Updated: August 31, 2021 9:03:58 am
The BJP’s success in framing nationalism and aligning it to its politics of Hindutva has been remarkable. On the other side of the political fence, is the Opposition’s failure in separating Hinduism from Hindutva, or demarcating a more encompassing notion of patriotism that also appeals to the people. The Aam Aadmi Party’s decision to take out a “Tiranga Yatra” in Ayodhya on September 14, with likely stop-overs at the Ram temple and Hanumangarhi, is clearly an attempt to take the battle to the BJP on both fronts. To do so successfully, however, the AAP will need ideological clarity and political finesse — else, its experiment risks succumbing to the failures of the me-too “soft Hindutva” strategies that have been tried by non-BJP parties in the past.
The Tiranga Yatra is evidently a culmination of a series of symbolic and policy actions by the AAP. In November 2020, as the pandemic raged, Arvind Kejriwal conducted a “Diwali Pujan”. His government introduced a “Deshbhakti” curriculum in the city’s schools, “embedded in constitutional values”, and is putting up 500 national flags across the capital at a cost of Rs 85 crore. Announcing former Colonel Ajay Kothiyal as the AAP’s chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming Uttarakhand assembly elections, Kejriwal underlined his credentials as a “deshbhakt fauji (patriotic soldier)” and the party has publicised his work in rebuilding the Kedarnath temple, devastated by the 2013 floods. The AAP has made it clear that it will contest elections in UP, Uttarakhand and Gujarat and that part of its strategy to challenge the BJP is to draw associations between patriotism with governance, and highlight its own record in education and health in Delhi as evidence of its success in the latter.
This experiment of wedding patriotism with development and moving the conversation around nationalism beyond demonising the “Other” could be a welcome addition to the political repertoire and conversation. However, the strategy also has potential risks and pitfalls. The AAP’s temple visits and flag marches could have the unintended effect of entrenching and solidifying the terms of political debate set by the BJP. Unless it is specifically guarded against, this politics could normalise the invisibilisation of minorities and harden categories like “anti-national”. The AAP has shown an innovative streak with a politics of civic governance earlier. How it navigates these pitfalls going ahead will be closely watched. It will, for better or worse, have a bearing on the robustness of Opposition politics.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 31, 2021 under the title ‘AAP’s journey’.
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