Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party has embarked on an ambitious mission. Having established its presence in Punjab in the previous elections, it is now focussed on expanding its footprints in the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab, and later in Gujarat.
Buoyed by the AAP’s thumping victory in 2020 Delhi polls, Kejriwal now wants to turn the tables in Uttar Pradesh with the maximum assembly seats (403). While the promise of freebies forms a critical part of AAP’s positioning, Kejriwal knows that to take on the BJP in UP, it needs to beat the saffron party at its own game. The AAP, in the process, has begun to flirt with the idea of Hindutva as a strategy to make itself acceptable to a bigger chunk of masses.
Patriotism has already been a tried and tested formula for elections. The AAP, which has seen its fair share of criticism for questioning the surgical strikes and criticising the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brand of ‘hyper-nationalism’, is in no mood to leave anything to chance. On its plate – a blend of BJP’s brand of nationalism and a dash of Hindutva.
For starters, the AAP is scheduled to take out a ‘Tiranga Yatra’ in Ayodhya on September 14, with likely stopovers at the Ram temple and Hanumangarhi. Looking a little back, this seems to be a part of Kejriwal’s well-crafted strategy which started off with the Diwali Pujan in November 2020, and even earlier, when Kejriwal visited Delhi’s famed Hanuman Temple to seek blessings soon after the Delhi election win. Now, the party which is gearing up to contest all the 403 seats in UP, is also mulling a Tiranga Yatra in all the assembly constituencies.
To make it a grand show in Ayodhya, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh visited the Ram temple and Hanumangarhi on Monday. Sisodia also met saints in the temple town.
‘The quintessential Arvind Kejriwal’
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was expelled from AAP in 2015, believes resorting to the Hindutva strategy will not yield anything to the Aam Aadmi Party, which he alleged was acting as a “B-Team” to the BJP.
Speaking to FinancialExpress.com, Bhushan said, “You cannot defeat the BJP by becoming a B-Team for the BJP, so that is not going to work. This kind of a party which has no ideology, no policies, is dictated by one person and is willing to go any way to get what they want is not going to take it anywhere.”
Similar views came from Shazia Ilmi, who quit AAP to join the BJP in 2014, who called it an exercise by the AAP for “party funding”. She also accused Kejriwal of resorting to such gimmicks to get political mileage.
“They are very good at that, whenever and whatever suits them. Amanatullah Khan, who actually supported the Batla House accused, he was with him. Not only that, he (Amanatullah Khan) was accused on charges of fringe for beating up the chief secretary, but they haven’t suspended him. The same Amanatullah was roaming around with Sharjeel Imam, they are absolutely OK with it.”
“This is quintessential Kejriwal for you. He changes ideologies to suit his colours. By doing this, they are just trying to collect some funds. This exercise is being done for party funding. This is just for money-making,” she added.
‘Hindutva not owned by the BJP’
However, the AAP has said the objective of the Tiranga Yatra was to distinguish that the party’s interpretation of Hindu identity and religion was very different from what it called the “decisive” version of Hindutva of the BJP.
Speaking to FinancialExpress.com, AAP MLA Madan Lal said that Hindutva is not owned by the BJP and the party’s Tiranga Yatra was a message to the people that country comes before any political agenda.
“BJP has forcefully taken the ownership of Hindutva, Ram ji is the deity for every Hindu and Tiranga is a symbol to awaken the spirit of patriotism in the people. We want that people, irrespective of caste and religion, give priority to the Tiranga. Every political agenda comes after the country and national pride. The Tiranga Yatra is a message to the people that they must prioritise the country and speak in the nation’s interest,” Lal said.
Hindutva approach a well-crafted strategy of Kejriwal?
In Uttarakhand, the AAP announced former Colonel Ajay Kothiyal as its chief ministerial candidate, with Kejriwal seemingly trying to underline his credentials as a “deshbhakt fauji”. His party has been publicising Kothiyal’s work in rebuilding the Kedarnath Temple, devastated by the 2013 floods. Evidently, the AAP is trying to take on the BJP on both fronts — patriotism and Hindutva.
Kejriwal, who earlier focused on targeting the BJP-led governments at the Centre and states over issues like communalism and corruption, changed his trajectory in 2019-20 post the Lok Sabha and Delhi assembly polls with his party gradually resorting to its own brand of Hindutva to counter the BJP.
While campaigning during the 2020 assembly polls, Kejriwal declared himself as a devotee of Lord Hanuman and also visited a popular Hanuman temple in the national capital.
On the issue of Ram Mandir, Arvind Kejriwal welcomed the Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya title suit and announced that visit to Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir would feature in the Delhi government’s pilgrimage scheme for senior citizens.
However, the AAP needs to be aware of the experimental risks of the soft-hindutva strategies that have been tried by non-BJP parties in the past too. Experts believe that the AAP’s temple visits and flag marches could have the unintended effect of entrenching and solidifying the terms of political debate set by the BJP. Moreover, in UP, the party neither has a prominent leadership like its challengers nor a strong organisational network. Strengthening its organisational base in a state, which is dominated by caste equations, will be a tough nut to crack for Kejriwal’s party.
In Uttarakhand, for instance, the AAP is trying to pitch itself as an alternative to the main players BJP and the Congress. Its leaders have taken up the contentious issue of the management of temples and sided with the priests who do not want government interference by way of the Devasthanam Board that was set up in 2019 by the then chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat. But here too, the party is trying to emerge as a third pole in what has been a traditional bipolar contest between the BJP and Congress.