Will Kejriwal’s ‘Welfare Plus Hanuman’ Be A Talisman to Check BJP?
Kejriwal’s soft-Hindutva made it easier for 15 lakh Modi voters to come back to vote for him.
Last year, Arvind Kejriwal must have been very worried. Narendra Modi had wooed away two-thirds of the people who had voted for him in 2015. And, Kejriwal had only 10-months to win them back. So, he cut back on the anti-Modi rhetoric, tried to mend bridges with estranged friends and doubled down on governance.
14 lakh families in Delhi began getting free Bijli from August. Another 13 lakh families got their water bills waived. Women got free rides on buses. These are not small numbers, considering Delhi has less than 50-lakh households. These ‘freebies’ were a bonus, over and above, the remarkable performance of Delhi’s government schools & Mohalla clinics.
How Kejriwal Won the 15 Lakh Voters Back
The inner-party struggles that had started fracturing AAP, within a few months of its 2015 victory, were put on the back-burner. AAP leaders and workers went back to the ground, from door to door, speaking to voters to try and win them back. Kejriwal’s face appeared on billboards on every street corner, and the CM himself held townhalls to speak directly to the people.
- The inner-party struggles that had started fracturing AAP, within a few months of its 2015 victory, were put on the back-burner.
- Kejriwal began wearing his Hindu-ness on his sleeve.
- This overt soft-Hindutva is a new fifth element in the Kejriwal victory formula – good governance, subsidies for the poor, strong party-organisation, held together by a cult of personality.
- Kejriwal, perhaps, also calculated that Delhi’s Muslims had nowhere to go, especially since the Congress had no chance of winning.
- Kejriwal’s soft-Hindutva appears organic, while Rahul’s finds no takers.
Along with that, Kejriwal began wearing his Hindu-ness on his sleeve. He backed the Modi government on repealing 370, took an ambivalent stand on CAA, stayed studiously away from the women of Shaheen Bagh, criticised the burning of buses in Jamia, and most importantly, projected himself as a kattar Hanuman bhakt.
This overt soft-Hindutva is a new fifth element in the Kejriwal victory formula – good governance, subsidies for the poor, strong party-organisation, held together by a cult of personality.
Without this flirtation with Political Hindutva, Delhi’s electoral arithmetic might have favoured the BJP. About 15 lakh people who voted for AAP in 2015, had voted for Modi in 2019. Kejriwal’s soft-Hindutva made it easier for these people to come back to vote for him.
Welfarism Can’t Work Alone
Kejriwal, perhaps, also calculated that Delhi’s Muslims had nowhere to go, especially since the Congress had no chance of winning. Many of them would have voted for Rahul Gandhi in 2019, thinking that the Congress had a chance of making a comeback. For Muslims, the options were Kejriwal’s soft Hindutva versus Modi’s hard Hindutva, and the choice was a no-brainer.
Will this become the template for taking on the Modi-Shah juggernaut across India?
Kejriwal’s electoral strategy will be watched closely by non-BJP state governments, which saw their electorate switch to Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Many have adopted Modi’s targeted welfarism to create stable voting blocks. Political Hindutva and extreme-nationalism, fanned by prime-time news anchors, destabilises this electoral project, in the BJP’s favour. Adopting a softer version of Political Hindutva could help create a moat around this voter-base and protect it from attacks by Amit Shah’s electoral machine.
Kejriwal’s Transition Was Organic Unlike Rahul Gandhi
Of course, the switch to soft-Hindutva is not that easy. Kejriwal’s transition was not sudden. Over the past five years his positions on various ideological issues have been similar to that of the BJP and his public image has always been of a typical sanskari middle-class Hindu.
Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, is seen to be more comfortable in Khan Market than in Somnath Temple.
So, Kejriwal’s soft-Hindutva appears organic, while Rahul’s finds no takers.
The Congress does have regional leaders who can fit themselves into a soft-Hindu mould. These are ground-level leaders who have never been entirely happy with the left-liberal ‘Nehruvian’ notion of secularism. They will all be tempted to adopt the Kejriwal formula, where they wear their Hinduism on their sleeves, make anti-Pakistan statements and avoid being associated with anything that is seen to protect minority rights.
Muslim Households May Benefit From AAP Welfarism, But Their Identity Won’t
We are already seeing dalliances with Hindutva in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where the Congress is in power. We might see similar attempts by Congress leaders in Karnataka & Assam, where the party has a significant presence. This will make it difficult for the Gandhi family to control the party’s direction. In effect, they might have to cede ground to regional satraps.
Already, as the Delhi results started coming in, some fellow-travelers of the Congress party called out the ‘loony left’ for pushing the Congress party towards an extreme liberal-secular agenda. Influential liberal voices began creating a discursive space for the Kejriwal brand of soft-Hindutva, calling it ‘cultural Hindutva’ as opposed to the BJP’s ‘political Hindutva’. This gloss will be amplified, in the coming days, in TV studios and opinion columns.
In the middle of this, Muslims – or more accurately the Muslim identity – will be the biggest loser.
It will find itself isolated, with no one outside the community to speak on its behalf. Muslims might find that accepting soft-Hindu parties is their only option in the face of the BJP’s increasingly strident anti-Muslim stand. For them, the enemy’s enemy will have to be their friend.
(The author was Senior Managing Editor, NDTV India & NDTV Profit. He now runs the independent YouTube channel ‘Desi Democracy’. He tweets @AunindyoC. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.