Kejriwal’s service-delivery model encounters riotous mobs
There is no resolution to the question as to whether service-delivery, a form of executive action in peace times, is an answer to hate politics and violence in times of conflict. Kejriwal’s moment of victory has also made him increasingly vulnerable.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s problems seem to have compounded after his landslide victory in the assembly polls.
Days after the polls saw his party win 62 out of 70 assembly seats and garner more than half the votes cast, Kejriwal has had to face probing questions in the context of the Delhi riots, which has killed about 40 people until now.
The problem is unique. His government is not in charge of the Delhi Police. Delhi is a union territory with a legislature and does not enjoy full statehood. Law and order -- which falls under the purview of the state government in our federal, or quasi-federal, system – is with the Centre in Delhi.
Delhi Police have been accused of acting with laxity in containing riots, which saw mobs attack largely Muslim neighbourhoods at a time when US President Donald Trump was in the city.
Why then is Kejriwal under fire for the riots taking a heavy toll?
The reason: his strategy of focusing on service delivery and not secularism as an ideology is being put to the test.
Kejriwal ushered in a new kind of politics to take on an ideologically charged BJP in the capital. At a time when the BJP resorted to hard Hindutva – with BJP leaders making openly provocative statements to fuel Hindu-Muslim polarization in the context of largely peaceful protests in Muslim neighbourhoods against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act – Kejriwal refused to be provoked into making the Delhi polls a contest between secularism and Hindutva.
Perhaps he had learnt a lesson from the fact that the city that had helped his party win the 2015 assembly polls had given the BJP a clean sweep in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.
Kejriwal read the writing on the wall: there is a large group of mainly Hindu voters that chooses state governments based on performance, but votes in the Lok Sabha polls on the grounds of “strong leadership”, hyper-nationalism, perceived security threats, and Hindutva.
He stuck to his governance record and chose to ignore the BJP’s highly polarizing campaign. He talked about his government’s record on education, health, and about the power and water subsidies it had offered.
Despite the vitriol – and instances of armed men firing shots near Jamia Millia Islamia and in Shaheen Bagh, the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests – Kejriwal won comfortably.
By a publicized, innocuous, visit to a Hanuman temple before the polls, he ensured that Hindus did not veer towards the BJP on religious grounds.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s triumph was followed by a public announcement that Sundar Kanda recitals would take place in Delhi neighbourhoods.
The post-poll flare-up
However, this service-delivery strategy peppered with soft Hinduism has come under serious challenge from aggressive Hindutva. Despite Home Minister Amit Shah saying that provocative speeches by BJP leaders might have led to the poll debacle, many in the BJP internally felt that the increase in the party’s vote percentage to almost 40 per cent was an endorsement of its communal pitch.
BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who had made hate speeches earlier too, gave an ultimatum to the Delhi Police to evict protesters, adding that the police would not be able to “stop us” after the Trump visit was over.
This was followed by the violence that continued for about two days, leading to killings and the desecration of a mosque. The majority of those killed were Muslims but some Hindus also lost their lives.
Hindutva on the streets
This has placed Kejriwal in a vulnerable position. He did not visit the riot-torn localities when the violence was ongoing, something many said he should have done. Critics say his soft Hinduism tactic is meaningful only when he and his MLAs can intervene, using their party networks, to protect lives. Without this, AAP is no challenge or even an alternative to the BJP. However, many feel that Kejriwal could himself have been targeted if he did go to the riot-hit areas, premising their claim on the ground that Delhi Police wasn’t doing enough to protect people.
Kejriwal did visit hospitals where the injured were being treated. He also sat in silence at Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi’s Samadhi, in what was a symbolic gesture for peace. Critics said Gandhi was not a silent dissenter but one who intervened directly at great personal risk to stop riots.
The Delhi CM had a meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah regarding the violence. He has also announced a compensation of Rs. 10-lakh to each family that lost a member.
In line with his hands-off policy, he also suspended AAP leader Tahir Hussain, who has been accused of taking part in the violence. The Delhi government announced a compensation of Rs. 10-lakh to the kin of those who lost their lives and Rs. 5-lakh to those who lost their homes.
The ideological challenge
Contrary to Kejriwal’s calculation, it seems as though the national capital is becoming a kind of Hindutva laboratory even after the election results have been announced. It looks like the polarization tactic wasn’t just aimed at the polls, but is set to become a fixture of the politics of the capital.
In this lies a local challenge posed to the AAP by the BJP. Soft Hinduism to neutralize hard Hindutva may not work at the time of riots, as it seems vacuous symbolism. Violence has thrust the centrality of ideology in Delhi front and centre, in ways that the AAP leader has no immediate answer to. It threatens to take attention away from the Delhi government’s service-delivery model, and also makes Muslims doubt whether Kejriwal, for whom they voted, is at all capable of challenging the BJP.
To be fair to Kejriwal, neither the Congress nor any other opposition party did anything to prevent the killings that were happening on the streets. So, exclusively targeting him may not wash. However, as the Chief Minister who has just won a huge victory, it isn’t wrong to say that he has a responsibility to reach out to people.
Let’s face it: neither AAP nor the Congress – nor indeed any other party -- has any leader like Mahatma Gandhi, who would stake everything to stop killings, even if his own life were endangered in the process.
But, that said, there is no resolution to the question as to whether service-delivery, a form of executive action in peace times, is an answer to hate politics and violence in times of conflict.
Kejriwal’s moment of victory has also made him increasingly vulnerable.