The Aam Aadmi Party’s ‘Tiranga Yatra‘ in Ayodhya highlights two facts — Arvind Kejriwal’s desperation to expand beyond New Delhi, and in equal measure, his lack of imagination on how to do it.
Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, along with Sanjay Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and AAP Uttar Pradesh in-charge, took out the ‘Tiranga Yatra‘ on Tuesday, with Sisodia declaring that “Ram Rajya was the best form of governance”.
“We will form a government that will govern on ideals given by Lord Ram,” the deputy CM said. “We take the blessings of Shri Ramchandra-ji, will raise the tricolour (and) will teach real nationalism,” he added.
With less than three years to go until the next Lok Sabha election and several Opposition parties seeking to lead the brigade against Narendra Modi and team, Kejriwal knows time is fast running out to expand his presence and establish himself as a leader who is not just confined to one state, especially one that is more symbolic than influential in national politics at that. The high-voltage nationalism plus Hindutva-laded pitch, therefore, is a step in that direction.
What it also shows is the AAP’s inability to imagine a conversation that can help it take Modi on and establish its footprint beyond Delhi. Resorting to BJP’s favourite trope — the potent religion-nationalism cocktail — and trying to counter the party with exactly its modus operandi, can hardly be prudent, creative or beneficial. For a party that captured the imagination of voters and stormed to power in the national capital by developing its unique selling point, the Aam Aadmi Party is showing a disappointing lack of imagination in its forays outside its turf.
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AAP’s expansion compulsion
I’ve argued before how Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee are the most vocal Opposition leaders, taking the Modi government head-on at every step. As Lok Sabha polls draw closer, every ambitious regional leader is hoping to be at the forefront of leading the Opposition’s charge against the Modi-Shah duo.
The disadvantage for Kejriwal, however, is his limited political presence. While leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Andhra Pradesh CM Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav are all one-state wonders, the difference is that their respective states hold far more heft than Delhi with its mere seven Lok Sabha seats.
Arvind Kejriwal’s earlier attempts to expand — in Haryana and Goa — bore no fruit, while his party’s Punjab foray didn’t bring as much national political attention as he would have hoped.
The next few years are crucial. AAP fancies itself as a player in several poll-bound states — Goa, Punjab, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Arvind Kejriwal is sharp enough to know he needn’t be overambitious in terms of winning sizable seats in all states. The idea is to put up a credible performance — enough to be taken seriously as a party that has spread its wings beyond just Delhi.
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The road much-travelled
Unfortunately, however, the Aam Aadmi Party is choosing the path that has now become jaded and a go-to favourite for most Opposition parties who want to beat Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
Modi and Shah have successfully changed the conversation of Indian politics so definitively towards religion and nationalism that Opposition parties have felt compelled to speak the same language instead of finding an alternative.
From Rahul Gandhi’s declared status as ‘janeudhari Brahmin’ to Mamata Banerjee chanting shlokas — the Opposition has ranged from flirting with soft-Hindutva to brandishing an overt version of it.
The BJP, however, has mastered the Hindutva-nationalism recipe, and anybody else trying the trope is merely playing catch-up. Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, however, can do much better. Even in Delhi, the ‘Deshbhakti curriculum‘ and earmarking an impressive budget to install flags across the city reeked of the chief minister’s attempts to blindly ape the BJP, as did his declaration last year of being a “devout Hindu”.
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Recall how the party burst onto the scene to top the charts in Delhi and hasn’t allowed Modi’s popularity or Amit Shah’s might to dislodge it ever since. Kejriwal clung to a voter sentiment that was wide but untapped, and made anti-corruption, clean governance and people’s movement his hallmark, becoming arguably the biggest success story in Indian politics in the last decade.
Voters love Arvind Kejriwal not because he is a ‘good Hindu’, but because he has brought something new and different to the table, the idea of an ‘aam aadmi‘ fed-up of the system, taking up brooms, and ushering in a new era. There has been a freshness to his style of politics, even if AAP’s governance remains amateurish. Masses outside Delhi have a better chance of lapping Kejriwal up for a unique idea he espouses, or for spreading the message of an ‘aam aadmi‘ government, than of buying his ‘main-bhi-Hindu-hoon‘ approach.
For a party that has displayed such courageous political innovation in the past, it’s a pity that a predictable twin path of nationalism and Hindutva is what it needs to resort to. BJP may have changed the grammar of politics, but Kejriwal surely has it in him to counter that in his own style. It is his uniqueness that will make a real difference, and give the Aam Aadmi Party a much-needed fillip to truly catapult it into the national scene.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)