Delhi CM’s ‘Ram Rajya’ Bid: What Explains Kejriwal’s ‘Shift’?
Kejriwal’s ‘change’ is even more surprising because he was never very religious nor an overtly practising Hindu.
Is secularism truly dead and buried in the country? There was a time when the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru objected to the then President of India Rajendra Prasad going to attend the inauguration of the Somnath Temple. His logic was that India is a secular country and the head of the republic should not be seen attending a religious function. Rajendra Prasad did not listen to Nehru. He attended the function which led to a debate over whether or not religion should be confined to the private space and whether or not the State should not involve itself in any capacity.
But the world has changed since then. That definition of secularism holds no meaning today. Mixing religion with politics is the new normal. And no one party is to blame for this; every party shares the blame. The most recent example is the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee reciting the Chandi Path from a political platform, and some time ago, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal proclaimed in his speech in the Assembly that he is a ‘Ram bhakt’.
He told the House that his government was being run along the principles of ‘Ram Rajya’.
Has Delhi CM Swung to the Extreme Right?
Mamata Banerjee is in the midst of a very bitterly fought election campaign. The BJP has changed the dynamics of Bengal politics. Economic and secular issues have been pushed backstage. The main debate in Bengal today is about who is ‘more Hindu’. Till very recently, the state that was dominated by the secular-Left discourse, is now discussing if Ram is a bigger icon or Devi Durga. It is akin to Arvind Kejriwal reciting the Hanuman Chalisa during the Delhi Assembly elections.
If one is guided by the logic that all is fair in love and war, then Mamata Banerjee and Kejriwal can be excused for their audacity during the elections. But it is incomprehensible as to why Kejriwal needs to claim in an assembly session that he is a devotee of both Ram and Hanuman.
Before Kejriwal’s speech, his deputy Manish Sisodia introduced the patriotism curriculum and allocated 45 crores to install a mast for the Indian flag, the tiranga, at 500 places across the state. It indicates that this madness is not without design and that the AAP leadership must have devoted considerable time in preparing a budget on religious lines. Does it mean that Kejriwal is trying to borrow a few tricks from Modi’s book and has swung to the extreme right? Does it also mean that there was a hidden side to Kejriwal which was not known to the larger audience and which is similar to the RSS?
Kejriwal Was Neither an RSS Sympathiser Nor Overtly Religious — What Explains His Change?
Long before he joined politics, Kejriwal was accused of being an RSS volunteer. When his mentor Anna Hazare sat on a hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, it was alleged that the dharna was ‘sponsored’ by the RSS and the portrait of Bharat Mata in the backdrop was offered as ‘proof’ of this. It was also alleged that a few senior RSS leaders had adorned the stage along with Anna and his team, but when the media raised the issue, they all disappeared.
I have always maintained that the Anna Movement was not led by the RSS nor were their leaders involved in any decision-making process. But it could not be discounted that the RSS did not participate in the movement or it did not exploit it for their own ends.
I must also confess that in my entire association with the AAP, I never found Kejriwal to be sympathetic to the RSS or leaning towards Hindutva in any way.
It is for this reason that I never bought the argument by my secular-Leftist friends that he was propped up by the RSS and the BJP to upstage the Manmohan Singh government.
It is in this context that his turn towards the ‘right’ and use of religion to further his politics is a little baffling. It is more surprising because he is not a very religious person or an outwardly practising Hindu.
Kejriwal Isn’t a Career Politician — Here’s His Trajectory
Kejriwal is not a career politician like his peers. He was a senior officer in the income tax department before jumping into the NGO circuit. His entry into politics is by accident. Had the Anna movement not occurred and succeeded, he still would have been working among the poor in some corner of Delhi. He did not plan for politics, it just happened. He has a limited memory of politics and political history of India and his party also does not have any institutional memory of long-term politics.
He is also handicapped by the absence of an ideology. The Delhi Chief Minister also has no interest in acquiring any ideology to fall back on to analyse politics and society and present a future vision. He has some stray ideas.
His politics is more or less guided by the expediency of the daily demand of politics.
In 2012 when he formed the Aam Aadmi Party, politics was operating on a different tangent. The Hindu vote bank had not yet been crystallised, and catering to Muslim voters was still in vogue.
The Kejriwal of that time was seen donning the Muslim skull cap; he was seen in the the company of muftis and maulanas. He used to go for iftar during Ramzan. But since 2014, politics has transformed into a new ecosystem in which catering to the minority audience is almost akin to a political sin, and projecting oneself as a Hindu has become politically beneficial.
Kejriwal chanting the Hanuman Chalisa during the assembly elections was dictated by this paradigm shift.
Why Kejriwal Didn’t Visit Shaheen Bagh or Sites of Northeast Delhi Violence
It was for this reason that Kejriwal did not visit Shaheen Bagh to meet anti-CAA protestors, but he did visit the Singhu Border to meet agitating farmers. In his understanding, the Shaheen Bagh movement was led by Muslims. Similarly, he did not show any interest in travelling to northeast Delhi where riots took place and 53 people were killed. He did not even wait for the investigation about the involvement in the riots of his party councillor Tahir to be concluded, before Kejriwal sacked him from the party.
There were serious allegations that his government did not carry out the rehabilitation programme with the alacrity that was needed in the riot affected area.
Kejriwal was led by the thinking that if he was seen doing any of these things, he would be branded — as a ‘Muslim appeaser’ and therefore, an ‘anti-Hindu’ leader — by the BJP.
Nationalism and patriotism are an integral part of BJP’s Hindutva. Kejriwal has been accused of working against the nation in the past. He was accused of speaking the ‘language of Pakistan’ when he asked for evidence in the Uri ‘surgical strike’. Despite not winning assembly elections since 1998, Delhi is a strong bastion of the BJP and the RSS.
The BJP won all seven seats in 2014 as well as the 2019 parliamentary elections. It has been controlling the Delhi Municipal elections for the last three terms. Kejriwal knows that a minor mistake can throw him out of power. So, to counter the BJP he has to perpetually project himself as a Hindu leader.
Kejriwal Has Been Appropriated by the Same Politics He Once Detested
The Delhi municipal elections are also around the corner. This can be seen as the immediate provocation for the Delhi CM to assert his Hindu identity and claim to being a bigger Ram ‘bhakt’ and nationalist than the BJP. The promise to send senior citizens free of cost for a pilgrimage to Ayodhya is his latest ploy. And it has nothing to do with his religion or ‘Hindu-ness’.
What pains me is that he was a man who was looked to as somebody who would change the landscape of Indian politics and bring some sanity into politics — but now it seems he has been appropriated by the same politics he used to once abhor.
He is now one of them. And has no qualms to be remembered as someone who has ‘forgotten Nehru’ because Nehru is no longer politically expedient.
(Ashutosh is an author, and at present, the editor of satyahindi.com. He tweets @ashutosh83B. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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