AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal paid a visit to Hanuman temple and recited Hanuman Chalisa before the elections. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)
My Facebook newsfeed is full of conditional cheers on the Aam Aadmi Party’s victory over the Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi: liberals and radicals clarify that they are happy the BJP has lost; but not happy that the Aam Aadmi has won, for the AAP is, they say, a soft-Hindutva party.
Hindutva politics is the politicisation of a majority community created around symbols, united with an anti-minority agenda, and nurtured around perceived fears and insecurities. What has the AAP or its most visible and central icon, Arvind Kejriwal, done to fit this bill?
Between 2014 and 2019, the AAP has done the usual things secular and progressive politicians are expected to do: visits to Dadri for Akhlaq and Hyderabad for Rohith Vemula, invite to Ghulam Ali to sing in Delhi when he was not allowed to conduct a concert in Mumbai, opposition to the Modi government against bigoted steps, support to Kanhaiya and Najeeb and so on. This so-called anarchist-activist of a politician has not been reported to have pitted any community against any other or come up with any that could support the politics of polarisation.
Then there are these notions, repeated ad nauseum, but are, as a matter of fact, baseless: Kejriwal used to work with the RSS when the person who he used to work with was Mother Theresa. The AAP is an anti-reservation, anti-Dalit group is another idea manufactured in the social media: again, factually wrong. Kejriwal has categorically said he supports caste-based reservation. Delhi schools teach the Constitution and Ambedkar as a response to the Hindutvaisation of curriculum by the BJP.
The most valid reason to call the AAP soft Hindutva is AAP’s silence on CAA and NRC? As for facts, it did: In the Rajyasabha, out on the street and in TV rooms. The AAP MLA from Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Shaheen Bagh MLA Amanatullah Khan were initially with the protesters and went off the scene later, as it went on to be framed as a movement without political affiliations. Atishi and Raghav Chadha were on national TV opposing the BJP government on CAA and NRC. Arvind Kejriwal also criticised the Bill as anti-poor, unnecessary, unfair and absolutely impractical in its arbitrariness. Had Kejriwal not supported Sisodia or Amanatullah Khan, he would have either distanced himself from them or not given them seats in the election. But neither of this happened clearly messaged on where the AAP and Kejriwal were. The lower class, lower caste, Muslim women’s movement for actualising the promises of Constitution of India is far bigger than any party or any leader, after all.
Then why wasn’t the Delhi elections fought on the CAA and NRC? Well, it actually was. But the issue was introduced into the election by the BJP as the central part of their campaign. The BJP wanted to fight the election on national subjects and the AAP wanted to fight it on local issues. Had Kejriwal, the central AAP figure, gone to Shaheen Bagh, it would have also ended up fighting the Delhi assembly elections exclusively on a national issue, abandoning the local frame - a sure route for Kejriwal to make a Waterloo out of this election.
Why doesn’t Kejriwal ever attack Hindutwa head-on, in their own terms? It depends on our ways of being anti-majoritarian. If anti-majoritarianism is an exercise in giving perfect sound-bite rebuttals, Kejriwal is woefully unappealing. But fascism or majoritarianism is people’s consensual crowding around a single saviour when they feel scared and helpless. Theoreticians have pointed out how it is not people being cheated into supporting a fascist; but how they want one at a particular point in history. Giving people a sense of participation and belongingness against a politics in which they feel not participatory citizens of a Republic but the hypnotised, disconnected spectators of a huge spectacle of power, is, itself an anti-fascist project. So the AAP does have an efficient anti-majoritarian strategy. Social development action, a necessary supplement to social justice rhetoric abandons the agenda of majoritarianism while soft Hindutva follows it way behind, slowly but surely - corrupt and tokenist.
One disappointing and unacceptable step from Arvind Kejriwal was the immediate tweet supporting the abrogation of Article 370, where he hoped the abrogation “will bring peace and development in the state”, after which he has not said anything on the matter. The problem was not the abrogation itself, for, as this article which has ceased to be anything more than an emotional and symbolic issue for decades now, much can be said on both sides. But there could be nothing to be ambiguous in the dictatorial and clandestine way in which the abrogation was imposed on a people. As a person who introduced participatory democracy in popular Indian politics, it was only grammatical for Kejriwal to oppose the manner. Similarly, a champion of federalism himself, the relegation of a state to a Union Territory, couldn’t have been acceptable to Kejriwal. This is one place where he acted like a person scared of his constituency and shows one dangerous side of his variety of populism -- with a shift towards the right, mass, effective leaders will find it difficult to take certain kinds of positions. This is where systematisation of political values matter.
As for Kejriwal going to the Mandir and singing Hanuman Chalisa when asked if he knew the Chalisa cannot be equated with a political procession chanting even “Ram Ram”, a routine salutation of North Indian Hindus, leave alone “Jai Sri Ram”-- a Hindutva modification on it. What Kejriwal did was a public performance of the personal, without socialising it as a mantra for his party or people. It is a change for Kejriwal also: he was championing the Nehruvian scientific legacy in his first term, and now his Hanuman seems to rhyme with Gandhi’s Rama. As this is not an argument about liberalism but about secularism, both models should work.
In short, the problem is not that the AAP is not anti-majoritarian or anti-BJP enough, but it is not opposing the BJP precisely in the way liberals and radicals want them to. It is important to take cognizance of this aspect, lest the purist narratives, cynical in their dogma, will end up causing the loss of allies in a collective, anti-majoritarian struggle.
Why does the AAP look like the party that is not helped by its history, work, the social base of urban poor, youth and women and five years’ progressive governance when it comes to being called soft-Hindutva? Why are they seen as culprits unless proved innocent?
The AAP is the political formation of a new social class. Neither they themselves nor the commentators are clear about what trajectory the party will take in the future, precisely because the very social category, its basis, is still getting formed; the pendulum is still oscillating. In the class war between the new urban middle class with political Hinduism as the ideological cement and the urban poor with upper/middle caste volunteer leadership and pragmatic constitutional nationalism as its binding force, the liberal-radical commentators who largely belong to the feudal families and has a certain progressive, left vocabulary suddenly might be finding themselves in a vacuum- neither social experience nor vocabulary offers any solace of familiarity. It must understandably be scary and alienating to deal in political narratives that look like such an unknown territory of rank outsiders. One way to handle such incomprehensibility is to narrate it in available terms, translate the whole social phenomenon to known boxes and thus exhaust its possibilities in predictions- an exercise in political astrology. Not a bad idea in itself but it is good to be realistic and honest about what is being done.
(N P Ashley teaches English at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi)