The politics of Kejriwalism

February 26, 2020 12:00 am | Updated 03:43 am IST

Castes and religions contribute towards buildinga new progressive and inclusive urban citizenship

Arvind Kejriwal. File

Arvind Kejriwal. File

Philosopher of Science Paul Feyerabend’s book, Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge , questioned the previously established clarity on methods of science and the idea that new theory must be consistent with already well-established theories and must correspond with well-established facts. We see a similar discernment with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s victory amongst those who believe in the politics of ideology. The AAP is said to be post-ideology. This should worry those committed to the politics of radical change. Paradoxically, the AAP also promises change, but this is change of a minimal kind that is achieved in exchange of votes.

An eclectic universalism

‘Kejriwalism’ could well describe the AAP and Mr. Kejriwal’s politics. Kejriwalism mixes odd symbols and ideas to generate a kind of eclectic universalism where castes and religions can contribute towards building a new progressive and inclusive urban citizenship. Anything goes as a method for Feyerabend, and only this can allow a new theory to grow. Same is the case for Kejriwalism. One can use varied symbols that work towards change and welfare-driven, inclusive urban citizenship. The success of Kejriwalism stands out. It also discredits the BJP’s aggressive nationalism by usurping the party’s cultural nationalist symbols while emphasising a localised politics of justice.

Kejriwalism is the politics of minimum rights (water, sanitation, health, education and electricity) that focuses on achieving everyday dignified urbanism. Reforms in health and education under the AAP have significantly delivered quality health care and education for the urban poor. The seductive value of such politics cannot be undermined for those at the urban margins. Almost the entire Muslim vote has gone to the AAP. Scheduled Castes and lower OBCs too have largely voted for the AAP. The rate of voting amongst high-caste Hindus for the BJP is much higher than other communities. Mr. Kejriwal is trying a new politics of Hinduism from below. Those believing in revolution or the politics of ideology may find Kejriwalism regressive. However, the strength of Kejriwalism lies in promising a better life for the urban poor without antagonising the privileged urban and keeping the Hindu majority in good humour.

Mr. Kejriwal is also charismatic. However, unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his charisma does not lie in religion or the ‘othering’ of Muslims for Hindus. It is also not based on a family legacy like that of the Gandhis. Rather it draws from the ethics of modern-day minimalism and is consolidated by his education, non-political background, and emphasis on the politics of truth. He is playing a contemporary Gandhi (who believed in anarchy in terms of purna swaraj ) who knows well the importance of Ambedkar (education and scientific temper) and Bhagat Singh.

The AAP in its eclectic form resembles many other parties but what works in Mr. Kejriwal’s favour is the fact that he cannot be reduced to his caste in Delhi. The incipient urbanism of Delhi allows him to be an Agarwal who is also a casteless Hindu for his public role.

Not for rural India

However, those who predict Mr. Kejriwal’s national future may want to pause and rethink. Kejriwalism may be new-age politics that is suited mostly for metropolitan cities where struggle for basic amenities could partly overwhelm caste and religious solidarities, but rural India may not have fertile ground for such eclecticism. In Kejriwalism we have a form of post-ideology politics that promises the best of a local hybrid-Hindu collective for urban spaces as it includes elements of (north Indian) nationalism, welfarism and politics of change in everyday life.

Suryakant Waghmore is an Associate Professor of Sociology at IIT, Bombay

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