Kejriwal Strikes The Balance Between Art and Science in Politics

Kejriwal’s landslide 2020 Delhi polls win proves he has struck the balance between art and science in politics.

Published15 Feb 2020, 03:13 PM IST
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Is politics an art or science? It’s a vexed question that, I reckon, Plato must have struggled with in his time. While I am not an Athenian philosopher, I would wager that politics is a cross between the art of symbolism and the science of electoral arithmetic.

If a politician can dexterously, even perilously, strike a balance between symbolism and arithmetic, ie between the art and science, s/he can win power and cement the ideological base.

Now coming to Arvind Kejriwal’s mind-boggling 62-8 victory over Modi-Shah’s BJP in Delhi. I disagree with people who are accusing Arvind Kejriwal of soft communalism. They cite his silence on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the fact that he steered clear of Shaheen Bagh or JNU or Jamia where atrocities were committed on innocent protestors, and, heaven’s, because he read the Hanuman Chalisa, thereby wearing his religion on his sleeve!

But my case is the exact opposite of these naysayers. I believe Kejriwal pulled off a near perfect interplay among symbols, arithmetic, power and ideology, and for that, he needs to be commended, not condemned.

So, What is the Art of Symbolism in Politics?

It’s those actions that create an emotional ether of instant attraction. For example, Kejriwal’s muffler or Modi’s ethnic turbans. Or the bow and arrow that every prime minister of India wields on Dussehra to slay Ravana’s giant cut-out. Or Indira Gandhi riding an elephant through a swollen river to reach the devastated Dalit village of Belchi. Or Rajnath Singh cracking a coconut on the first Jaguar fighter plane. Or again, Modi meditating in a cave in Kedarnath. Or, as we saw this week, Kejriwal beginning his victory speech with Bharat Mata ki Jai and Inquilab Zindabad, appealing equally to his Hindu and Muslim supporters.

And What is the Science of Arithmetic in Politics?

It’s the creation of social coalitions, via political or economic inducements, that become devoted “vote banks” of “the leader”. I know “vote bank” a much-derided phrase, but honestly, all politics is about creating coalitions of followers whose self-interest coincides with yours. There is no shame in it, nothing to get defensive about. It’s the political version of the truism that “if I scratch your back, you will scratch mine.”

When Indira Gandhi abolished privy purses and nationalised banks in the late 1960s, she created a horde of young, left-leaning followers. When Manmohan Singh risked his office to close the nuclear deal with America in 2008, he too ignited the aspirations of a young, post-liberalisation, pro-West generation excited to see India at the global high table.

When Prime Minister Modi destroyed terror camps in Balakot with high precision missiles, abolished Article 370 that many saw as giving a discriminatory special status to Kashmir, got his Attorney General to convince the Supreme Court to allow the construction of a grand Ram Temple in Ayodhya, and cleared the rites of passage for “persecuted non-Muslims” from three Islamic neighbours, he brokered a powerful coalition of voters wedded to the trishul of majoritarian Hindu nationalism.

And now, when Arvind Kejriwal gave free water and electricity to poor and middle class households, free travel for women on public transport, better education in virtually free Delhi government schools, and free pilgrimage to elderly Hindus, he too created an awesome coalition of grateful shanty dwellers, women, parents and senior citizens. And since he is avowedly neutral between Hindus and Muslims, the minority vote was a super bonus for AAP. No wonder he orchestrated perhaps the most stunning re-election in India’s history.

But Die-Hard, Uncompromising Secularists are a Tad Dissatisfied

If he had revved up such an unbeatable combination of voters, why did he need to play the “soft Hindutva” card? Honestly, such a line of questioning ignores the harsh realities of power politics. It ignores the fact that an electorate is fallible, that ordinary people are vulnerable to transient biases, they can get swayed by fake religious invocations, they often need an emotional anti-dote to negative symbolism. So, if Arvind Kejriwal had to sing the Hanuman Chalisa or maintain a stoic/strategic silence on the Citizenship Amendment Act, we must cut him that slack. It was a tactical necessity to win the ultimate war.

It’s what I said at the beginning. A good, effective politician must be allowed to create a delicate balance between the art/symbolism and science/arithmetic of politics. In this case, the forces of communal hate and violence had to be vanquished; those advocating peace and religious equality had to win. And if the ultimate outcome was delivered within acceptable boundaries of ideological compromise, well, welcome to the world of realpolitik! Lage raho (Keep at it) Kejriwal!!

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