Can Arvind Kejriwal and AAP Change Indian Politics? — Sadly, No
Are Delhi elections a paradigm shift in Indian politics? Many might believe so but I don't think that is true. In my opinion, there is a little deviation but the paradigm is the same. It’s better if we call it an extension of the paradigm which has potential to create a new narrative. And if at all that were to happen, it will be the reason for worry for the BJP and Modi. Similarly, it is pertinent to ask if Kejriwal can transport the same magic outside Delhi.
The BJP under Modi has constructed a paradigm which has Hindutva at its soul. But it transforms into a lethal political strategy when it is married to the narrative of development—and that was extraordinarily propagated by Modi. His propagandist mentions of the ‘Gujarat Model’, along with Hindutva, hypnotised a large section of Hindu voters.
Modi’s clean image added a further bite to this cocktail. This was a new paradigm which changed India’s politics. When in 2019 experts thought that Modi’s magnetism was over, they were in for a rude shock. Modi won with increased numbers. But this miserably failed in Delhi elections. A clever manipulation of this cocktail by AAP turned the tables on Modi himself.
Both AAP and Kejriwal Have Changed Since 2013
Kejriwal’s success lies in innovative politics. In 2013, he offered a new narrative— clean politics, which was a legacy of the Anna Movement. When Arvind Kejriwal challenged traditional politics, it was lapped up by Delhi voters. A newborn party created history, winning 28 seats with 29% votes.
The BJP, despite getting the same percentage of votes (32%), was reduced to three assembly seats and AAP numbers jumped to 67. This was unprecedented and historic.
But enough water has flown in the Yamuna since 2015. In the 2020 assembly elections, AAP—unfortunately—could not be credited for the same motives that had propelled them into an iconic sphere as a political force. Today, AAP can’t be considered to be continuing with the same “clean and honest politics”. It can’t also claim to not believe in the politics based on caste and religion. In 2020, AAP is no longer a transformative party; traditional politics has appropriated it.
Moving Away from Muslims
In 2020, the challenge for AAP was to retain its dominance in Delhi politics. Modi and Amit Shah were willing to walk the extra mile to seek revenge of a humiliating defeat in 2015. The duo again underestimated Kejriwal. Once again, he outfoxed them.
Modi tried to sell his model but it did not work. Kejriwal proved to be smarter. Like Modi, he created a similar mix of development and Hindutva but with a small variation. He adopted Hindu Dharam and Hindu way of life that is “Hindu-ness”, if I borrow a word from Savarkar, but he deleted the “chemical of hate” in his narrative.
Arvind’s recitation of Hanuman Chalisa was a master stroke. His visit to a Hanuman temple on the eve of polling day was a lesson learnt from Modi’s book. Modi had visited Kedarnath a day before the last phase of polling in 2019 parliamentary elections; his pictures and videos were splashed all over the media/social media.
Rather, he blunted BJP’s campaign to portray him as a Muslim appeaser by openly saying that blocking the road at Shaheen Bagh and causing inconvenience to people, was wrong. He shifted the blame on Amit shah and asked why even though he was supposed to be the most powerful Home Minister, was he not removing protestors.
Beating BJP in Its Own Limited Game
The BJP was rattled. Their utterances were despicable, distressing and dangerous and made all the earlier sad rhetoric seem tame. Amidst all this, Kejriwal kept his cool and talked about his Hindu lineage and the work done by his government in the last five years.
AAP has enough to talk about its government’s performance. The supply of subsidised water and electricity and the free rides in buses and metro for women proved fatal to AAP’s opponents. Government schools and hospitals were greatly showcased as the new model of governance.
BJP in Delhi was led by the most incompetent leaders, who had no idea how to counter the guile of Kejriwal.
Modi and Amit Shah committed the mistake of walking the beaten path. The more hatred their leaders generated, the more it alienated itself from the moderate Hindus. The middle class Hindus—for whom Modi was a messiah—were greatly disappointed. If the Congress had been the main opponent, probably this class of voters would have either desisted from voting or would have remained with the BJP. Transformation of Kejriwal into a Hindu leader was welcomed by the moderate Hindu voters. Voting for Kejriwal was a way to show their annoyance with the politics of hate.
AAP’s Newfound ‘Hindu Appeasement’ Is Not Enough to Lure Rural Voters
It is in this context it can be safely said that if an alternate “Hindu politics”—devoid of hate and bigotry—can be created in Delhi vis a vis the BJP’s brand of Hindutva then it will pose a serious challenge to BJP’s ideological hegemony.
But can the same magic be replicated in other states by the AAP? Delhi being a city state has its own dynamics. It is fully urbanised with the highest per capita income in the country and 80% of mobile penetration. The majority of the indian states are either semi rural or has islands of urban centres. The AAP has failed to devise an alternate strategy to attract semi rural or rural voters. It has not worked to build a credible organisation outside Delhi.
The party has contested many unsuccessful assembly elections in the past five years, with an exception in Punjab. It did emerge as the main opposition party in Punjab but since then it has self-destructed and is now a fringe player. In Goa, it managed to get 6% votes in 2017 elections but there also it has lost the steam.
Kejriwal’s Unwillingness to Develop Leadership in Other States
The problem with the AAP is that it has no will power to create leadership in states and Kejriwal does not have the willingness too. The BJP and Modi, on the other hand, rely heavily on organisational muscle power.
Additionally, in most of the states two party system is deeply entrenched. A new party devoid of strong regional leaders will find it very difficult to spread its wings despite sympathy for Kejriwal.
Therefore, to imagine that AAP will be able to recreate the same cocktail outside Delhi is very far fetched but the AAP experiment can be replicated by other regional players. And if it happens then it’s a matter of great concern for the BJP and PM Modi.
(The writer is an author and senior political commentator, and can be reached at @ashutosh83B. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)