A Messiah or a Blatant Opportunist?

 - Sakshi Post

Recently, there was a lot of brouhaha in the media and the political circles over Delhi chief minister (CM) Arvind Kejriwal’s appeal to the Central government to make available currency notes with the images of Goddess Laksmi and Lord Ganesha. Kejriwal also said that this act would boost the country’s economy. Here, an instance of Lord Hanuman as narrated by Harishankar Parsai, a noted Indian satirist, in his book Apni Apni Bimari seems awfully relevant. In the account titled “First Communist”, he recounts how Lord Hanuman became the first proletariat leader of the world.   Briefly, the story goes like this:

On the day when Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana, the whole city was decorated with lights and everyone, barring the merchant class, was in a celebratory mood. The news of Lord Ramas’s arrival had panicked them. There was a lot of commotion among the businessmen as they were aware that Lord Rama was the epitome of justice and honesty and he would not tolerate their corrupt practices. Lord Rama, even before reaching Ayodhya, got wise to the corrupt practices of the merchants. He asked his trusted lieutenant, Lord Hanuman, to investigate the issue, and to castigate the dishonest merchants.

Merchants got into a brainstorming session. Finally, they decided that they would change their ledgers on the day of Diwali. To cajole Lord Hanuman, they further decided to wrap their ledgers in red cloth, the color of Lord Hanuman’s loincloth. As per the instructions, Lord Hanuman went to the market to investigate the allegations. Upon seeing the ledgers wrapped in the same color cloth as his loincloth, he was utterly pleased. He thought that his devotees could do no wrong, and thus refrained from checking the accounts any further. He returned flattered, and reported to Lord Rama that the merchants were honest and that there was no wrong in their calculations.

The story, although set in a different context, should serve as a warning to the Indian voters, especially that of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Arvind Kejriwal- led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) knows fully well that the Hindus are a determining factor in Gujarat (88.5% Hindu) and Himachal Pradesh (95% Hindu). For AAP to succeed in these states, they would need a significant share of the Hindu votes. The latest episode of Kejriwal demanding the images of Goddess Laksmi and Lord Ganesha be printed on the currency notes is just another ploy to play false the Hindu voters in the run-up to the assembly polls. This is not the first time for Arvind Kejriwal. From reciting Hanuman Chalisa before the 2020 Delhi assembly elections to promising to turn Uttarakhand the spiritual capital for the Hindus, if voted to power in the state in 2022,  Kejriwal never lets go of an opportunity to beguile the Hindu electorate by appealing to their religious sensibilities.

On the face of it, Kejriwal may come across as a champion of the Hindu cause, but delving a bit deeper into the past of AAP would tell a different story. In reality, he is masquerading as an apostle for an ideology that neither he nor his fellow partyment subscribed to historically. The very Kejriwal, who said that his nani (grandmother) told him that her Ram cannot dwell in a temple which has been built post knocking down a masjid, launched his electoral campaign for the 2022 assembly polls in the states, including Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, by taking out a rally in Ayodhya in a bid to pay homage to Lord Rama.

Recently, while campaigning in Gujarat, he even evoked Lord Krishna to establish his Hindu credentials. Interestingly, AAP, in its formative years, boasted that their politics was devoid of identity, and was strictly founded on developmental issues. The paradoxical politics of AAP reeks of blatant opportunism. To call it “soft-hindutva” would be naive and misleading.

This two-facedness of AAP is also evident in the so-called “secular” developmental affairs. AAP, an offshoot of the Anna Hazare led- India against Corruption movement, pledged that, if voted to power, they would free the “system” from corruption. Today, two former cabinet ministers of AAP are behind the bars on corruption charges. Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi and Kejriwal's trusted lieutenant, is being probed for alleged irregularities and financial misconduct in the state’s liquor policy.

Besides corruption, the Kejriwal- led AAP government makes tall claims for their works on education and health in Delhi, widely referred to as the “Delhi model of governance”. In sooth, the state of education and health in the state is far less glossy than the claims made in the crores worth of government-sponsored advertisements.

Kejriwal- led AAP often claims that their education system is performing so well that students are ditching private schools for public schools in Delhi. But, the data in the Economic Survey of Delhi, 2021-22, narrates a different story. The share of private school enrolment at the primary and middle level increased from 31.07 percent in 2014-15 to 43.91 percent during 2020-21. Between February 2015 and May 2022, only 63 new schools have been opened in Delhi, as against the promised 500 new schools. Furthermore, an RTI revealed that only one-third of the Delhi government schools teach Science at the higher secondary level. Out of the 1,097 public schools, only 291 of them offer science as an option. The passing percentage of 10th and 12th are considered important indicators for evaluation of a student's academic performance. Here also, the data reveals a lackluster picture. In 2022, the 10th class passing percentage dropped to 81.3%, as against the national average of 94.4%. For the first-time since 2014, Delhi private schools outperformed the public schools in 2022, in terms of the 12th class passing percentage. Moreover, as per a recent RTI data, almost 52% of regular teaching positions in public schools are lying vacant in the state.

Health is another aspect where AAP claims their work has been exemplary. Data says otherwise.

According to the Economic Survey of Delhi, 2021-22, the number of hospitals plummeted to 88 in 2020 from 95 in 2014. In their 2015 manifesto, the party promised to add around 30,000 beds, but, as of April 2021, none were added till 2019. As per a recent report compiled on the state of health in Delhi by Praja, an independent think-tank, there is a shortage of around 21% of medical staff, and nearly 50% of paramedical staff.

Failing to walk the talk, AAP resorted to flashy advertisements to gloss over their competencies and to bamboozle the voters. A recent RTI reply reveals that the Delhi government’s ad spending went up from 11.18 crore in 2012 to a whooping 488.97 crore in 2021, a 4200% increase.

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi- led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has changed the course of India’s politics. Since his assumption of power in 2014, there has been a major rightward shift to the Overton window. With the surge of PM Modi’s popularity and that of Hindu sentiments, the so-called “secular” parties found it difficult to position themselves. Arvind Kejriwal, ambitious as he is, soon realized that he was caught on the wrong end of the popular trend, and that the AAP requires re-positioning. Faced with the double-whammy of ideological conundrum and the failure of his government to deliver on the tall promises, Kejriwal started selectively appropriating the politics of BJP in order to stay relevant. He wanted to have the “prestige of the left, and the privilege of the right”. But, he is now facing the heat from both ends.

In Uttarakhand (83% Hindu), despite running a high decibel campaign, the AAP faced a colossal defeat. For, if the BJP starts losing ground to phoneys like Kejriwal, it would not be long when the Overton window slides left towards the same old politics of minority appeasement in the charade of “secular” politics. Unlike Lord Hanuman, the voters must verify the actual numbers, and not just be impressed by the color of the ledgers.

The article is authored by Arnab Sen Sarma, Researcher on Public Policy. He is Associated with Peoples Pulse Research Organization, Hyderabad.

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