Politics of Religion Pays Well for Delhi’s Ruling Aam Aadmi Party, Says Expert
04:23 GMT 24.09.2021 (Updated: 14:08 GMT 14.02.2023)
© AP Photo / Altaf QadriAam Aadmi Party, or Common Man's Party, leader Arvind Kejriwal addresses the crowd after taking oath as Chief Minister of Delhi for the third time, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020
© AP Photo / Altaf Qadri
The AAP styled itself as an alternative to the BJP and Congress in Delhi, and came to power in the city's legislative assembly in 2015 with a landslide victory on 67 of the 70 seats. The BJP was reduced to just three and Congress to zero. The AAP won another five-year term during the 2020 Assembly polls, bagging 62 seats.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by Arvind Kejriwal, has stood for the issues of equality and justice ever since it was founded, and has also tried to stay away from inclining toward any particular religion.
So far, the AAP has built a reputation of being a people's party, winning many hearts by providing electricity and water at reduced rates, and for its reforms in government-run schools in Delhi.
The national convener of the party and Delhi state chief, Kejriwal, said, while launching the AAP in 2012, that his party would not be guided by ideologies and it aimed to change the system.
Three years later, the AAP won the Delhi assembly elections having campaigned for development and a corruption-free society.
But now with elections looming in five Indian states - including Uttar Pradesh - the party seems to have no doubts about playing the religious card.
AAP's Steady Shift to Woo Hindu Voters
Last year, a former AAP member and close confidant of the Delhi state chief -- Ashutosh (who uses only first name) - described Kejriwal as "perhaps one of the smartest politicians in the Opposition", in an opinion piece titled “Yes, Kejriwal Peddling Soft Hindutva. Why That’s Very Smart".
"He realised the importance of Hindutva politics long before Rahul Gandhi started hopping from one temple to another,” Ashutosh wrote, adding that Kejriwal has consciously tried to woo Hindu voters and refrained himself and his party from being viewed in the company of Muslim leaders.
The gradual shift in the political stance of the AAP is now publicly visible since it has started to raise religious issues openly.
Earlier in June, one of the AAP leaders, Sanjay Singh, did a series of press conferences accusing the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust of pulling off an illicit land deal in Ayodhya, the city where the Ram temple is to be constructed. He even demanded an investigation by the country's top investigative agencies.
The trust was established by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led federal government for the construction and management of Lord Rama's temple in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama. Set up in February 2020, its main task is to oversee and manage the temple's construction according to the supreme court's directions.
Alleging the BJP government was not carrying out any investigation into the matter, AAP leader Singh even threatened to involve the court.
14 June 2021, 08:48 GMT
In August, in a bid to woo voters in the poll-bound Uttarakhand state, the AAP announced it would scrap the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Board, a contentious state board of shrines, should it come to power in the 2022 state assembly polls.
The local priests wants the board scrapped and are therefore protesting against the state's ruling BJP government.
The community's main objections include the government-founded board 's interfering in temple traditions and making decisions without consulting the priests.
Vinod Prasad Shukla, the president of a priest body -- Teerth Purohit Samaj Shri Kedarnath, said in one of his interviews that they have been running these temples for centuries, but now the government is running these revered places of pilgrimage by itself.
AAP's national convener Kejriwal has also said that his party will make the state the spiritual capital for Hindus across the world.
In another recent example, recently, Delhi's Deputy State Chief and senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia went to Ayodhya city, about 687km from Delhi, in Uttar Pradesh. The state is also due to run elections in a few months. Sisodia and Singh visited the famous Hanuman Garhi Temple.
Sisodia, after paying obeisance at the temple, revealed that he actually prayed for the establishment of the Ram Rajya (metaphorically used for Good Governance) in the state. He said they sought the blessings of Lord Hanumana to form the Aam Aadmi Party government in the state.
The Hindu-related statements, announcements or visits to the temples by AAP leaders, coming just ahead of the legislative assembly polls in five Indian states, seem to be an attempt by the party to charm Hindu voters.
What Do Political Pundits Think of AAP?
Talking to Sputnik about AAP's strategy, political analyst Shekhar Aiyar said: “This is not the first time AAP has talked about religion. In 2020, Kejriwal recited Hanuman Chalisa (the prayer offered to Lord Hanumana) and then tweeted the video, stating that listening to the Chalisa is good and soothing. Then he performed Diwali Puja at Akshardham Temple and now they've done Ganesh Puja there.”
“They are basically trying to use the emotional appeal to Hinduism and attract Hindu voters. They are competing for those Hindu votes which can be influenced on these grounds,” he added.
Calling it calculated tactics, Aiyar said that AAP is looking at what happened to India's main opposition Congress, which is a so-called secular party.
“The Congress suffered a major setback by talking about secularism. So, the AAP is trying to attract Hindu voters as well as keeping Muslim voters intact,” he stated.
Saying that politics of religion pays just as well for the AAP, the political analyst said that their strategy helped them during the 2020 Delhi assembly elections as they secured a thumping victory.
“The AAP has realised that if it has to fight with the BJP, it has to do that this way. They don’t want to leave the space of Hinduism for the BJP alone,” he said.
16 September 2021, 14:48 GMT
How BJP, Congress View Shift in AAP's Political Stance?
The federally ruling BJP is the main opposition party for AAP in Delhi.
Talking to Sputnik, BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal said that people - voters - may not fall into the trap of "situational Hinduism" by any of the parties whether AAP, Congress or any other party.
" Voters are today much more aware than before. The other political parties will not succeed in fooling the voters by giving false narration,” he stated.
Although denying any threat to the BJP from AAP through a Hinduism-inclined strategy, Agarwal said that Kejriwal is trying to occupy the space of the opposition.
Meanwhile, Congress criticised the AAP and the BJP for indulging in religion-based politics.
Talking to Sputnik, Congress national spokesman Akhilesh Pratap Singh described the AAP as being the B-team of the BJP.
“This is the reason they have the same kind of tactics and strategies. Both Kejriwal and PM Modi have failed to understand the aspirations of the public so they are just trying to fool the people with religion politics," the Congress spokesman stated.