Arvind Kejriwal, Article 370 and A Blind Alley — Subhash Gatade

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Delhi

SUBHASH GATADE | Caravan Daily

AAP’s stand on article 370 has confused and disheartened many.

For its workers, the party has opened itself to attacks by its adversaries because of its support to the stripping of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir and thus weakening its own plank for full statehood for Delhi which was its key slogan during the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign.

A section of its fellow-travelers who had high hopes of the experiment, activists/scholars – who were rather enthused with its ‘participatory’ approach – also feel betrayed or disheartened now.

It is a different matter that not many have made their displeasure known.

May be it is a sign of their increasing fatigue or possible cynicism with politics in general, they have preferred to share their frustrations at private levels only.

A long-time friend with whom one had taken baby steps in left politics and who later changed his track, became a camp follower of the ‘Mai Bhi Anna‘ brigade, – called me in frustration:  ‘How can he do that? Does not he understands that it is a challenge to constitutional governance and federal division of power in India’ and how it would further ‘stoke and strengthen majoritarian politics in the country’. It is a different matter his differences with AK ended then and there and he like many others did not go public with his frustration and anger.

Of late, one notices that the silence – among supporters/fellow travellers – which largely engulfed AAP’s ‘unprincipled’ decision is slowly melting and dissenting ( or should one say ‘perturbed’) voices are being heard.

Close on the heels of a leader of the Narmada movement from Madhya Pradesh – who has been associated with AAP from its inception – who raised her objection to AAP’s decision and who even claimed to raise the issue at higher levels in the party in future, now comes the news that one of its ‘well-wisher, and someone who has been seriously supportive of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) through all the ups and downs in the years since its formation’ has also decided to speak out as he feels ‘perturbed by.. developments (https://kafila.online/2019/08/20/nationalism-and-politics-an-open-letter-to-arvind-kejriwal/) and has written an ‘open letter’ to Kejriwal.

..extraordinary situation that has been created in this country with the unilateral, stealthy and therefore cowardly abrogation of article 370 and the locking down of the state of Kashmir, stationing anything between 50, 000 to 1 lakh troops in the state, arresting reportedly almost 4000 leaders and activists belonging to different political parties and completely shutting down the media. (-do-)

1.

The ‘open letter’ seems to be a bag of mixed emotions.

There is a sense of worry, concern, disquiet which is simultaneously tinged with few queries, suggestions and advice as well. It is tinged with little expression of grief over the state of affairs in the country.

There are places where the letter even sounds more like reminding the architect of this move – namely Arvind Kejriwal – his ‘ideals’ (‘Gandhi is your lodestar, by your own account‘) and asking him to think what he ( Gandhi) would have done in similar situation if he would have discovered ‘..using the armed might of the state, abrogating all civil liberties, putting thousands of people behind bars? Would he have welcomed this move?’ or at places even explaining his stand to a wider populace

..your nationalism is different from Gandhi’s and that you felt compelled to support the government, did you not feel the need, at the same time to at least say a few words at the unprecedented violence and immense cowardice of this murder of democracy? I am sure you know why I call this move cowardly. ..

There is a sense of bewilderment also that when even someone like Raj Thackreay ‘could  see the game behind this so-called nationalist move‘ whereas Kejriwal badly failed and did not even feel the need to ‘qualify his support to the government‘  which is then followed by a query :

Is it because the Delhi elections are round the corner that you choose to keep silent even on this minimum? If that is so, that would be a very sad situation.

The writer has also underlined his appreciation of the move by opposition parties that they are coming together ‘to demand the minimum – the release of all the leaders and activists arrested‘ in Kashmir and is also of the opinion that when larger issues of principles arise – fate of one government should not matter‘.

At the end of the letter, the writer advises Kejriwal that he should develop his ‘politics now‘ ( of course, not like a ‘loony leftist’ !) and explains what does politics means, how it is not ‘fighting particular issues’ but it is also about

..expanding the circle of friends and identifying the enemy; it is about being aware that the field you function in, is already populated by vested interests and even doing a simple thing like providing good and cheap education is a veritable battle. You rally your forces and isolate the enemy.

2.

Let me admit that coming from someone who has been a supporter of AAP and who has even helped him at some level in elections, this ‘open letter’ needs to be welcomed – not only because writer has voiced his concern openly – but also because taking a stand on this sensitive issue, where one even witnesses a mass frenzy of sorts, taking your neck out has its own disadvantages.

