Till the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo, Mr Arvind Kejriwal dawned on the political firmament of Delhi, and later the country, there was a strong belief that politics in India was the domain of only the thoroughbred traditional politicians who rise from the ranks within the parties they join.
They were considered apt at political jugglery, conveniently shifting stands, ideologically or otherwise, suiting their electoral needs. No dyed in the wool puritans, barring few who stick to ideological moorings.
The advent of technocrat-economists such as Dr Manmohan Singh on the political horizon rightly generated some hope that the politics in the country could head to a new direction. Howsoever Dr Singh tried to be different, in fact he made no worthwhile effort to look different, he could not loosen the grip of the traditionalists.
As the IITean Mr Kejriwal dramatically came on the political scene; this hope was once again generated. And there was a reason to it. He promised a different variety of politics squarely based on development and people’s uplift with focus on ridding the society of corruption. And more importantly hit the communal virus at its roots.
The AAP under his stewardship won Delhi Assembly election twice hands down, and later Punjab, but came cropper in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He did come out with some novel ideas and schemes in Delhi which he has been showcasing in his subsequent electoral forays in rest of the country. But the first dilution of this agenda came with his over-reliance on freebies which did play a key role in his election victories.
Come Gujarat assembly elections-2022 the other side of the IITean turned politician was unraveled. It did not happen suddenly but he took the new route systematically and in a planned manner. It reflected the political transformation of a different kind and in the true colour of those traditional and thoroughbred politicians having spent decades in politics.
The transformation in the case of Mr Kejriwal has been quick and surprising for those who were expecting the rise of a new brand of politics free from all maladies. It has become more pronounced as he has set out to pose a serious challenge to Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo on their home turf. Yes, he has been able to create a buzz in the state. Whether AAP succeeds to upstage BJP or not is a million-dollar question. As of today, there is no clear-cut answer.
Apart from his “free power-water-ration” manifesto, what has caused more surprise to even some of his close camp followers is his sudden penchant for religion-based agenda. Is that he wishes to beat the BJP at its own game or he has some other plan down his sleeves? Is he out to finish BJP’s domination over Hindutava agenda?
In this context his two observations made during the course of election campaigning in Gujarat standout in support of his new electoral strategy. Is he really trying to dent the BJP’s strong and hardcore Hindu support base in the state? Ostensibly, the attempt is directed towards that direction. Whether he succeeds or not only time will tell. But it has certainly raised many questions.
Turning the pages back to 2014 when he was leading AAP to contest Delhi Assembly elections. What did Mr Kejriwal observe precisely on February 25, 2014? “Communalism is a bigger problem facing the country than corruption and we have to fight against it.” At that point in time through this observation he was targeting the Congress by using the word ‘corruption’ and the BJP by referring to ‘communalism’ and the religion was nowhere in sight. Even his hardcore Left-wing supporters would not have imagined about the broom wielding leader’s next agenda.
What was behind his two emphatic electoral victories in Delhi? Even his close supporters and public at large believed that Mr Kejriwal became CM of Delhi and real cause behind such big victories was his clean and secular image.
In this backdrop his two latest observations make an interesting and disturbing, at the same time, study. First, he declared that if voted to power in Gujarat, the AAP government will bear the entire expenses of people who want to visit Ayodhya for Lord Ram’s darshan. Yes, it was repeat of a similar programme started by his government in Delhi but reiteration is a pointer towards drastic change in his political thinking.
This statement came in the midst of a row created by one of his cabinet colleagues in Delhi, Mr Rajendra Pal Gautam who purportedly denounced Hindu deities at a programme to oversee mass conversion to Buddhism. More interestingly, Mr Kejriwal went on to declare that the AAP will win the elections “because it is working for the people and for God”.
Was this invocation of Lord Ram’s name in a poll-bound and politically important state a counter to his Minister denouncing Hindu deities? It is unthinkable that the Minister went to the controversial event without Mr Kejriwal’s knowledge given the latter’s stronghold on his party and the government. The question then arises, did his Minister act to a plan to pave way for his leader to harp more vigorously on Hindutava agenda to counter the BJP in its Hindutava laboratory as Gujarat is known?
Yet, in the next leg of his electioneering he sprang another surprise by demanding that the Indian currency notes should have the images of the God and Goddess. He felt it will help fructify efforts to improve the economy. There are many leading economists, among others, who will take this suggestion with a pinch of salt. And rightly too.
Politicians, particularly in the context of elections, can justify everything and Mr Kejriwal seems to be no exception. “I got a strong feeling while offering prayers during Diwali that if the Indian currency notes have these images, it will help fructify efforts to improve the economy.” He tried to justify his poll-mode suggestion but at the same time added a balancing foot-note: “I am not saying that this alone will improve the economy... many other efforts need to be undertaken... but those [efforts] will materialise if we have the blessings of gods and goddesses.”
Mr Kejriwal’s shift from a secular to pro-Hindutava agenda has added a new dimension to Gujarat elections and could be showcased even in Himachal Pradesh assembly elections currently underway despite AAP keeping a low profile since his greater focus is on Gujarat. How will it unfold in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir where assembly elections are likely to be held early next year? This is a significant question given the heterogeneous voter character of the UT and AAP hoping to do well there.
It brings one to the main question if the Hindutava agenda will help Mr Kejriwal to break Modi-Shah core support base in Gujarat? It will be naïve to think that the hardcore and committed voters will bite the bait and suddenly shift to a new camp. It can to some extent allure the fence sitters and those cut-up with BJP government’s functioning.
The other important question which the political pundits and poll observers are either ignoring or paying little attention to is that how will this war over Hindu voters between BJP and AAP impact the chances of the third player the Congress? Who will be benefitted if AAP is able to wean away even a section of BJP’s core?
In this context Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi’s recent observation made at a party conference in Gujarat cautioning the rank and file to remain vigilant against silent campaign undertaken by the Congress, cannot be lightly dismissed.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.