AAP champions patriotism, eyes more States

NEW DELHI, 21/08/2021: The Public Works Department (PWD) installed high-mast Tricolours Rani Bagh on August 15 to celebrate Indias 75th Independence Day, in New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA / The Hindu  

The Deshbhakti or patriotism drive launched by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the national capital is setting the backdrop of the party’s political ambitions in other States, even as it reinforces the party’s grip over the city. In the last budget, Finance Minister Manish Sisodia announced “grand celebrations” for 75 weeks till August 15, 2022, that would fill Delhi with “patriotism and national pride", allotting ₹45 crore for erecting 500 national flags across the city and ₹10 crore each to conduct programmes to honour Bhagat Singh and B.R. Ambedkar.

In July, the Public Works Department (PWD) issued a tender for setting up of “35 metres high mast flag” at 495 locations for ₹84.6 crore; on August 15, the Delhi government inaugurated five national flags, all of them on 35 metres high masts. “When we see the Tiranga, we get goosebumps and our hearts are filled with love and pride towards the nation. 500 similar Tirangas will be installed all around Delhi, so that when you leave for office, one or two Tirangas can be seen by the time you reach the office. If you see Tiranga even once, then patriotism and love towards the country would be reignited,” said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in his Independence Day speech.

The hour-long Deshbhakti class every day in Delhi government-run schools, he hoped, would motivate the younger generation to take pride in the country and realise their duty towards building the future of the country.

According to a statement from the government, the Deshbhakti Curriculum that will start on Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary on September 27, aims to develop among students, self-confidence, awareness, respect for constitutional values, and a problem-solving mindset, and bring about changes to take the country forward.

Religious appeal

AAP’s victory in the 2020 Delhi assembly elections was largely founded on the improvements its government made in the health and educational sectors in Delhi, but its winning campaign also required a strong dose of religious appeal — for instance, Mr. Kejriwal chanted Hanuman Chalisa during the campaign and challenged BJP leaders to follow suit.

That was on top of the well advertised schemes that give free water to about six lakh consumers, free electricity to 36.6 lakh consumers and the 496 Aam Aadmi Mohalla Clinics or neighbourhood dispensaries where people can go for minor ailments.

AAP is now trying to expand beyond Delhi and have announced that they will be fighting Assembly elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Goa among other states and Mr. Kejriwal has been presenting Delhi as a model of development and is promising similar schemes if elected to power. The crisis in Delhi healthcare system during the second wave of coronavirus in 2021 may have made AAP’s governance claims less appealing, and the party may also be looking for a pan-India image through its focus on patriotism, according to some observers. P.K. Datta, former professor at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said that earlier when the AAP tried to expand outside Delhi, they had been working on local issues that had brought them to power in Delhi.

“My feeling is that they think that patriotism will give them that ideological bridge which they can capitalise on,” he said.

Mr. Kejriwal also used India’s relatively good Olympic performance to enhance the patriotism theme.

Political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said that the Deshbhakti budget and the push for nationalism will certainly help the AAP in elections in States outside Delhi, when it is tied with basic issues of the State. AAP has a tough task in keeping its patriotism campaign robust even while keeping its distinction with the BJP and the Congress.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric is not part of AAP vocabulary, but many times, AAP remained silent on violence against Muslims. “Sometimes, you don’t want to hype up the issue and give BJP an advantage, but there is a limit to it,” said Ms. Chowdhury, referring to polarising communal incidents on which the AAP choses silence. She feels AAP silence may have crossed that limit.

All told, the opposition parties, the Congress and the BJP are struggling hard to form a counternarrative to AAP’s patriotism campaign.

While they do admit in private that they are yet to evolve a viable strategy to take on the AAP, the deshbhakti push of the latter has only increased their difficulties.

“Deshbhakti (patriotism) is an emotion and has no connection to a budget. This is just another example of the fact that the AAP Delhi government believes in doing less and making it seem more thorough advertisements and public announcements which later turn out to be false,” North East Delhi MP Manoj Tiwari said.

Delhi Congress chief Ch. Anil Kumar said that the AAP has come up with the Deshbhakti budget and several other campaigns to create a screen behind which they can hide. "The AAP is going the BJP way of using patriotism and huge spending on publicity to hide its failures. Why spend so much money on installing flags when the basic amenities are not being provided to the citizens of Delhi," he said.

For civic sense and pluralism

AAP presents the Deshbhakti curriculum as an emphasis on civic sense and pluralism, including lessons in religious tolerance and a pushback against religious intolerance.

“We seek to combine the values of ‘Desh Prem’ with concrete actions; this in essence, is our notion of Deshbhakti Curriculum,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had said.

“The story of the hard-fought struggle for independence that India went through certainly needed to be conveyed to new generations and citizens. But, at the same time, citizens must ask themselves and their governments whether the promises of liberty and equality enshrined in the Constitution had been delivered upon,” said Professor Manisha Priyam of the Delhi University’s National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 1:02:31 AM |

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