Delhi Elections: Kejriwal Sidesteps Shah’s Communal Bait

Outsmarting the heavy-handed, powerful and well-funded electoral juggernaut engine of the BJP in the coming Delhi Elections, Arvind Kejriwal is playing by his game plan, frustrating Amit Shah’s well known strategy of communal and divisive politics. The Delhi Election is only a week away. The capital has eluded the BJP for 22 years. It is desperate to ‘own’ it.

Predictably, the saffron party’s campaign, led by home minister Amit Shah, has been aimed at polarising voters along religious lines. Its infamous and well tested strategy of dividing the opposition, isolating a minority and infusing a communal agenda in the election is being thrown at full force to wrest Delhi from Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party. But Kejriwal is avoiding a counter attack. The question on people’s mind is whether he will buckle.

ALSO READ: Why Kejriwal Still Has The Edge

The young Aam Admi Party is proving to be a tough and smart competitor. The Delhi chief minister has refused to take the BJP’s bait and deliberately steered clear of engaging with the saffron party on the ongoing Shaheen Bagh protest, a recurring theme in Shah’s speeches.

The home minister and the BJP’s army of campaigners has launched a vicious attack against the protest, describing it as an anti-national act. They have accused opposition parties of supporting the agitation who, they charge, are speaking Pakistan’s language. While inciting violence, the BJP has also gone as far as to describe Kejriwal as a terrorist.

Kejriwal’s AAP is, however, treading cautiously. Well aware that it is ill-equipped to counter the BJP’s brand of communal politics, the party is keeping the focus on its government’s achievements. Despite provocation from the other side, Kejriwal has not deviated from this carefully-crafted strategy of continuously highlighting how his government reduced power and water bills, improved the quality of education in government schools, set up mohalla clinics to provide health facilities in slums and introduced free bus travel for women.

ALSO READ: Amit Shah Is Playing With Fire

The subtle message of his “positive” campaign is that good governance benefits all sections of society and is not aimed at appeasing any one caste or community. On its part, the BJP has attempted to discredit Kejriwal for not delivering on his promises by pointing to the poor conditions in schools and the non-functioning mohalla clinics. But this has not cut much ice with the people. The underclass is firmly with the AAP. However, it is not clear if the BJP’s polarising campaign is having an impact, especially on the middle classes which are known to be taken in easily by its majoritarian agenda.

Kejriwal has always been adept at playing the victim card. When he entered politics seven years ago, he was constantly at war with the Modi government which, he charged, was meting out step-motherly treatment to Delhi only because it was led by the AAP. He complained that his government’s proposals were deliberately kept pending by the Centre and that he was not even allowed to appoint officials of his choice. But he has changed tack over the past year. Kejriwal stopped attacking Modi and even supported the Centre’s move to abrogate Article 370. Instead, the Delhi chief minister concentrated on propagating his government’s achievements and kept himself busy, launching a slew of schemes before the declaration of elections.

ALSO READ: If Shah Can’t Budge, Shaheen Bagh Too Won’t

As he fights to retain power for a second consecutive term, Kejriwal got another shot at playing the victim when BJP leader Parvesh Verma described him as a terrorist during the ongoing poll campaign. Instead of adopting a combative stand, which had become his trademark, Kejriwal struck an emotional note, saying he gave up his government job, sat on hunger strike in his fight against corruption and worked tirelessly to improve the education and health facilities in Delhi despite being severely diabetic. “I leave it to the people of Delhi to decide if they think of me as a son, brother or a terrorist,” he said plaintively.

This is not the first time that Kejriwal has donned a new avatar. He came into the limelight during the 2011 anti-corruption movement, demanding the immediate enactment of a Jan Lokpal Bill to scrutinize corruption cases against government officials and politicians.

But the activist-turned-politician quickly shifted his stand after the formation of the Aam Admi Party. Though he came to power on the anti-corruption plank, Kejriwal instead found merit in wooing the poor jhuggi jhopri residents and the lower middle classes by promising them cheaper power and water and better infrastructure, thus successfully hijacking the Congress support base.

The choice of a broom as his election symbol was another masterstroke as the scheduled castes immediately related to it as they believed it gave them dignity. At the same time, the broom symbolised the sweeping away of corruption and the promise of a cleaner government. Kejriwal also surprised mainstream political parties by building a strong party organization in a short span of time.  His band of soldiers kept a low profile and worked tirelessly and silently in the slums as well as tony upper-middle-class colonies. He shocked his political rivals when the AAP won 67 of the 70 Delhi assembly seats in 2015. 

For the BJP, the Delhi assembly election has become a prestige issue. For fifteen years, it tried but failed to dislodge the Congress. Today, it has put its entire election machinery at work to oust Kejriwal’ AAP, its new political enemy Unable to corner Kejriwal on the issue of poor governance, the BJP decided to go back to what is its trump card: communal polarisation. Besides demonizing the Shahbeen Bagh protesters, the BJP leaders are also highlighting the abrogation of Article 370, the triple talaq bill and the new citizenship law as the Modi government’s achievements to woo voters.   

Though the BJP’s strategy of focusing on national issues did not yield the desired results in the recent Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand assembly polls, the party  is banking on the fact that as residents of  the country’s capital, voters in  Delhi have far greater exposure to national issues and are more influenced by them than voters in other states. It is equally true that the BJP has no choice but to highlight its ideological agenda as it is finding it difficult to corner the AAP on the issue of governance.

Hum Dekhenge poem has inspired anti-CAA protesters

‘Hum Dekhenge’ – A Lyrical Ode To Resistance By Faiz

Poets and poetry are boundless and eternal. India’s ongoing turmoil has people, particularly the young, from all classes and communities, giving vent to their anger and aspirations through words and verses, reviving some old and long-forgotten, and creating new ones.

