Kejriwal Isn't Communal, But His Desire Not to be Seen Anti-Hindu May Prove Self-Defeating
The end justifies the means-this
is the essence of the Aam Aadmi Party government's decision to sanction the
prosecution of Communist Party of India leader Kanhaiya Kumar in the sedition
case of 2016.
The end is to deny the Bharatiya
Janata Party the opportunity of labeling the AAP and its leader, Arvind
Kejriwal, as anti-national and anti-Hindu, which are presumed to be obstacles
impossible to surmount in any election in the Hindi heartland.
The means: it all depends on the
exigency of the circumstance.
For the moment, it is Kejriwal's
conscious decision to dispel any notion that he is sympathetic to Kumar and,
therefore, anti-national. For the moment, it is also about accepting the
narrative harping on the equivalence of losses that Hindus and Muslims suffered
in the recent Delhi riot, and their roles in it.
approach to politics has as serious an implication as the accusation that the
AAP and Kejriwal have joined the Hindu Right, or have become the B-team of the
BJP, or have embraced Hindutva and its tendency to demonise Muslims.
AAP is certainly not the B-team
of the BJP. Nor is it likely to target and discriminate against the Muslims,
although Kejriwal seems decidedly shy of associating with them. This has
dismayed a segment of Delhiites.
At the nub of their dismay is
Kejriwal's refusal to ideologically challenge the BJP, to even hit out at the saffron brigade
for its gross excesses and glaring omissions. This is in sharp contrast to the
time he would take swipes against the BJP on issues which were not his
business. For instance, he accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of falsifying
his educational qualification. He alleged that the Modi government's claim of
inflicting losses on Pakistan through a surgical strike, in 2016, was plain
In those days, Kejriwal was
obsessed with the idea of discrediting and vanquishing the BJP and Modi. He
But the means to achieve that
goal has changed-he will not challenge the BJP's baiting of Muslims, as was
palpable during the furious election campaign for the Delhi Assembly elections.
He did not also accuse the BJP of organising the recent riots or asking for the
resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah for the collapse of Delhi's policing
system, as AAP would certainly have, say, three years ago.
The explanation for the change
in Kejriwal is presumably his conclusion that the strategy of frontally
confronting the BJP does not pay-it drives away from AAP even those who have
benefited tremendously from his policies.
After failing to win Punjab,
which AAP was widely predicted to win, and a lackluster performance in Goa in
2017, the party lost the Delhi municipal election, and was relegated to the
third spot in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in terms of vote share.
It was then that the AAP decided
to change the means to combat the BJP.
Kejriwal became quieter, supported
the reading down of Art 370, and his party welcomed the Supreme Court judgment
on the Ram temple in Ayodhya, as did most political parties in north India. The
AAP voted against the Citizenship Amendment Act, but as the protest against it
gathered momentum and the women of Shaheen Bagh occupied a busy road, Kejriwal
lapsed into silence on the citizenship issue. He chose to focus on his
governance model of efficiently, and cheaply, delivering public utility
services, and revamping the healthcare and educational infrastructure.
His decision to skirt around the
CAA issue had many to dub him as an opportunist, a political hypocrite.
But with Shah and the BJP resorting to the tactics of communally polarising the
electorate a fortnight before the elections, there were many who revised their
view on his tactics. It was pragmatism, they thought.
But then, after winning the
elections, Kejriwal dashed hopes of all those who thought he would now gun for
the BJP. He did not in his speech delivered during the oath-taking
His responses to the riot were
disappointing, not least because of his little experience to handle social
Yet the most significant reason
for not firing volleys against the BJP was the findings of AAP's surveys, which
it regularly undertook during the election campaign. Until Shah stepped in with
his brazen tactics of communally polarising the electorate late January, the
BJP was predicted to win around 20% of votes. The BJP's vote-share, in a matter
15 days, shot up steeply, ending up at nearly 40%.
The AAP reposed faith in its
surveys because these had correctly, and consistently, found the party trailing
in the eight constituencies they eventually lost in Delhi. These surveys had
also shown that Modi's popularity had not dipped since the 2019 Lok Sabha
elections. The conclusion: many of those who had voted for AAP would switch
their allegiance to the BJP in a Lok Sabha election.
