Even as Northeast Delhi struggles to come to peace following the worst communal frenzy witnessed in the national capital in over three decades—the anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984 following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi being the last major communal incident—questions continue to be raised upon the role of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), for not doing enough to stem the tide.
In the run-up to the Delhi Assembly elections, Kejriwal’s rivals, including sections within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and those within the Congress, had alleged him of playing the Hindutva card.
Following the communal violence, the Congress has further alleged Kejriwal of being ‘conspicuous with his absence’ on the streets of Delhi when the state and its citizens needed him the most.
The riots broke out on February 24, exactly nine days after Arvind Kejriwal took oath as Delhi’s chief minister for the third time in a row.
On Saturday, at the time of writing this article, death toll in the violence—which had rocked Muslim-dominated areas including Jaffrabad, Maujpur and Karawal Nagar—had been officially numbered at 42 with hundreds more injured and missing. The Army was never called in despite Kejriwal’s appeal to the central government arguing that the situation was out of control of Delhi police. The Delhi Police does not function directly under the CM but reports to Union Home Minister Amit Shah under a Constitutional provision.
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“Kejriwal and the entire troop of the AAP were conspicuous by their absence in all the protests that were leading up to the elections including the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. There were temple hopping trips by Kejriwal in the run-up to the polls and an announcement that the Sundar Kand of the Ramayana will be read out every Tuesday in all neighbourhoods of the national capital. At this time when Delhi is witnessing a terrible situation with rioting and tension, he has again been largely conspicuous with his absence. There have only been statements by him which are less than convincing. He could have visited the violence-hit areas and played a more proactive role in trying to allay fears and establishing calm in the capital,” said Congress national spokesperson Anshul Avijit.
However, the Congress brushed off allegations that it itself adopts a soft-Hindutva approach even though its former President Rahul Gandhi has in the past also practiced ‘temple-hopping’ during poll campaigns. “The Congress does not believe in soft Hindutva. It has been a tradition in the party to visit all places of religious worship even during the freedom struggle. The Congress has been organising Sarva Dharma prayer meetings since long. Whereas, it was a clear break in practice for the AAP to go temple hopping during the run-up to the polls this year,” said Avijit.
Prior to the filing of his nomination papers, and immediately after declaration of the poll results, Arvind Kejriwal visited the Hanuman Temple in Connaught Place of central Delhi apart from famously reciting the Hanuman Chalisa during the run-up to the elections. After taking over the reins of power in Delhi, the AAP, through its chief spokesperson, Saurabh Bhardwaj, who is also the sitting MLA of Greater Kailash in South Delhi, announced that the Sundar Kand of the Ramayana will be read out every Tuesday in each neighbourhood of the national capital.
Avijit added, “It was something new to his electoral strategy. Hindutva is a very complicated word. There was certainly a tactic used by Kejriwal to widen his appeal. But that is the least of his issues. He was not visible at a time when Delhi was going up in flames.”
However, several commentators, particularly on the social media, as well as true-blue AAP followers, have termed Kejriwal’s temple-hopping and the AAP’s attempts in adopting Hindu religious symbols into its political discourse as a sly attempt to pull the rug of Hindutva from under the feet of the BJP.
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There was no response from the AAP on this issue despite repeated calls and text messages to its leaders and spokespersons including Saurabh Bhardwaj, Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chaddha and Atishi.
A couple of days before the riots broke out in Delhi, Rajya Sabha MP and BJP spokesperson Swapan Dasgupta told NewsClick that Kejriwal was trying to play ‘a politically neutralising game’ in Delhi by adopting the symbols of Hindutva.
“There are a lot of political parties which recognise that they have to make simple gestures towards the electorate by being seen as not hostile to the Hindu ethos. For them it is part of a politically neutralising game. It has been felt in the past that the weariness of political parties towards Hindu institutions and symbols had given the BJP a certain political space. And they have been saying that they will deny the BJP the monopoly of that political space. That is all they were doing,” said Dasgupta.
However, Dasgupta did not attribute the BJP’s defeat in the Delhi Assembly polls to Kejriwal’s temple-hopping episodes.
“The AAP did not win because Kejriwal read out the Hanuman Chalisa. The AAP fought on local issues. The BJP did not have any local issues with which it could contest the elections,” added Dasgupta.
Political observers, however, strongly believe that the politics of AAP has not tilted towards right-wing Hindutva.
“I think it was a strategy to just win the elections. In cricketing parlance, BJP was trying to bowl lots of bouncers at Kejriwal who ducked several balls. But at times he also hit the bouncers for boundaries. His chanting of Hanuman Chalisa could be considered as hitting one of the bouncers across the boundary since he was asked whether he could recite it. BJP wanted to drag Kejriwal into some kind of a controversy to force him to come out with a statement that could be seen as pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu,” Sanjay Kumar, Director of the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, told NewsClick.
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He added, “Basically, during the entire campaign, BJP was playing on its own pitch of ultra-nationalism and Kejriwal was playing on his pitch of development. BJP wanted to drag Kejriwal into their pitch. He went to their pitch, scored some runs and came back to play on his own pitch. I strongly believe AAP has not tilted towards Hindutva as its ideology. It is all about being pragmatic. The party was contesting elections and didn’t want to be seen as anti-Hindu.”
Saying that this can be a constitutional obligation of Kejriwal, he added, “You don’t expect anyone who holds a constitutional position to be taking sides. In situations where people belonging to two communities are at loggerheads you don’t expect the chief minister or someone holding a Constitutional position to be taking sides. You take sides on policies but you don’t take sides on clashes.”
The writer is an independent journalist.