Updated: March 11, 2021 8:57:49 am
The AAP’s distinctive success in Delhi has been to contribute to expanding a political constituency that rewards governments for investing in healthcare and education, both of which are seldom considered politically exciting even if they make a significant difference to voter incomes and opportunities. The just-announced Delhi government budget provides a 23.74 per cent outlay in education and 14 per cent in healthcare. The government has also set a target of doubling the number of mohalla clinics and opening 100 such clinics specially for women. But the Arvind Kejriwal government also felt the need to wrap these measures in the national flag and call it the “deshbhakti budget”. The budget sets aside Rs 45 crore for installing 500 high-mast national flags in the city, one visible every 2 km, so that people will be filled with sentiments of “patriotism” and “national pride” the moment they step out of homes. It has proposed a “patriotism” curriculum in schools and events to mark the lives of Bhagat Singh and B R Ambedkar.
The BJP’s overwhelming electoral successes since 2014 have pushed the centre of gravity of Indian politics rightward and this has been achieved by not just broadbasing the appeal of Hindutva but also by effectively appropriating the moral high ground of nationalism. The dilemma for the Opposition is this: Should it let the BJP run away with that plank and make itself vulnerable to the “anti-national” labelling? Or should it try to find a way to reclaim it, even if that runs the risk of letting the BJP set the terms of the debate? The “deshbhakti” budget may be the AAP’s attempt to engage with this tricky question. By emphasising “civic duties” and the values that make a good citizen, the AAP brand of patriotism may even be trying to shift the debate to a less charged and emotive framework.
Yet the question remains: What was the perceived deficit in patriotism in the everyday life of Delhiites that scarce resources must be spent to address it? More importantly, does the AAP have the intent and the political imagination to prevent this new symbolism of the city from being hijacked by an exclusionary jingoism? In its appropriation of soft Hindutva and state-sponsored pujas, for instance, the AAP has shown no anxiety of distinguishing itself from a larger majoritarian politics. In the absence of politics that invests in expanding the idea of national pride to include diverse people and opinions, flag-waving nationalism could mark a slide into narrower ideas of public good.
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