These surveys have had the AAP
to stick to the means adopted to win the Delhi elections. These means are: do
not vilify Modi, do not go against the sentiments of Hindus. To put it in
another way, the BJP should not be given the opportunity to depict Kejriwal and
AAP as pro-Muslim. As long as that charge is shown to be hollow, AAP thinks it can
lure the Hindus, as well as other communities, with its model of
In other words, until the
rightwing Hindu space that the BJP occupies shrinks, there is no hope for the
Opposition, or so the AAP thinks. Many will, obviously, wonder why AAP should
think of electoral strategy now, given that the party cannot be dislodged from
power because of the majority it commands.
The answer is a short one:
Kejriwal and AAP nurse the ambition of building their dovecotes in other
They will seek to conquer Punjab
and Goa, both of which will go to the polls in 2022. It is moot whether the
strategy of sporting the veneer of a political Hindu party will succeed in
Punjab, where the Sikhs dominate, and even in Goa, which has Christians
accounting for 25 percent of its population. A Samajwadi Party leader, in Uttar
Pradesh, told this writer that he was recently approached to join the AAP, but
AAP's decision to adopt Hanuman,
who is considered the god of the plebian, is a means to challenge the BJP's
monopoly of Hinduism-and expand at its expense.
A variation of this theme was
tried by Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who went on a temple spree and was
projected as a janeu-wearing Brahmin and Shiv bhakt to boot. His success was
limited-the Congress pipped the BJP at the post in Rajasthan and Madhya
Pradesh, and improved upon its past performance in Gujarat, but it was blown
away, in the 2019 national election, in these three states.
These examples show the pitfalls
inherent in the AAP's emphasis on its Hinduness. Superficial demonstration of
the Hindu identity, whether by AAP now and the Congress earlier, is very
unlikely to impress the Hindus, who have been, over the years, made to believe
that they are besieged by Muslims. The BJP will invent new methods of fanning
their imagined insecurities and anxieties, and multiplying their grievances.
On this count at least, it is
impossible for AAP to counter the BJP, unless we presume that the former,
subscribing to the-end-justifies-the-means approach, will even resort to the
latter's style of acrimonious, abrasive politics.
Indeed, the limitation of AAP's
attempt to appear neither anti-Hindu nor pro-Muslim is evident from its
response to the Delhi riots. This writer does not include in the weak response the
puerile thinking that had Kejriwal parachuted at the site where the Delhiites
were killing each other, the violence would have magically stopped.
The assailants were trucked into
Delhi from outside; they were there to kill and plunder. Kejriwal is no Gandhi.
No Indian politician is. The sheer helplessness of people against Hindutva mobs
has us pine for a Gandhi in our midst
But it is hard to figure out
why, after the riots ceased, Kejriwal has been only once to the sites of death
and devastation. The AAP has belatedly stepped on the pedal organise relief and
Yet, as Delhi chief minister,
Kejriwal has to initiate reconciliation between the Hindus and Muslims.
This is because the riots have
overnight turned colonies, having both Hindu and Muslim residents, into
homogeneous settlements. Until the displaced Hindus and Muslims return where
they once lived, the social milieu will only be conducive for Hindutva to
This requires hard work and,
above all, taking risks, which the-end-justifies-the-means approach-or, in
other words, appear neither anti-Hindu nor pro-Hindu-might hamstring AAP from
doing so. Unless the severed social bonds between the Hindus and Muslims are
re-forged, and they are taught not to hate each other, the BJP's grip over the
Hindus and Hinduism will not be weakened.
A few defeats will then have
Kejriwal to think of yet another strategy to weaken the BJP, which is certainly
his aim. And so it will be that the
AAP will go round and round, as
if perched on a merry-go-round, seemingly circumscribed to even take a decision
on whether it will oppose the exercise to prepare the National Population
Register, which asks respondents to list the place and date of birth of
parents, much to the fear of many.
The author is a freelance
journalist. The views are personal.