Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal. Credit: PTI Photo

By Apoorvanand / Deccan Herald

If there is one party, other than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), trying to play the Hindutva card in Punjab, it is the Aam Admi Party (AAP). We saw its leader sympathising with Sunil Jakhar, the Congress leader, saying that the Congress leadership has wronged him as it did not make him its chief ministerial face. According to the AAP leader, Jakhar had to suffer as he is a Hindu. After him, it was Arvind Kejriwal, the supremo of AAP, no less, who, in the course of a press conference, alleged that there was an atmosphere of fear and insecurity among Hindus, especially Hindu traders in Punjab. You have to watch the press meet to understand how cynically Kejriwal talks about the allegation of a breach in the security of Narendra Modi, and then deliberately turns it into an issue of Hindu insecurity. According to him, one Hindu trader came to him and shared his feeling of fear in the wake of the lapse in the security of Modi.

The AAP is trying to be a party of Hindus in a state identified by Sikhs. Hindus can be a good vote bank as they are 38.5 per cent of the population of the state. All parties will try to seek their favour to form the next government, just as they would like Sikhs to vote for them and in Sikhs, different communities too. There is nothing wrong with it. In a democratic competition, one should appeal to all sections of the society to create an electoral majority.

But by stoking the fire of “Hindu insecurity”, Kejriwal is doing what the BJP does round the clock. Election or no election. To keep the ‘Hindu in danger’ rhetoric alive.

What is the cause or source of that danger? The dog-whistling of Kejriwal and his party leaders point at the Sikhs. Kejriwal, before that in another meeting, predominantly of traders in Punjab, had presented himself as a Baniya. So, his foregrounding of the figure of the Hindu trader in fear is quite devious. It is as wicked as the BJP propaganda in Uttar Pradesh that in places like Kairana, traders were in danger and had to flee because of the fear of the goons. They were confident that their constituents would decode the message and replace goons with the word they meant. That is what the AAP is doing in Punjab.

When this statement was being discussed, the video of a statement of a former AAP leader, one of its founders, started circulating. In the video, this leader explains his reasons for quitting the AAP. He says that Kejriwal was so besotted to power and wanted to have it at any cost that had he been in the shoes of Modi, he would have declared war with Pakistan merely to win elections. This is a very damning statement from a former comrade. The ex-leader talking about the jingoistic politics of the AAP and its instrumentalism is hardly a revelation, though.

The AAP had emerged from a movement called India Against Corruption which was clothed in the symbolism of Hindu nationalism. It rode on the shoulders of Ramdev in its initial days. It had the active support of Sri Sri Ravishankar. The backdrop of Bharat Mata on the IAC stage, made to represent India by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), caused an uproar among its secular supporters and was replaced with the image of Mahatma Gandhi, but the message had gone by then. After that, we saw the IAC supporters wielding giant size tricolours tied on long poles and racing with them on their motorcycles. This combination of speed with size was an expression of macho nationalism. Liberal chanting of Vande Mataram was justified even by many hardcore seculars telling us that it was a spontaneous outburst of the masses. Some of them went to the extent of calling those Muslims who objected to its use by calling them narrow and sectarian. They should appreciate the widespread feeling and understand that a Vande Mataram at an IAC platform is not communal, is what they tried to convince people. But it definitely was. Many former AAP leaders and members now accept that the RSS had propped up the IAC.

In its onward journey, many sympathisers hoped that it would correct itself. It did not happen because even those former AAP leaders who now detest its instrumental nationalism thought and tried to persuade the people that the very notion of secularism was past its expiry date. The theoreticians of the MP claimed that there was hardly any need to harp on secularism and all that was needed was a politics of governance. But it was hard for them not to be a nationalist. Some also believed that secularists had often ignored the Hindu feelings and mocked Hinduism. In India, there is a very fine line between nationalism and Hindutva. Those practising nationalism do not find it wrong to present themselves as ‘Hindus’ by invoking traditions that are again bound to be coloured by Hinduness.

However, the AAP has decided to compete with the BJP by persuading Hindus that its Hindutva should be more acceptable. For the last two years, Kejriwal has organised ‘Diwali poojan’ with his cabinet in attendance, with him leading it as the ‘yajaman’. He also called upon all Delhiwallahs to offer ‘poojan’, forgetting that they also include non- Hindus, and it was not fair to ask them to do the ‘poojan’. It was not at all an attempt to be inclusive. He also made it a point to express his gratitude to Hanuman for his election victory.

But he was not being an innocuous Hindu. It became clear when his government took the lead in blaming the spread of corona on the Tablighi Jamat. Before that, Kejriwal had actively distanced himself and his party from the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act movement and claimed that he would have cleared Shaheen Bagh had his government had power over the police. He supported the move to abolish Article 370 and did not utter a word about the repression in Kashmir.

The AAP welcomed the Ram temple, which is being built by taking away the land of the Babri mosque. He again sought to outmanoeuvre the BJP by announcing free trips to Ayodhya and even sponsored special trains carrying pilgrims to Ayodhya.

Worse than all this Hindu posturing was the cold-shouldering that the MP government gave to the Muslims who were made the target of the violence in February 2020. The AAP did not intervene to stop the violence. Its leaders made a point before their Hindu electorate by not visiting Muslims. Even in the matter of relief, its attitude was anti-Muslim, as we ourselves witnessed while visiting the violence-hit areas of Delhi. Muslims felt doubly hurt and humiliated as the attackers had mocked them by telling them to call the MP to save them. Had they not voted for it? The MP had deserted them when they needed it the most.

After the killing of a Hindu boy, which the Delhi police clarified was not communal, the AAP leaders tried to paint it as one. They claimed that he was killed for having dared to raise the slogan of Jai Sri Ram. The deputy CM of Delhi repeated this charge blaming his killing on the BJP by asking why is it that under its policy, Hindus are not safe when they want to chant Jai Sri Ram. He wondered, if not in India, would Jai Sri Ram be chanted in Pakistan.

Apologists of the AAP defend it by saying that it has to do this Hindu appeasement as it is faced with the mighty power of the RSS and BJP. That is hardly a defence. As is evident from its Hindu stance in Punjab, the MP is doing it even in a state where the people, Sikhs included, had made it the main opposition party in the previous election. So, its posturing is not only for Punjab. It is for Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa. In Uttarakhand, it has tried to play a military Hindutva card.

The AAP is reinforcing the dangerous politics of the BJP. One more version of the BJP, which many of us find acceptable for various reasons, is definitely bad news for the Indian democracy.

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