If the idea was to leave no room for any ambiguity about his overarching political ambition for the 2024 general elections, the Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener, Arvind Kejriwal, pulled off that feat through his speech at the AAP event in the national capital on Wednesday.
Launching the “Make India Number 1” campaign, Kejriwal appealed to the country’s 130 crore people to join the “national mission” on five projects – education, health, employment, women rights and sustainable farming.
“I will travel across the country to make people join the mission. It will be an alliance of 130 crore people,” Kejriwal said while addressing a large number of AAP workers waving tricolours in Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium.
“Ye kisi party ka mission nahi hai, humara kisi party se lena dena nahi hai (this is not a party campaign, it has nothing to do with any party),” the AAP supremo claimed, seeking to cast an apolitical halo around an ambitious political move.
And then came Kejriwal’s “pran (resolution)” of “not resting in peace until India becomes the number 1 country” in what appeared to be carefully chosen terminologies with striking parallels to a speech made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on the Independence Day.
But the differences between the two speeches are equally stark. While PM Modi’s articulation of “panch prans” stand on the lofty ideals of culture and civilisation, Kejriwal’s “panch sabse zaroori kaam” are rooted in the realities of everyday life on the ground.
Every child should receive free quality education; every citizen is entitled to free quality healthcare; no young person should be unemployed; women should get equal rights, security and respect; farmers should get the right price for their produce – these are the five areas Kejriwal listed as part of his proposed mission.
“These are areas where Kejriwal has demonstrated administrative competence. People have endorsed this brand of politics of work. Modi’s political project goes well with his larger-than-life personality perfected over the years. Kejriwal has to frame his vision differently,” an AAP leader said.
Kejriwal’s emphasis on “free” education and healthcare was his way of countering PM Modi’s disapproval of “free ka revdi” or freebies.
On his “work-centric” agenda, however, the fraught issues of religion and caste registered a token presence, defined in his words like “pyaar and mohabbat”.
“Hindus fight Muslims, Muslims fights Christians, we cannot afford to fight. We have to conduct and behave like a family. Nafrat khatam (let’s end hate)…every religion, every community will have to unite,” Kejriwal said in what was termed as the AAP’s “pragmatic vision statement”.
“By now it is clear that the AAP will not play to the strengths of the BJP. The idea is to pull them back to seemingly mundane issues of practical value in a person’s life,” said an AAP functionary.
While the political returns of that strategy will become clearer in the days to come, even as the party gears up to contest the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls due by the end of this year, it also means that the AAP will remain non-committal or even silent on hot-button issues like civil liberties and majoritarianism. The party’s silence on the release of the Bilkis Bano gangrape case convicts by the Gujarat government is a case in point – which was in sharp contrast to the strong condemnation of the BJP government’s move by many Opposition parties, from the Congress to the TRS.
“A party cannot effectively counter the RSS-BJP agenda unless it has power. It is futile to make grand statements without making any difference electorally. And we stand to get nothing out of allying with Congress or other parties,” said AAP sources, seeking to justify the party’s approach.
In his speech, Kejriwal also made it clear that the possibility of the AAP joining any Opposition alliance in the run-up to the 2024 elections was slim. “The country cannot be left to them (old parties). Some of them work to advance the interests of their families, some for their friends. Over the last 75 years, they have only done that,” he said while taking a swipe at the parties like the BJP and the Congress.