It does not mean I do not have my disagreements with how it analyses the predicament in which AAP finds itself today, where it is seen supporting a move which has even been described as ‘constitutional coup’ by academics/scholars. (https://thewire.in/government/kashmir-article-370-constitutional-coup-aftereffects)

Looking at the tone of the letter it is clear that the writer feels that there would be some discussion on his observations which he has made public (may be for want of any proper forum to voice his opinion) or at least there would be some official/unofficial response to it.

As an outsider one can just wish him luck for this little expectation.

This pen pusher has his own doubts about any such response because earlier experiences in this case have not been encouraging. e.g. We have before us the experience of founder members of AAP (https://www.epw.in/journal/2014/10/web-exclusives/ideology-suspended-animation.html) like Ms Madhu Madhuri – who happened to be a diplomat, when she was shouted down in a meeting just because she wanted to raise the ‘act of vigilantism’  by ‘supporters of AAP’ targetting African women.

It is now history how senior leaders like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav – who were even founder members of the party – were expelled from the party without much discussion (https://www.livemint.com/Politics/DQqviVgfEGr2mBbMWLyURI/Yogendra-Yadav-Prashant-Bhushan-removed-from-AAPs-National.html).

Observers have noted how Kejriwal took full control of the party after coming to power ‘The founding members of the party who had objected to Kejriwal taking unilateral decisions, allotting tickets to tainted candidates, sidestepping swarajya, and cautioning against personality-cult politics were purged from the party. ..The party seemed to have faked the values of high morality and probity in public life to create a false perception among the people for political traction and electoral victory.’ (https://www.epw.in/journal/2017/17/web-exclusives/aap-has-decimated-historic-mandate-alternative-politics.html)

3.

Coming to the ‘open letter’ would it be correct to say that support for BJP’s move on article 370 can be seen as a reflection of Kejriwal’s understanding of nationalism as the writer feels constrained to say ?

While one needs to further unpack this understanding, one feels that this ‘piecemeal approach’ focusing on a particular decision – may / may not explain the reasons behind this about turn.

We need to (at least) relook/revisit some of the earlier ( or latest) controversial statements/ stands taken by Arvind Kejriwal.

If a differing view of ‘nationalism’ could be spotted as the reason for Kejriwal’s support to abrogation of article 370, then  how does one explain his claims merely few months before elections when he made statements which were construed as ‘polarising’ ! One can recall when AAP’s chances of an alliance with Congress, finally fizzled out Kejriwal claimed in a press conference – that according to ‘our survey, no Hindu will vote for Congress anyway. Muslims were initially confused, but now they will vote for us,”. No details of the survey were ever provided, the claim was clearly construed as a statement which aimed at ‘polarising’ voters on religious basis. It was also seen as a growing realisation within AAP’s ranks that ground is rapidly slipping from below their feet and election results vindicated it rather badly.

The abysmal performance of AAP was reflected in the fact that not only all its seven candidates lost the elections but five even lost their deposits. What had added salt to the wounds was that the party had lost even to the Congress. From a vote share of 54 per cent in 2015 and 67 out of 70 seats in the assembly,  to just 18 per cent in 2019.

Atishi Marlena – the party’s key face in the elections to the parliament – for who deputy Chief Minister had campaigned rather aggressively, was a distant third, losing even to Congress’s Arvind Singh Lovely.  Remember how Atishi – daughter of Marxist parents who had named her in a different manner – was rediscovered as a ‘Punjabi Hindu’ during elections, supposedly to blunt the opposition propaganda that she was a ‘Christian’ but that also did not help her in any way.

Was not it a sign of desperation in the ranks of AAP that they had to go for a ‘makeover’ of Atishi Marlena and project her as ‘Punjabi Hindu’ and it had no qualms that all these steps were hitting at its claim to be a flag-bearer of ‘alternative politics’.

Analysts have also noted ‘perceptible attempt at reinforcing Kejriwal’s own identity as a ‘Hindu’’ post elections.

On June 4, 12 days after the Lok Sabha poll results, Kejriwal  retweeted a picture, “Swaminarayan Bhagwan Ka Abhishek’ (Kejriwal performing Abhishek of Swaminarayan ji) and went on to retweet four more pictures tweeted by the party’s official Twitter handle.

