By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
04 April 2020
They came with a promise of cleansing the system; a system that according to them was beset with nepotism and corruption. With the might of right-wing media and some influential think tanks doing their bidding, they were foisted on national imagination. Toasted by some arm chair academics on the Left, they were characterised as the harbinger of a second wave of democratic assertion in this country. Most forgot a fundamental problematic; that diagnosing corruption as moral lapse rather than as a structural issue can only lend itself to a right-wing politics. We were led to believe that the supporters of this anti-corruption movement, themselves practitioners of caste and dowry, were to change the superstructure of this country forever. We also conveniently overlooked the sources of support which this movement was tapping into.
The worrying signs were there for all to see: caricatures like Anna Hazare, mediocre bureaucrats like Kiran Bedi were hailed as new heroes of new India. And yet we persisted in our belief that a new political party will herald a new grammar of politics in India. It was not just duplicity and hypocrisy that birthed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), it was also our belief in such crusaders which has landed us here.
To be fair, the party’s focus on everyday infrastructural issues amplified the needs of the common people and brought the focus back on the politics of redistributive justice. In more ways than one, it made a real effect on the lives of ordinary citizens of the city. However, this sole managerial focus on Bijli, Sadak and Paani to the detriment of value politics has meant that AAP was unable to rise to the occasion when Delhi was being reduced to cinders. Rather than being on the streets and trying to douse the flames, the AAP was satisfying itself by pointing fingers at the home minister and the Delhi police. Certainly, the Delhi police and its boss the HM are ultimately responsible for the three days of mayhem and orchestrated madness in the city, but this does not absolve the AAP from its own responsibility as elected representatives of the people. After all, the kind of mandate which it won from the people of Delhi is not possible without having an effective network at the local level. Questions will certainly be asked as to why these networks were not activated to restore peace in the city.
Or is it that we are asking the wrong question altogether? What if the AAP, through its silence, and studied absence, was complicit in whatever happened? Of late, we have noticed that the party has been deliberately signalling its shift to the Hindu right. However much one gives it the benefit of doubt, it was for all to see that when Delhi was burning, Kejriwal was praying at the Gandhi Samadhi. A true Gandhian would have jettisoned prayers and toured the pogrom affected areas, giving succour to those who have lost their loved ones. He and his party should have been seen doing the rounds of various Mohallas organizing relief and rehabilitation. Instead, what we saw was a complete abdication of responsibility of Delhi government. Even when the party woke up to the criticism, it announced mega compensation for the killing of an off duty IB officer, someone who is alleged to have participated in the anti-Muslim pogrom with full enthusiasm. The party did not seem it fit to announce the same level of compensation to any Muslim killed in this violence.
They kept on stating a false equivalence that it was a ‘riot’ between Hindus and Muslims when it had become amply clear that it was Muslims who were disproportionately targeted. And despite a number of videos showing police complicity in the anti-Muslim violence, the party refused to condemn the Delhi police for its partisan role. Always finding an excuse to criticise the police force which it does not control; the party went mum when the same police force brutalised Muslims. Not very long ago, Kejriwal similarly kept silent when the same police force went inside the Jamia campus and indulged in brutal violence against students as if they were petty criminals.
More recently, Arvind Kejriwal requested registering of a FIR against Tablighi Jamaat. One is not arguing that he was wrong in doing so or that the Tablighis were not criminally negligent. However, this alacrity was missing when Kapil Mishra gave that incendiary slogan which emboldened Hindu mobs to maim and kill Muslims. Why was the morality of this ‘moral chief minister’ in abeyance when 19 mosques were burnt down during the Delhi pogrom? Why did he not request filing of FIR against central minister Anurag Thakur when he was exhorting violence?
Muslims voted overwhelmingly for this party in the recent Delhi elections. It was with a certain expectation that the AAP will chart out a different course of action from parties like the Congress and the BJP. Like other citizens, they also lauded the efforts of this party for making education and health into an electoral issue. But today, they understand that much like other parties, the AAP has also started taking the Muslim vote for granted. In these difficult times, Muslims expected this party to stand up for the protection of their constitutional rights. Instead, what we see is that the AAP is competing with all manners of right-wing Hindu parties to make inroads into the majoritarian vote-bank. The party has thrown Muslims under the bus and doesn’t care two hoots for their feelings of insecurity.
Some intellectuals are still defending this party by arguing that this is a strategic move by the AAP to stem the tide of BJP. This is like defending the Congress party for its not so occasional indulgence in the past in fomenting anti-Muslim violence and of late trying to toe the soft Hindutva line. But we all know that it did not work for the Congress party. And similarly, it will not work for the AAP. For the simple reason that there is already a party in power which speaks the language of otherness much better. No matter how hard the AAP tries, beating the BJP in this game is certainly an uphill task. What will certainly happen is that the AAP, in trying to become the BJP, might lose some of its own leaders to the latter.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com