For over a week now, Indian liberals have been pleading, almost begging, with Kejriwal to show some solidarity with their favorite ‘secular’ causes. They are pleading with him to go to Shaheen Bagh, meet students of Jamia Milia Islamia, say a word of support for Sharjeel Imam and what not.
But Arvind Kejriwal is unflappable. The man who once delighted Pakistani hearts by questioning surgical strikes has been walking in lock step with the BJP on all issues that have to do with ‘nationalism.’ Until the election in Delhi, liberals admitted they understood his compulsions. But now that the results are out, they want him to drop the act and join hands with Shaheen Bagh. Liberals are convinced that Kejriwal’s heart is with them.
Unfortunately for liberals and their sinking hearts, the Delhi CM is giving them a lesson in realpolitik like no other. Here is what AAP is actually busy doing.
Hindu votes matter. Welcome to 2020.
On the landscape of Indian politics, everyone seems to be doing the same thing. Kejriwal recites Hanuman Chalisa on demand. Mamata Banerjee shows off her ability to remember a host of Hindu mantras. Rahul Gandhi can’t stop visiting temples. Even the inexorable Communists are said to be considering steps that will give their outdated party a Hindu makeover.
Everyone on the Hindu right seems to be enjoying the turn of events, with the ecosystem on its knees before a newly unified Hindu voting bloc. But opinion is divided over the long term real impact of a ‘soft Hindutva’ opposition.
On one side, there are those who see much good coming of this. A democracy runs on two wheels, not one. With the opposition getting on the Hindu bandwagon, the “center” shifts towards the Hindutva. It also exerts rightward pressure on the BJP to deliver even more substantially on core Hindutva concerns.
Then there are those who worry that the current rightward shift is too opportunistic. That it might give Hindus a false sense of political security. And once the Hindu wave subsides, “secularism” will quickly bare its fangs.
Both sides are right in their own way, but I would say the concerns are overblown. Yes, the ‘soft Hindutva’ from the opposition is an act, a desperate choice made under pressure of circumstances. To us, it may seem like an act, but so what? In politics, perception is reality. And perception soon turns into reality.
Let us dissect this. It is easy to get too involved with ourselves and forget that the present moment is not everything. That we are constantly being replaced by younger generations. The electorate is constantly being replenished with new generations who are walking into a very different political landscape than what we remember. In the epic of India’s destiny, our lives are but a speck.
So we notice the transition because we were very much around to see it happen. At least, it is still fresh in our memory. We remember Kejriwal’s politics from four years ago. Does everyone? In fact, who remembers Kejriwal from his supposed anti-corruption avatar and Anna Hazare movement? That was in 2011! It’s about to be ten years. In this Delhi campaign, did you hear Kejriwal even say the word corruption?
He chose to stop talking about corruption and picked up free bijli-paani as his main political act. Over the years, the act became a reality. The life of most politicians and most political parties is a succession of such deliberately chosen acts. And that is pretty much all that matters.
Similarly, if the opposition now wants to walk into the Hindu mold, there is little cause for alarm. The act will soon become a reality. Younger voters will not know anything else. And older voters will gradually forget the earlier times. As a net result, India’s politics will evolve towards the Hindu right.
We can look back and see just how true this is. The UPA government from 2004 to 2014 can only be described as “hardline anti-Hindu.” This is the government that openly said that Muslims would have the first right to India’s resources. They conspired to crush Hindu institutions with the RTE. They dreamed up the Communal Violence Bill, which would hold Hindus responsible for every act of sectarian violence in India. They floated the Hindu terror theory. Even when actual terror attacks happened, many of their leaders would fan conspiracy theories about Hindu terror.
But for the Congress, the hardline anti-Hindu stance was also an act, a considered choice. Who remembers that Rajiv Gandhi began his election campaign from Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya? Indira Gandhi was never averse to harnessing soft Hindutva for the sake of winning elections. The Indian constitution has a drawing of Purushottam Ram on its most important page, at the beginning of Part III where the Fundamental Rights are listed. Imagine if such a thing were suggested now. The extended Congress ecosystem would start convulsing with hatred. Today, they can’t stand a train berth that is symbolically reserved for Lord Shiva for just one day. Not even an Om symbol drawn by hand on the side of the Rafale.
The Congress was convinced that its narrow win in 2004 was purely due to consolidation of ‘secular’ votes. And when they won bigger in 2009, they became certain that hardline anti-Hindu was the way to go!
That’s how they picked up this act. And then the act took over them and became reality.
The same phenomenon can be seen in other spheres. Only the other day, there was a flutter on social media because some liberal comedian thought that cities of Delhi, Agra and Amdavad were all built by Mughals.
How come they did not know the Hindu heritage behind these cities? Surely the Hindus who were around when these places were conquered and subjugated were aware of the heritage. But that was hundreds of years ago. The generations that came later simply forgot.
This is why labels matter. Changing the name of a city may not feel like much. A political party picking up a new act may even seem like bluff. But it makes a huge difference some years down the line. When Bombay was renamed, most people still called it Bombay. For a while. Now everyone says Mumbai.
The Congress may not be the main opposition for much longer. It looks all set to cede its position to a clutch of regional parties. And these regional parties increasingly want to be seen as Hindu in their outlook and identity. Many of these regional leaders will pass their parties down to their kids. The culture of these parties will change forever. If India manages to keep its Hindu demographics, the conscious and opportunistic choice by certain parties to “act Hindu” today will ultimately prevail over the entire political culture. And nobody will remember anything else.