Arvind Kejriwal 2.0
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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Up until now, there have been two political responses to counter the BJP’s Hindu fundamentalist dominance in India. One is what the Left and the progressives whimsically call The Revolution. The other is when Congress’ Rahul Gandhi tried the awkward combination of temple-hopping soft-Hindutva and Leftist talk on rights and justice.

But in recent months, a third political response has emerged. It is soft-nationalism – the kind that is in full glow in AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal’s politics in Delhi. It is a new political experiment and its efficacy will be known in the results of the Delhi assembly election.

Whether it was supporting Balakot air strikes and Article 370 move in Kashmir, staying away from JNU and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests at Shaheen Bagh, or chiding Pakistan for interfering in the Delhi election – Arvind Kejriwal is cautiously redrawing and refuelling the centre in Indian politics. It is the political space ceded by the Congress party. In fact, the centre has disappeared – and swallowed by the Right and the Left in recent years.


Also read: The importance of Valmiki Mandir and Hanuman Mandir in Kejriwal’s Delhi roadshow


New centrism for an exhausted majority

Why does the centre in Indian politics need to be rescued and re-invented? Because very soon India will face the spectre of the phenomenon called the ‘exhausted majority’, the term used to explain how people eventually tire of extended periods of polarisation. Two Hindu gunmen near Jamia and Shaheen Bagh in one week may just be the beginning of that exhaustion.

The big question in politics today is how to counter Modi-ism. With extreme Left? Or with re-imagined, Turbo-charged centrism?

Many political analysts say that the centre is where most Hindus situate themselves anyway. They tend to be socially liberal, religious, somewhere in the middle on economic policy, but Right-of-centre on national security or on issues like illegal Muslim immigration. It is fluid and sans-ideological on most good-hair days.

And Arvind Kejriwal is directing his politics towards this new centre. The ingredients of this pragmatic, nimble centre are soft-nationalism, not saying anything to alienate the majority community, embracing religious symbols, not speaking against the military and not joining the Left’s Revolution.

It requires a certain kind of political and ideological gymnastics that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has displayed.


Also read: Shaheen Bagh, biryani, bullets, Pakistan — what Yogi Adityanath said at Delhi rallies


Can post-ideology politics be replicated?

But the Delhi election isn’t the first test-case for this new soft-nationalist centrism. It was pilot-tested in Haryana. Congress leaders Bhupinder and Deepender Hooda supported Narendra Modi government on Article 370 move in Kashmir, even though Rahul Gandhi did not. They didn’t stop there. During the Haryana election campaign, they would send a dozen Congress youth to several BJP rallies, Deepender Hooda told me. Every time Amit Shah or Manohar Lal Khattar raised the Kashmir Article 370 issue in an election rally, the youth would call out and say, ‘yes our leaders also support that, but what about jobs’.

What is so ‘soft’ about endorsing Kashmir shutdown, some would ask. It is soft because it doesn’t have the Hindutva sauce in it – the rest is the same as BJP. A social commentator once told me: “AAP is the kind of flag-waving Right-wing India needs and can stomach.”

By not going to Shaheen Bagh, by not openly standing by them even as Yogi Adityanath calls them terrorists, by continually asking Amit Shah and Delhi Police to shut down the protest, and even appealing to the people to end the protests, AAP is playing a new centrist game. It risks losing some Muslim, some liberal votes. But by visiting Shaheen Bagh, it may risk losing many Hindu votes. Arvind Kejriwal has picked his side. He is single-mindedly focussed on winning elections.

If this kind of pragmatic soft-nationalism does well in Delhi, then it will offer a template for national and regional politics to counter the BJP’s rise.

But here’s a conundrum.

If it succeeds, India risks becoming another Israel where most politics is arranged among parties on the Right-wing spectrum.

But if it fails to yield election results, then the Left will interpret this as their opportunity to get other parties to move Left-ward.


Also read: A toned-down Kejriwal or aggressive Modi-Shah: who has wider appeal in Delhi elections?


Not via-Leftism

Social media and digital platforms have amplified the politics of the Left and the Right here in India and the world. But tantalising as it maybe, the Left cannot turn them into election victories on a national scale, at least not in India. Electability, as Bernie Sanders is discovering in the US and Kanhaiya Kumar did in India, is a whole different ball game. And political parties are in the business of winning elections, not campus debates. Intellectuals and activists don’t have to win elections, even if they make important, virtuous arguments.

The inclusion of the promise to review AFSPA in the Congress’ manifesto of 2019 Lok Sabha election was a noble idea but definitely not a vote-catching one against the backdrop of Balakot air strikes and Abhinandan Varthaman-worship. In fact, it was a vote-losing idea. It was especially hypocritical because the Manmohan Singh government resisted all calls to remove the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act during 10 years of the Congress rule.

In the United States too, the Never-Trumpers are thinking this is a moment for their long-pending Revolution. They are making it into a socialism versus capitalism battle, not one to get Donald Trump out of the White House. As political strategist John Ziegler said, the progressives are trying to treat cancer with a sex-change operation. Or as Barack Obama would say, they are trying to “tear down the system and remake it”.


Also read: Who represents India’s Muslims? Thanks to CAA protests, we now know the answer


Can catch-all politics return?

