AAP’s ideological dilemma and tryst with tricolour nationalism

With ₹45 crore for 500 huge flags in Delhi, Kejriwal is trying to nibble at BJP’s ultra nationalistic games

Being the ruling party of Delhi presents itself with a unique set of problems. A Delhi government is basically a permanent lame-duck, unable to push through its agenda, with law and order with the Centre, a Lt Governor placed atop the government as super CM and whose only job is to scuttle the ambitions of the ruling party ruling Delhi.

It is a really frustrating job and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have reconciled to this situation.

So a government in Delhi has to be content with the education and health portfolios while right under its nose the central government has planned to reshape or rebuild  the Ground Zero of the city – Rajpath, Vijaypath and Janpath with a grandiose ₹20,000 crore vanity project – with nay a consultation with the state government. So while AAP was digging under the Delhi ground for Metro and underpasses, the BJP decided to  sit atop it with new pink stone buildings announcing its capture of the capital by redoing  the entire New Delhi municipal area.

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Used to its powers being constantly usurped or pushed back or admonished by the Lt Governor, AAP has settled down in Delhi having accepted its fate but with an eye on neighbouring states. Its unexpected win in Surat municipality elections has given the party some new ideas, even though Punjab has not warmed up to the AAP idea despite various attempts, the support to the farmers agitation being the latest.

But the problem with this post-ideology party is which way to move: towards the Right or Left or squat in the Centre of the political space with occasional forays this way and that? It is a part of this confusion that prompts the party to take positions that are sometimes from the BJP copybook or sometimes from the texts of people’s struggle.

So Chief Minister Kejriwal has  stood with the Punjab and Haryana farmers raising his fists against the Modi government. A week later, the party takes a leaf out of the ultra nationalistic narrative of the BJP by setting apart ₹45 crore in its budget on March 9 to plant 500 national flags across Delhi.

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This move is not as simple or  decorative as it seems to be. The AAP’s constant worry has been to keep the Hindu middle and trading classes in Delhi happy. This segment has supported the party in the last three elections. The party has successfully moulded the minorities and the majorities to vote for them. So full time revolution or anti-Modi rhetoric is not an option for Kejriwal and he has stayed away from it for the last year or so.

Now what will the national flag do for AAP? While it may add some colour to the roadside, the fluttering symbols of nationalism may also serve to comfort the Delhi Hindu voters that Kejriwal has his mind in the right place though his feet sometimes wander.

The national flag as a giant symbol was first seen by Congress MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal who fought successfully for the right of every citizen to host the national flag and then promptly went ahead and put up the largest national flag in Connaught Place measuring 90 feet by 60 feet.

Not to be outdone in such games of nationalism, snatched from under its very nationalistic nose, the BJP moved fast and soon enough in March 2015, unfurled the largest national flag in Faridabad with none other than Amit Shah himself unfurling it in the presence of Ranbir Kapoor and the chief miister Manohar Lal Khattar. This one weighed 96 feet by 64 feet and so helped a BJP to appropriate back to itself the self-appointed label of protector and propagator of ultra nationalism. This event was also meant to tell AAP and other parties that nationalism is a BJP prerogative, though the national flag as a symbol which could be used politically was discovered by the Congress.

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Soon more large tricolours started appearing in various places in Delhi as if to reassert that the capital city actually belongs to India. The AAP’s plan is to drench the city in 500 tricolour flags as large as the Connaught Place flag if not more, thus to  beat the BJP in its own game of tricolour unfurling.

Meanwhile, the BJP seems to have opted out of this game, with a grander plan of changing the Parliament House itself, instead of indulging in the minor task of just changing the height of the nationalist flagpole or the flag’s dimensions.

So with the announcement of the tricolour scheme, now AAP is well and truly telling the BJP that they also have some (small) money to pour into the nationalistic cauldron. But the irony is that all this is happening while the basic tenets of democratic governance are being undone by the central government in not allowing farmers to protest in Delhi, where national flags are going to flutter in all its glory.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

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