AAP and Delhi Elections: Does Victory Without Invoking Social Justice Serve Any Good?

If Kejriwal's silence on Shaheen Bagh and police violence in Jamia before the elections was pragmatic, his continued ignorance of these issues is unacceptable.

Without Justice, there can be no peace.
He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as who helps to perpetrate it.

Martin Luther King Jr

Watching Arvind Kejriwal over the past few days makes one believe that one is in a different era: There are no protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Delhi, the women of Shaheen Bagh don’t exist and policeman are not storming into Delhi college campuses to beat up students.

Kejriwal’s pre and post-election speeches were fully centred around civic responsibilities. Apparently declining to rise to the bait of the BJP, he still keeps mum on Shaheen Bagh or other protests against the CAA and NRC. Instead, he limits himself to what he called his Kaam ki Rajniti (politics of work done)

Speaking during his swearing in ceremony at Ramlila Maidan on February 16, the Delhi chief minister said that India was ready for a new kind of politics based on education, roads, healthcare and electricity, ‘rising above the politics of caste and religion’.

The same day, the Jamia Action Committee shared new CCTV footage showing Dehli Police beating unarmed students in the Jamia Milia Islamia library on December 15, 2019. Ramlila Maidan, where Kejriwal took oath, is merely 13 km from Jamia, and yet the Delhi CM and his cabinet have kept a stoic silence.

A screenshot from the purported CCTV footage. Photo: Twitter/Jamia Coordination Committee

True, Kejriwal’s election doctrine of ignoring BJP’s Hindu-Muslim narrative worked well and earned praises from across the opposition, but his continued silence even after the elections is baffling.

Is keeping mum on social justice and minority rights the perfect template to take on the Narendra Modi-led BJP’s communal plank?

Being right in the eye of the storm of the anti-CAA and NRC protests, Kejriwal can no longer pretend that they do not exist.

Even after the elections, we are yet to know the AAP’s position on CAA, NPR and NRC, much less on the plight of students who were beaten by police in JNU and Jamia university. This is strange for someone who believes in the politics of education, but ignores the attack on students in his state.

Is AAP not playing to the gallery of Modi supporters who may have backed AAP in assembly elections? How can the chief minister ignore students getting beaten by police? They are Delhi residents too. If not the state’s CM, who else should the students in Delhi look up to, even if law and order are not under his control? Moreover, AAP does not seem to question the home ministry over Delhi’s Gargi College incident, where girl students were molested en masse on February 9.

Kejriwal may have changed his confrontational attitude on the advice of his poll strategist Prashant Kishor. But has he stretched it too far? Can you turn a blind eye to injustice in order to avoid being seen as a ‘minority appeaser’?

Also Read: Why Kejriwal 3.0 Must See the AAP Go National

Even in the speech he made during the oath-taking ceremony, Kejriwal did not stress on bhaichara (brotherhood) and instead spoke about kaam ki rajneeti. He does not ask Hindus to come to the rescue of their Muslim neighbours or vice versa, or for the upper castes to treat Dalits with respect. His kaam ki rajneeti wants to provide compensation to families of Dalits who die in Delhi’s sewer holes, but does not think of abolishing the practice altogether through mechanisation.

Why can Kejriwal not talk about the Assam NRC data, which shows that more Hindus have been excluded (14 lakh) than Muslims (5 lakh)? Hence, he can say that the CAA-NRC is not only against Muslims, but also marginalised Dalits, tribals and OBC Hindus and that every Indian should fight against these laws.

The protest at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi. Photo: Reuters

Cozying up to ‘Modi voters’

By not speaking up, Kejriwal continues to cozy up to the voters who believe that those protesting the CAA-NRC are ‘anti-nationals’ or that the students who were beaten up (mostly Muslims) deserve the punishment they are getting from the police. The party’s lack of ideological clarity is perhaps best encapsulated by AAP’s social media strategist Ankit Lal saying that the party can ‘go to left or right’.

Multiple reports have found many Delhi voters prefer Modi in Lok Sabha elections, but Kejriwal in elections for the state. Therefore, if f Kejriwal does not offer an alternative to the BJP, and confront Modi and Shah on issues and ideologies, it will continue to ignore the vast majority of the population. The party may win more state elections in Delhi, but will keep losing to Modi in the general elections.

Also Read: The Neuroscience Behind Kejriwal’s Victory

The Congress also seems to be adopting the AAP doctrine. When asked about why the party’s top brass is not visiting Shaheen Bagh, P. Chidambaram responded, “It will be falling into the BJP’s trap and will be made political.”

Kejriwal has definitely done good work in Delhi. But his reliance on ‘Modi voters’ to cross the line and hence playing to their ‘nationalist’ gallery by not invoking social justice and minority rights does not bode well, especially if AAP tries to enter national politics and if other parties try to replicate the Delhi chief minister.

More than just defeating the BJP in state elections, the party should address inherent inequalities in society. The saffron party has created deep religious divisions in the country and bigotry is on the rise, with atrocities on women and have-nots increasing. An effort to counter these developments cannot be a passive and defensive response in order to avoid alienating ‘Modi voters’. Will Kejriwal offer that counter vision? So far it doesn’t appear to be so.

Ravikiran Shinde is an independent writer on social and political issues.