In January, the Delhi government decided to set up Neki Ki Deewar (wall of kindness) outside state-run schools to encourage people to donate items of daily need to the less fortunate.
“A few days later, we found that the BJP had started a whisper campaign through WhatsApp groups that Arvind Kejriwal was building Islamic structures outside government schools. Simply because we used the Urdu words neki and deewar. Can you believe the scale of the project to polarise?” asked a senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader.
To counter such “constant attempts” to brand the AAP as “pro-Muslim” the party has shifted its strategy from regular display of religious piety to a more aggressive approach. Though the AAP has invited accusations of soft-pedalling communalism in the past few years and drawn flak from various quarters over its ambiguous stand on issues ranging from the Shaheen Bagh sit-in to the northeast Delhi riots, its statements were unusually pugnacious during the Jahangirpuri demolition drive last month and the loudspeaker issue.
On the loudspeaker controversy — it became a hot-button issue in Maharashtra after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray’s comments at a public meeting on April 2 — the AAP displayed incoherence in establishing its assertive approach. The party initially said it would oppose all attempts to remove loudspeakers from religious places, saying the BJP had no right to play with “our faith”. Subsequently, it modified its position to state that it agrees “in principle” with the idea of removing loudspeakers from every religious institution and centres of faith. On Wednesday, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the BJP should approach the Delhi Police with the request as law and order in the national Capital comes under the Centre’s purview.
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During the demolition drive by a BJP-led civic body in Jahangirpuri on April 20, the AAP initially raised the bogey of “Rohingya and Bangladeshis” but later trained its gun on the illegitimacy of the process, alleging that it was the BJP’s attempt to extort money from people.
“Our critics say we are legitimising the BJP’s narrative,” said an AAP functionary. “What they don’t realise is that it is already legitimised. A large section of the society is buying into that narrative notwithstanding what a minuscule section who are disconnected from reality would have us believe. They don’t realise the scale of takers for the BJP’s narrative. One cannot defeat the BJP without recognising the power of its narrative.”
Another AAP leader reasoned, “The BJP has convinced people that Bangladeshis and the Rohingya have infiltrated the country and are instigating riots. In a situation like this, we could not have taken the BJP head-on without invoking this narrative. But nowhere did we say that the Rohingya or Bangladeshis started the violence. We merely pointed out if what the BJP says is true, are they not responsible for letting these communities settle in India? Plus, we are constantly saying that the BJP is behind every riot in the country as it only benefits them.”
On Wednesday, the party released the findings of a “survey” in which it claimed that 91 per cent of 11.54 lakh respondents had named the BJP as the party behind “thuggery and riots in the country”.
But does the AAP run the risk of alienating its Muslim voters? The party leadership and its Muslim faces feel that the minority community, which accounts for about 13 per cent of Delhi’s population as per the 2011 Census, has no option but to stick with it.
“The country is faced with two choices — politics of religion and riots, and politics of work. The AAP stands for the latter,” said a senior AAP leader who is Muslim, sticking to the party’s official line that seeks to emphasise the economic costs of communal clashes more rather than its impact on rights and liberty.
The AAP’s confidence also stems from its belief that Muslims are left with no real political choice. “And where will they go in any case? The Congress stands decimated. Will they stand with Owaisi? Muslims are well aware who is working for their interests,” the AAP leader added. Five of the party’s 62 MLAs in the 70-member Delhi Assembly are Muslims. They represent the constituencies of Okhla, Seelampur, Mustafabad, Ballimaran, and Matia Mahal.
Another AAP leader said the Muslim community ditched the party during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “In the 2020 Assembly polls, large sections of the community had mixed feelings about us but they saw what happened in 2019 and voted for us. Later, a Congress councillor did win from a Muslim-dominated ward during a civic by-poll, but in that ward the BJP was not in contention. Muslims have realised it is an existential crisis for them. They will support the party that can defeat the BJP.”
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