A day before, on July 4, Kejriwal had tweeted Eid greetings in a simple and unobtrusive manner, “Aap sabhi ko eid Mubarak”, there were no pictures.

(https://www.news18.com/news/politics/hindu-politics-zero-attacks-on-modi-kejriwals-new-strategy-ahead-of-herculean-delhi-polls-2275119.html)

One can also look at his announcement of free bus rides for women, which was done on Independence Day – which also happened to coincide with Raksha Bandhan and its implementation will begin on Bhai Dooj.

It also adds

Kejriwal had welcomed the court verdict in the Kathua gang-rape and murder of a minor, however, his silence on the lack of conviction of the six accused in the Pehlu Khan lynching case was too loud to go unnoticed. In the latter instance, Kejriwal did not even tweet. He delegated the same to his deputy Manish Sisodia. (-do-)

One can even look at Kejriwal’s latest statement on the economic slowdown.

Die-hard supporters of the government have not minced words in lambasting the government for its ‘wrong economic and labour policies’ and have demanded ‘immediate course correction in the current economic and labour reform path the government has undertaken’ (https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/rss-trade-union-urgent-steps-revive-auto-manufacturing-sectors-protest-govt-wrong-policies/story/373810.html)  or central government’s policy advisors have themselves admitted that India’s economy is witnessing a slowdown, government’s hand-picked Chief to the NITI Aayog seems ringing ‘[t]he alarm bell, calls for unprecedented steps’ from the government, but Kejriwal seems to be hopeful.

In a public meeting, he openly declared that he has ‘[F]aith in Centre to Deal With Economic Slowdown; Delhi Govt Will Give Full Support’. He said that this  ‘[i]s one situation where the country has to stand as one and repair the economy’ (https://www.news18.com/news/politics/have-faith-in-centre-to-deal-with-economic-slowdown-delhi-govt-will-give-full-support-says-kejriwal-2281093.html)

Perhaps somebody should ask him why should people further suffer – by supporting the government – when the government’s pro-rich, pro-crony capitalist economic policies, which played further havoc with steps like demonetisation (DeMo) have landed us in this situation and despite enough warnings not only from opposition but its own advisers is still not ready to revise them nor express regrets for steps like DeMo.

4.

To be very frank, the experiment of AAP, which was seen as a ‘beginning of a new bandwidth of alternative politics in the political spectrum of India‘ (https://www.epw.in/journal/2017/17/web-exclusives/aap-has-decimated-historic-mandate-alternative-politics.html) by many, who also had high hopes of it writing ‘a new grammar and syntax of democratic politics in India‘ (-do-) has lost its steam.

It is for everyone to see that with all that grandiose talks of ‘alternative politics’ what has emerged is a grand caricature of the very idea itself. The great warrior against corruption – which was presented to us by the media and buttressed by a section of the confused intelligentsia many of whom had lost hope from the ‘loony left’ – appears like a pale shadow of himself.

The manner in which Mr Kejriwal who had begun his innings as a chief minister by taking a confrontationist stand against the government and who had once even made ‘[a] wild public allegation’ that attempts were on to ‘physically liquidate him’ (https://www.epw.in/journal/2017/17/web-exclusives/aap-has-decimated-historic-mandate-alternative-politics.html) has suddenly started discovering virtues in every other step of the government.

Kejriwal’s metamorphosis has even prompted even biting comments from some of those who were once enthusiastic about the whole experiment. A famous fact-checker even captioned his post on Kejriwal – wherein he was seen singing paeans to the government about its ability to deal with economic slowdown – as ‘Chowkidar Kejriwal.’

One was suddenly reminded of an R K Laxman cartoon published in the early nineties depicting the power struggle between Sharad Pawar and Narasimha Rao – who was then Prime Minister of India. It is part of history how Pawar had to finally submit to the authority of Rao. The cartoon over these developments with few illustrations was captioned ‘He came, he saw and he concurred‘.

How the AAP experiment would further unfold remains to be seen but as the ‘open letter’ suggests many people who were once fascinated with the idea are suddenly finding themselves in a blind alley.

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Subhash Gatade is an eminent author, activist and the Convener of New Socialist Initiative. He is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010), Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India (2011). The article first appeared in kafila.online.

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