia Ilmi is now set to play a new political innings with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In an interview with HuffPost India, Ilmi opened up about the turbulent days leading up to her resignation from the party that Kejriwal spun off from the popular anti-corruption agitation helmed by Anna Hazare. Ilmi described her sense of complete disillusionment with the AAP ideology, her disenchantment with its leader Kejriwal and the dissatisfaction of various workers within the party before she decided to finally quit, stating, in a widely covered press conference, that she was “systematically marginalized”.
Ilmi, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party this month but won’t contest the upcoming state assembly elections, said AAP is “all over the place” at the moment because of a leadership crisis within the party and an Orwellian power structure.
“From a cause, it has become a cult,” Ilmi said.
"They have no women leaders. The answer to every problem is Arvind Kejriwal."
“They have no women leaders. The answer to every problem is Arvind Kejriwal, what about him we don’t know, what does he stand for, what is the blueprint… all issues are very muddled right now. They are all over the place,” she said.
Part of the problem with the party, Ilmi said, was its lack of decentralization of power and its founding-leader who once fired the imagination of thousands--from students keen to volunteer for the ‘cool’ new party led by social-media friendly politicians to autorickshaw drivers who had an ally in Kejriwal and common people fed up with deeply ingrained corruption in government.
“I feel Arvind is a very immature leader, he should learn to trust more people, he should learn to be more inclusive, show more maturity and must appreciate voices of dissent and acknowledge those who have stood beside him,” said Ilmi.
“Systematically I got marginalized. I think he (Kejriwal) invites people, they go to him happily and once he feels they’ve given whatever they have to and their relevance is over he finds no use for them and dispenses with them,” said Ilmi.
Ilmi, 44, contested the 2013 Delhi elections from the RK Puram seat and lost to Anil Sharma of the BJP by a narrow margin. In 2014, she contested the Lok Sabha election from Ghaziabad but lost to VK Singh. She quit AAP on May 24, 2014.
"When I told Arvind, he told me to back off because this guy is Manish’s man. So it’s like, you want to raise questions but if you raise questions on their buddy’s behavior you cant."
“In Ghaziabad, where Manish Sisodia’s brother-in-law runs things, a convener, a very uncouth guy who was extorting money from me, slapped a girl in front of me. When I complained about him, I was told ‘look he’s Manish’s man’ and I should back off. When I told Arvind, he told me to back off because this guy is Manish’s man. So it’s like, you want to raise questions but if you raise questions on their buddy’s behaviour, you cant,” Ilmi said. Manish Sisodia is a former journalist and an AAP leader.
Kejriwal tweeted on June 7, 2014 that he would try to get Ilmi back to the party. Ilmi dismissed it as a gimmick.
We will also try to get shazia back— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) June 7, 2014
“He does these things for effect. He uses people. He made people give up their jobs but basically for his own expediency,” she said.
"I didn’t want to be a sacrificial lamb."
Ilmi, a member of a prominent Muslim family in Kanpur with a deeply political background, alleged that Kejriwal stopped taking her calls.
“I was so close to Arvind…. we would sit down and discuss things, we had no issues, Arvind refused to take my calls, his assistant was misbehaving with me,” she said.
I Begged Arvind To Let Me Contest From Delhi
She attributed part of the reason behind her loss in RK Puram and Ghaziabad to Kejriwal’s no-show during campaigning and not letting her contest from a seat of her choice.
“It was ‘goondagardi’ what they did in Ghaziabad… I had to beg Arvind to come to Ghaziabad,” she said. “I knew people in Delhi, (I told him) either don’t make me contest from anywhere or give me Delhi, because I know Delhi. I just barely lost from RK Puram, that too because of Arvind not showing up.”
She said the party was very angry because she refused to contest from Ghaziabad. “They had selective leaks in media. Then Manish and his brother-in-law landed in my house and for three days they were parked.” They were trying to convince her to contest from Ghaziabad, she said.
“I did not leave on my own. I don’t know what is wrong with Arvind—he’s a very poor leader—what people tell him to do, he will. Six days before he went to jail, he calls me—he had (by then) stopped taking my calls. He said ‘you are telling everybody you want to leave the party. I asked him which journalist told you this. He said ‘if you want to leave you leave’,” said Ilmi. Soon after, she wrote to the national executive committee to accept her resignation.
“I was constantly being berated,” she said. Ilmi said she was dismayed at how the basic character of the Aam Aadmi Party, which fought for good governance during the days of its incubation, was changing. “It wasn’t meant to be a party. Arvind swore several times he will not go for elections, he doesn’t want to enter politics. I was really dismayed,” she said.
Dismayed so much that she decided to join a party she was once fiercely critical of?
Ilmi said she’s worked closely with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP's ideological parent, and has no problems with the Hindu hardline outfit. She was quick to justify her move to the BJP.
“The India against corruption movement has been in place since 2011, if you remember, in 2011 we were critical of Congress and BJP was backing us, only when we became a party we were a threat to them and BJP was no longer an ally. I would never have joined BJP six months back. But there are some good people out there, and the dodgy characters have been edged out, there is a lot of discipline at the top, the bureaucracy has been streamlined,” she said.
The Aam Aadmi Party today is like an old Congress or BJP, she said.
“I’ve not heard any mention of Ram Mandir.”
Kejriwal, she said, has “still managed to hoodwink a lot of people but the important space that was created is taken away.”
I Don’t Need To Endorse Ghar Wapsi
How does she plan to reconcile her Muslim identity with the aggressive Ghar Wapsi (reconversion) campaign by several outfits affiliated with the RSS?
Ilmi said she has asked senior party leaders about the reconversion of Muslims to Hinduism. “I told them clearly I will not endorse these things. They said we don’t want you to endorse these. Muslims have always been political slaves (to secular parties). They should in fact negotiate a better deal with all parties,” Ilmi said.