The political circles in the national capital have been abuzz ever since Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday afternoon expressed his desire to rule as per the principles of Ram Rajya. Participating in a debate in the Delhi Assembly, Kejriwal said that one of his guiding principles would be sending the elderly on free pilgrimage to the Ram Temple being built in Ayodhya on the site of demolished Babri Masjid.
While Kejriwal’s announcements may have come as a surprise to some, those who have followed the origin and politics of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would know that sooner or later this revelation had to happen. Soon after the AAP came to power for the first time in 2013, party’s then leading ideologue Yogendra Yadav was asked about the AAP’s ideological orientation.
Yadav in his customary, convoluted argument, laced with sweet inanities, had said that the party was oriented towards ‘people’s welfare’ and no ideology could be an impediment in pursuing the agenda of welfarism. Yadav, Prashant Bhushan and others from the Left have been ousted from the party, so has Kapil Mishra from the Right.
So what’s the ideology of Arvind Kejriwal led-Aam Aadmi Party? The answer could be sheer opportunism and such positioning which would keep it afloat and politically relevant. The developments of the past year would show that the AAP has hopped agendas to suit its need for survival.
In the months preceding the Assembly election, Kejriwal positioned his party empathetically with the secular intellectuals by not sanctioning prosecution of the student leaders of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). However, closer to the elections, with the BJP pushing hard politics of polarisation in the backdrop of the Shaheen Bagh agitation, Kejriwal distanced his party from the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) agitation.
Why the push for Desh Bhakti
Kejriwal’s announcement on the pilgrimage came a day after his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government presented a Rs 69,000-crore budget centred on “patriotism”, which included installation of 500 flag masts and planning programmes on the lives of freedom fighters across the city. The government has also announced a “Deshbhakti Curriculum”.
Why such ‘Desh Bhakti’ and ‘Ram Bhakti’ by Kejriwal’s party? It’s inspired by two-three political developments in the recent past. First, the Assembly polls in 2020 clearly showed that the party has dented BJP’s Vaishya (Bania) votebank, a fact which was reiterated in the outcome of the recently held bypolls for five corporation seats, where the BJP lost even its citadel—Shalimar Bagh—to the AAP.
Second, the loss of trust among minority voters, a fact made evident by the huge loss the AAP candidate suffered in Chauhan Bangar ward at the hands of the Congress, by a margin of more than 10,000 votes. Chauhan Bangar is in North-East Delhi and completely dominated by the minority community, and was one of the worst-hit areas during the riots.
It’s not just about minorities, the Delhi government’s budget is also almost quiet on what it wishes to do for the farmers. Not to forget that till a few weeks back, Kejriwal government was wooing the agitating farmers from Punjab at Singhu border with all possibe freebies. But the rout of the AAP in the Punjab local polls probably has disenchanted the party leadership with the farmers and they are now looking at consolidating a new-found constituency.
What makes AAP tick
A word of caution for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) here—its agenda of Hinduvta may soon get usurped by the Aam Aadmi Party as it is much better at media positioning than its political rivals. What makes the AAP’s politics ‘precious’ is its malleability and the ability to practice agenda hopping.
The real test for the BJP would be to counter the propaganda which would be embedded in the implementation of the ‘Desh Bhakti Curriculum’. It’s unlikely that the AAP would pitch for the contribution of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru—also abjured by the BJP—but would certainly aim at doing better than the bigger party in eugolising the newly adopted members of the right-wing pantheon, namely Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Over the past few years, the AAP has increasingly proved its cheerleaders wrong who thought that it was an alternative to the Congress, even as the latter has always accused it of being the B-Team of the BJP. This realistion seems to have also dawned on voters at least in Punjab, where a resurgent Congress under Captain Amarinder Singh has regained its supporters lost to the AAP during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the 2017 Vidhan Sabha polls.
However, it would not be out of place to compliment the AAP leadership of consistently reinventing itself despite the poll reverses and setbacks. It is to their credit that they manage to do so despite nothing much to showcase in terms of governance.