Dear Liberals, Don’t Score on Shaheen Bagh by Dissing Kejriwal
Every war is made up of many battles and every war leaves behind a trail of metaphors to live by. Perhaps the most enduring image from the battle of Krojanty in 1939 is that of the Polish cavalry with their lances charging heroically at the German panzers in the face of machine fire from the latters’ cannons. Its emotional appeal almost obscures the fact that the charge yielded little except a mythologized image. The Polish cavalry was forced to retreat and perhaps left wondering if taking a guerrilla army to halt the invasion might have been a better idea.
In the context of the Delhi elections, Kejriwal led AAP was a guerrilla army against the might of the BJP’s absurdly well-funded, managed, and polarising election campaign.
Take for instance their outreach - they did 9 roadshows in comparison with 104 massive scale rallies and roadshows put together for the BJP’s big guns. For the rest they made do with Mohalla Sabhas.
- Arvind Kejriwal led AAP was a guerrilla army against the might of the BJP’s absurdly well-funded, managed, and polarising election campaign.
- It is a leap to assert that by not taking the BJP’s narrative head on AAP has ceded to the politics of hate.
- Is hammering away at lies and naked bigotry by attempting to prove it false the only way to counter it? AAP certainly did not seem to think so.
- A great many commentators who identify themselves as liberals are upset that Kejriwal has not done enough to affirm his faith in secularism verbally.
- It is not necessarily up to politicians to uproot bigotry from the hearts and minds of the people but if they could get voters to set their prejudices aside when voting we would be closer to the spirit of our Constitution than we ever have.
AAP’s Novel Way of Tackling Religious Bigotry
The precision of their battle tactic was also reflected in the messaging. The BJP’s central plank was the rhetoric against Muslims and the anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh. AAP is being accused of skirting that issue and even though AAP MPs voted against the CAA in Parliament and Kejriwal has made some fine points against the CAA on more than one occasion and fiery points against communalism, one might be excused for believing he did not entirely commit himself to the cause because he did not limit his campaign to attacking the BJP on its key planks.
Polarisation is a complex phenomenon. It settles in, amplifies, and manifests itself in mysterious ways. It plays to the gallery; gnaws away the surface of civility to find a kernel of prejudice, and gives it fodder to grow. If left unattended it could get to the most resilient of us; fester like a wound that we cannot stop picking.
But is hammering away at lies and naked bigotry by attempting to prove it false the only way to counter it? More importantly, is it an effective way to counter it? AAP certainly did not seem to think so. By focusing on local policies and governance they delivered a crucial reminder to people that identity politics is hollow—all sound and fury sans substance, and came up with a gentle way to lead them away from picking wounds.
Why Liberals Are Wrong About Arvind Kejriwal
Refusing to let the BJP dictate the agenda is less indicative of ideological compromise than of a tactical move. Focusing on denouncing polarising propaganda is noble but it can also have the opposite effect of entrenching it and forcing even fence sitters to take defensive positions.
Audre Lorde put it best when she wrote, “the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.” How do you respond to being called a Pakistani agent and a terrorist as Kejriwal was? And even if AAP did take on the propaganda relentlessly could they realistically take on the machinery amplifying it with a fraction of the resources?
That sort of clean cut is prime for and palatable to a rare few. On ground, identity seeps into everything. While the average liberal might not think of herself as belonging to the religious or caste community they were born into very often, for the average Indian caste and religious identity is, more often than not, paramount and integral to a sense of self.
Secular politics in this scenario is not keeping distance from religious identity while campaigning as much as not weaponizing it against other communities and keeping it at bay while policy-making.
Hailing Hanuman before a mob attempting to influence and intimidate voters by chanting Jai Shri Ram is as legitimate a protest as sanctimonious reminders to love thy neighbor and value the Constitution. The fight is social as much as political and calling upon an electorate being inundated with vitriol to rethink what it means to be a Hindu is not entirely uncalled for.
In doing so, AAP is also defining the secular voter in the Indian context—one that might be steeped in her identity but does not necessarily vote along communal lines. It is not necessarily up to politicians to uproot bigotry from the hearts and minds of the people but if they could get voters to set their prejudices aside when voting we would be closer to the spirit of our Constitution than we ever have.
An impossibly diverse and complex country calls for complex political play exacerbated by a powerful political opponent hell bent on playing dirty.
Winning the argument might seem crucial to those largely unaffected by ground realities but to the ordinary citizen in harm’s way, there is much more solace in keeping power out of the hands of those who are certain to misuse it against them.
If you don’t believe me, hear it from the very people in Shaheen Bagh on whose behalf liberal intellectuals are taking umbrage. They have nothing against Kejriwal because they understand instinctively that merely because he is not physically with them, he is not against them.
(Pragya Tiwari is a Delhi-based writer, who was formerly with Vice India. She tweets at @PragyaTiwari. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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