Triumph and cheer for the AAP, but to what end?

Arvind Kejriwal must determine whether he wishes to play a significant role in the Opposition or just rule to gain footholds in multiple states by diminishing regional and other Opposition parties

Sayantan GhoshUpdated: Tuesday, December 20, 2022, 11:04 PM IST
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Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal | PTI

Recent elections saw big gains for the Aam Aadmi Party, but Arvind Kejriwal's arbitrary populism failed horribly. Mr Kejriwal has every reason to celebrate, but he should not overestimate the significance of his triumphs. Arvind Kejriwal has become a weak opponent of the BJP but a destroyer of the Congress party. In Gujarat, the AAP's triumph came at the expense of the Congress, and neither in Gujarat nor in Delhi was Mr Kejriwal able to penetrate the voter base of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In India, the political space for the Opposition is rapidly shrinking, yet weakening other political parties to win elections is a catastrophic approach to politics. Arvind Kejriwal must determine whether he wishes to play a significant role in the Opposition or just rule to gain footholds in multiple states by diminishing regional and other Opposition parties.

This is not to diminish the accomplishment of the 10-year-old Aam Aadmi Party, which has become a national party. The ascent of Mr Kejriwal is historically significant. However, the current state of Indian politics requires every person to take a stand. This is not only because of electoral politics but also because of the vision of India as a nation. On the one hand, there is the Hindutva ideology practised by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party, while on the other hand, there is the secular ideology of a pluralistic and inclusive India.

From policy to philosophy, Mr Kejriwal is attempting to maintain his balance on two boats. There should be no doubt that the majority of opposition political parties in India today either preach or embrace secularism. However, there is an increasing trend whereby, with the exception of the Congress, the majority of Opposition political parties do not openly discuss their secular credentials any more. Mr Kejriwal is adhering to the Bharatiya Janata Party's tenets, and the issue remains whether people will ever vote for him based on his Hindu credentials. He now needs to determine on which side of the ideological battle he wishes to stand. Without a doubt, his ideology-free stance is certainly crucial, but the question is if he is truly a politician without an ideology. The response is no. He presents himself as an improved Hindu who encourages the development of schools and hospitals. The Aam Aadmi Party must also recognise that the Kejriwal brand does not exist; those who voted for him in Gujarat did so because they were dissatisfied with the Congress.

Another critical realisation for Mr Kejriwal is that minorities, from scheduled castes to Muslims, have begun to distance themselves from him. It is not because they are infatuated with the Congress party or because of having a great deal of interest in the Congress party. Minorities voted heavily for the Congress in important Muslim-populated wards in the Delhi municipal corporation elections in order to send a message to the BJP — the message is that they will not allow the hypocrisy of Arvind Kejriwal, who has constantly remained mute on the topic of atrocities committed against Muslims and Dalits in India, particularly in Delhi.

In the meantime, Mr Kejriwal has already declared that the party will target states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Haryana, among others. This pattern indicates that the Aam Aadmi Party is targeting states where the Congress Party is the dominant opposition or ruling party. Mr Kejriwal is capable of much more. The party should consider the circumstances in Delhi and Punjab. Today, the Aam Aadmi Party has also taken control of the municipal corporations of Delhi, providing the party with a significant opportunity to improve the status of the city. There are big unresolved problems in Delhi.

For example, the Kejriwal Government has done little to clean the Yamuna during the previous several years. Similarly, to tackle air pollution in Delhi, we require a more comprehensive and long-lasting plan that is not reliant solely on emergency action plans. With the assistance of MCD, Kejriwal would be able to develop new hospitals and schools, as promised by the Aam Aadmi Party administration during the assembly elections but which they could not do because the land is not under the control of the state government. Similarly, the AAP administration in Punjab has a number of outstanding projects to complete. The Punjab Government is functioning well, but there is a need for a stronger party organisation there. Several promises, including financial assistance for the woman, have yet to be fulfilled. Similarly, the Punjab administration under Bhagwant Mann performed poorly during the crop-burning season, and the state's stubble-burning problem is still very much a problem that requires serious consideration.

Arvind Kejriwal has attained unprecedented political success, and it is now time for him to evaluate his position. From its original stance against corruption and transparency to its acceptance of India's diversity, the Aam Aadmi Party has no clear political stance on these matters today. If Mr Kejriwal desires to be unique, he has the opportunity to do so, but he cannot advance by merely replicating the BJP's playbook and eliminating the Opposition's political space. The party has had the opportunity to reflect on its organisation and guiding ideals. Without overinterpreting this victory, the chance should be utilised to become a better and stronger political force capable of offering more than freebies, appeasement and BJP-style politics.

The writer is a doctoral research scholar in media and politics. He tweets @sayantan_gh. Views expressed in this article are personal

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