Is there space for catch-all, reimagined middle in the era of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump? It’s all about the ‘politics of the base’ now. Both the shrill Right and the shrill Left have their base; the centrists don’t. They typically have a wide but shallow base, and this just doesn’t translate well in the era of what has been called algorithmic politics.

This is why Arvind Kejriwal surprisingly asked Delhi voters to remain loyal to their favourite parties, the BJP and the Congress, but vote for him in Delhi. Such an appeal is rare in Indian elections.

This is exactly how Democratic Party hopeful Pete Buttigieg appealed recently when he said he wanted the support from everyone, “whether you are a progressive or a moderate or what I like to call a future former Republican”.

There is a hole in the centre of politics today. And politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Some forces will have to fill the centrist space that the Congress party has abdicated. Either its regional leaders like Hoodas and Captain Amarinder Singh or the various regional parties can reconfigure that space.

Politics is now making an attempt to drag Hindus and public conversations back to the centre-ish space. It is an effort to make the centre more muscular and ambitious in order to reclaim some of the space it had ceded to the Right and Left in recent years.

This is why the Delhi election is important – not just to see who wins or loses, but to see if voters are willing to repopulate the centre, even if it doesn’t always say or do the right, virtuous thing.

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21 Comments Share Your Views

21 COMMENTS

  1. I doubt Mr.Kejriwal will become a National leader even if he wins Delhi Assembly elections. Most favourable opinion polls predict much lesser seats to AAP than 2015.

  2. It is true that no soft Hinduthva, but only soft appeasement of Muslims is the priority of this idiot called Kejrival. Unfortunately the writer has failed to highlight this.

  3. In simple words, soft nationalism is a combination of Cholesterol + Blood Pressure and Diabetes, eventually leads to death with one being complacent and without pain. Thee are the fatality in the end.

    Cholesterol + Blood Pressure +Diabetes = @ArvindKejriwal

  4. While the effort to find an answer to Modi is well worth it, this article does not hold water. The author herself links to a Vox article which criticises the concept of an “exhausted majority”. But she still uses it to suggest electoral strategy. In the reference article it says:

    “This report [which came up with the concept of an exhausted majority] is not intended to provide a blueprint.” … “But that didn’t stop a coterie of centrist pundits as treating it as such, as a kind of skeleton key unlocking the American [here Indian] electorate and showing the way to fix the country’s problems. These efforts say more about the writers, and a certain kind of elite mindset, than it does the true nature of American [Indian] politics.”

    “The center sees the problems of American [Indian] politics, correctly, as being a divide over identity. But their solution is some kind of compromise between Trump’s [read Modi’s] direct appeals to racism and Democratic “identity politics,” as if those two things are equal and opposite evils. They are not.“

    Just read the Vox article: “Hidden Tribes” the new report centrists are using to explain away polarization, explained”

  5. kejriwal shld get back with his original IAC team & shld focus on winning Punjab & keep doing what he is doing & fulfill as many as election promises , Yamuna cleaning should be prime objective as this will help him crack the cow belt , AAP needs to perform in a full state as that will show key issues of law & order , farmers

  6. If with the help of section of Anti-Modi Media, Kejriwal is able to defeat BJP in current elections in Delhi , even then it will not make him a national level leader who the people will look forward to lead a national level alternative to BJP or Modi Ji . His silent tactical support to Muslims in Delhi opposing CAA is making him suspect in the eyes of vast majority of Hindus, who vote on pan -nationalistic issues in Parliamentary elections. He can not be trusted by the majority community to safe guard nation s interests against invading Islamic armies and terrorists and their internal sympathizers, as his heart weeps for them. He is not even adept in hiding his this face while weeping for them. .He has abandoned job as IRS officer to indulge in petty politics. In politics , he practised and followed short term objective of ruling a small state. Even before showing any concrete results of his governance model to country , he started thinking of himself as a accomplished leader greater than Modi Ji or Rahul G. But in today s world it is not possible ” to fool all the people all the times. “Like a short-run athlete who won one or two medals in his/her career , he will hang his boots sooner than expected.
    Vast number of state level leaders of big states will never work under him as India is full of leaders who can over smart him .

    • It amazes to see people who have zero political insight and neglible power of analysis like you blatantly display their stupidity on media platforms with shamelessness. Mark my words Arvind Kejriwal will one day become the prime minister of this country.

    • Your low mental capacity is exploited by BJP who make you believe that Hinduism is in danger and you will only be saved if you vote for it

    • On what earth do you live, my friend? How can one be so delusional? Majority of media is not only pro-Modi but actually, it’s completely devoted to Modi.

  7. The discourse on local development issues only has made the BJP campaign only about negative issues not related to local and also apparently polarising

  8. Spot on! I’m a proud Hindu and was a loyal bhakt but am appalled, actually sickened by the rhetoric of BJP motormouths. Shall now vote for AAP because of Arvind Kejriwal’s positions.

  9. To offer it as a template or a stronger template I think exemplary work is needed atleast in the non-bjp states to fill centre, especially socialism like the freebies of basic necessities whereby basic necessities are going costlier. Exemplary work should be done and propogated to make it the core competency which could tackle and give people an alternative to from right wing fundamentalism or nationalism. Kejriwal has strong chances of winning not just because he has changed the types of politics but also because of his work and propogation of the work.

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