I felt very proud when I joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in January 2014. Today, I feel relieved that I am no longer with them. The AAP then was seen as a revolutionary force that claimed to be in politics not to play politics but to change politics. Today, it is difficult to believe that it is the same party. The AAP has changed beyond recognition. The party proudly said it did not choose candidates on the basis of caste, religion, region, gender or language in the 2013 Delhi assembly elections. Integrity, honesty and good character were the only qualities for the selection of the candidates, the party had said. Before giving tickets, a thorough background check of the prospective candidate was done and a minor blemish was enough to disqualify a person.
It was a breath of fresh air in Indian politics, which had been a hotbed of corrupt practices. The AAP fielded individuals like Rajmohan Gandhi, Anand Kumar and Medha Patekar as candidates in the 2014 general election. It did not talk about religion or gods and goddesses to garner votes. The AAP carefully chalked out a programme of welfare measures for the downtrodden and marginalised — education, health, free electricity and supply of clean water at a subsidised rate were central to that model of governance. But today, Arvind Kejriwal does not lose an opportunity to woo Hindu voters by appealing to their religious sensibilities. The latest demand by Kejriwal that the Modi government should put the images of Laxmi and Ganesh on the rupee notes if it wants the Indian economy to get better, is a perversion in its pursuit to win an election.
This perversion showed its glimpses during the 2015 assembly elections in Delhi when Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav had raised the issue of certain candidates whose past was not as clean as expected being fielded by the party. Both of them were expelled from the party soon after the AAP won a historic mandate. The slide that started then had alarmed many senior AAP leaders but they kept quiet. The loss in the Punjab assembly elections in 2017, followed by the rout in the MCD elections, were the final tipping point. Since then, the AAP has not looked back. The AAP has given tickets to wealthy individuals with shady pasts who had no connection with the party and has been accused of selling tickets for the Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha and assembly elections in different states. The party has never given a satisfactory explanation to why it deviated from its chosen path.
Once Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister and Hindutva became the dominant formula to win elections, AAP was in a fix and wondering if it wanted to tread the same path. Kejriwal has a fatal flaw. He wants to win at any cost.
After the bad loss in Punjab in 2017, where he took his victory for granted, he did not want to take any chances in the 2020 Delhi assembly election. So, he sold himself to Hindutva. To ensure his victory, he not only hired the services of Prashant Kishor but also recited Hanuman Chalisa. He called himself a “Hanuman bhakt” and invited a TV crew when he visited the Hanuman temple in Connaught Place. He and the AAP did not utter a word on the issue of CAA and the Shaheen Bagh movement. When riots took place in North East Delhi, he did not visit the area, nor did his government honestly carry out the rehabilitation programme for the riot victims as he did not want to be accused of indulging in “Muslim appeasement”. The AAP’s stupendous victory in Delhi in 2020 was the last nail in the coffin of the “original” AAP, the revolutionary party.
After winning Punjab, Gujarat is Kejriwal’s next target, which is the original laboratory of Hindutva. It started well in this endeavour in the local bodies’ elections, especially in Surat and Gandhinagar. With very smart manipulation of the media space and through a visible campaign, the AAP emerged as the third force in Gujarat. Kejriwal started visiting the state every week. A buzz was created on the ground and it was debated loudly if the AAP could replace the Congress as the main opposition to the BJP. But two incidents rattled his confidence. First, the AAP state convener, Gopal Italia, spoke ill about Modi and asked women not to go to temples as that could be unsafe. Second, video clips of AAP minister Rajendra Pal Gautam saying at a Buddhist ceremony that he won’t worship Hindu gods. To minimise the damage, Kejriwal took the Laxmi-Ganesh route. In one of his rallies, he was seen chanting Jai Shri Ram — a war cry of the BJP and Sangh Parivar invented during the Ram Mandir movement. He also said he was born on Janmashtami (the day of Lord Krishna’s birth) to annihilate the sons of Kansa.
I am not sure if his exhortation to Hindu deities will fetch votes. But this certainly proves that he is not the same Arvind Kejriwal I knew, who used to talk about cleaning Indian politics of all its ills. His conversion to Hindutva can be seen by a few as trying to snatch from Modi the winning formula. But what needs thought is why a “party of hope” could not resist being appropriated by politics and why it has taken the dangerous route of mixing religion with politics. Winning and losing elections is a part of the democratic process but the demise of the hope the AAP represented is tragic. Kejriwal and his party might do well in the elections, but the injury they are inflicting on the body-politic and constitutional democracy will leave a permanent scar.
The writer is co-founder and editor of SatyaHindi and author of Hindu Rashtra