Grannies and mothers with babies in arms braving biting cold have come out in this winter of discontent.

Media last week captured a diminutive Sociology student, Gayatri Borkar, sitting amidst the protestors at Mumbai’s Gateway of India, feverishly churning out copies on an old typewriter of poets old and new — Varun Grover, Nagarjun, Dushyant Kumar and Habib Jaleeb. And Rahat Indori who defiantly asks: “Kisi ke Baap Ka Hindustan Thodi Hi Hai? (Is India anyone’s paternal property?)”.

Among them was “Hum Dekhenge”, the iconic poem of Faiz Ahmed ‘Faiz’. It is doubtful if this Marathi girl would understand Faiz’s Persianized-Urdu, its words and certainly, their import. But to judge her and thousands protesting for their ignorance would be downright unfair.

Restricted to the Urdu-speaking literate classes, Faiz has returned to India, in a manner of speaking, long after he left for Pakistan and died in 1986. And long after impact of the ideology he espoused has steeply declined. But Faiz, like others, is about sentiment, not substance.

This reminds of Subhas Chandra Bose’s “Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja” of the1940s and “We shall Overcome” Indianized as “Hum Honge Kaamyaab” of the 1970s. Those were different eras in the last century.

Faiz inspired. My interview with him during his last India visit was actually a non-interview. In the 25 minutes or so that we set across, he was on telephone for over 22. Barely one question was answered. When the next visitor came, he waved me off, endearingly: “Oh, yaar kuchhbhi likh dena.” It became a cook-up job.

A “protest poem” against an intolerant military order running in the name of religion, “Hum Dekhenge” has remained the most popular poem in Pakistan’s underground society, and for some very good reasons. But do those reasons apply to the present-day India?

Frequently in exile for protesting oppressive regimes, Faiz had written it in 1979 against military dictator Ziaul Haq. It was promptly banned. All copies were destroyed, till on Faiz’s death in 1986, Iqbal Bano, dressed in a black saree that Zia had outlawed, sang it in a small auditorium in Lahore. It brought the house down with excitement. The police seized all recording of this poem save one that was smuggled out of Pakistan and it is now available on Youtube. It is indeed inspiring.

But can it be adopted in India? The language is alien to most Indians today. Then, Faiz is identified with Communism. Although he belonged to both India and Pakistan, Faiz’s nationality and ideology are anathema to India’s current ruling classes and large sections of populace they have successfully seduced.

There is bound to be hostility to Faiz’s invocation of Islamic symbols and imageries. He was an atheist and his deliberate use of them only infuriated the conservatives. And conservatives, aggressive and intolerant, are ruling all across the world today.

These classes are worried about spread of culture they do not approve of. Saare Jahan Se Achha of Muhammad Iqbal is arguably third-most popular Indian song, both as a lyric and a martial tune, after Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s “Vande Maataram”. Indian conservatives, Hindu and Muslim, have had problems with all three through the long years of the freedom movement and thereafter.

Hum Dekhenge comes in more complex times that are less ideological and more ‘pragmatic’.  They are more difficult judging from the way words “Inquilab’ and “Azadi” that were part and parcel of India’s freedom movement have, ironically, come to mean ‘secession’ and are thus, “anti-India”.    

The extent to which the current ethos has over-whelmed ideas that have been inclusive and pluralist is evident from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, one of the country’s best institution of higher technological learning, forming a committee to judge if “Hum Dekhenge”, sung at a campus rally, has “anti-Indian” content. Elsewhere, the song has been declared “anti-Hindu.”

Writers-poets Gulzar and Javed Akhtar have stressed that a song written against Pakistan’s military junta couldn’t have ‘Indian’ or ‘Hindu’ context.  Javed termed the controversy “absurd and funny”.

The verse that gave offence was: Jab arz-e-khuda ke ka’abe se, sab buut uthwaae jaayenge / Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-haram, masnad pe bithaaye jaayenge / Sab taaj uchhale jaayenge, sab takht giraaye jaayenge/ Bas naam rahega Allah ka… (From the abode of God, when the idols of falsehood will be removed/ When we, the faithful, who have been barred from sacred places, will be seated on a high pedestal/ When crowns will be tossed, when thrones will be brought down, only Allah’s name will remain.)

The objection was to the word “buut” (idol) which was taken as a reference to idols of deities that Hindus worship and to Allah and was therefore, a communal insult. India, it would seem, is not offended by Faiz’s “communalism”, but by his pluralist message in 2020.

Pakistani writer Khaled Ahmed laments India’s “decline into religion” when saner Pakistanis are looking up to an India that they have known and admired for its all-in socio-political ethos.

This reminds of Pakistani poetess, late Fehmida Riaz, who chided Indians with her poem “tum bilkul hum jaise nikle, ab tak kahan they bhai?” (You turned out to be like us, brother. Where were you all this while?)  Will this indignation go unrealized, un-responded in India?

This Pakistani ‘sedition’ is not aimed only at India. A video of students chanting Sarfaroshi ki tamanna at the recent Faiz International Festival in Lahore is on the Internet. The lines were written by Ram Prasad Bismil, who fought and died along with Shaheed Bhagat Singh. This is new India. And perhaps, a new Pakistan (not to be confused with Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan promise).

Let this be said, whatever be the outcome of the protests over the present government’s two controversial moves  — adding to the  accumulated angst on many other issues — this combined muse of the old and the new, even if it falls silent for now, shall revive another day. 

The writer can be reached at

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