Delhi Polls: A Storm Over Winner’s “Religious” Acts!

The recent elections in India’s capital city, which also has the status of a state, have raised quite an intellectual storm over the importance given to “religion” by politicians. Elections to 70-member Delhi Assembly, held on February 8, 2020, have led to the victory of sitting Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). His party has won 62 seats against only eight won by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads the Central government. Considering the stunning victory of BJP in parliamentary polls held in May 2019, in which all seven parliamentary seats of Delhi were won by it, this party’s pathetic performance in assembly elections certainly raises several questions. Of these, perhaps a significant one is the development agenda promoted by AAP’s campaign against the communal card used by BJP and its associates.

Intellectual lobby of India in certain quarters appears to be quite skeptical about the show put by Kejriwal and his party. Prior to elaborating on this, it may be pointed out that extremist card exercised by BJP and its politico-social base, known as saffron brigade, tends to give undue importance to their anti-Muslim agenda whenever elections are around the corner. The extremists of this brigade are apparently hopeful that their discriminatory approach against Muslims will help them polarize votes of Hindus. Undeniably, India has the largest population of Hindus in the world. It also has second largest population of Muslims. India is the second most populated country, being home to around 1.37 billion people.

Constitutionally, India is a secular country with equal religious rights for Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and various other religious groups living here. Hindus’ population is roughly 80%, Muslims – nearly 15%, Christians-around 2.3%, Sikhs-1.7% and of other minor groups less than one percent each. Secularism in India is understood as being as religious as an individual and/or group wishes to be without displaying any bias or discrimination against other religious groups.

Now, as mentioned earlier, BJP and its saffron associates have always been hopeful that their anti-Muslim card will help it in gaining votes of Hindus. The party has not yet woken up to the fact that secularism is too strongly rooted in India to be easily eroded away by use of such communal cards. Interestingly, even Kejriwal’s victory is being linked to his having silently used his “religious” strategy. This is being supported by his and several of his party members’ visits to temples (Hindu places of worship) during their campaign. Sadly, he has not been spared even in several intellectual circles. This is certainly debatable.

What is wrong with any individual being religious? Any individual, whether a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh or of any other religion, cannot be assumed to be communal simply because of visiting places of his/her worship. Just as a Christian has as much freedom to visit the Church, read the Bible, a Muslim to go to mosque, a Hindu has the same freedom to practice his/her religious principles and so forth. Indian Constitution accords right to freedom of religion to all individuals.

Also, there is a difference between being religious for negative/communal reasons and being religious as a secular Indian. In his case, Kejriwal did not use his religious identity as part of his electoral strategy. Neither did he display any bias against Muslims or any other community. The focus of his party’s campaign was development of Delhi. In contrast, saffron brigades used various strategies projecting Muslims as terrorists, Kejriwal as pro-Muslim and so forth to win Delhi elections. Clearly, results suggest that their anti-Muslim strategy misfired terribly.

Delhi’s population consists of less than 15% Muslims. AAP party has won more than 53% votes. This figure in itself suggests that Kejriwal’s development campaign helped him secure votes of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other religious communities. Hindus favoring Kejriwal and his party chose not to be swayed by saffron brigade’s communal campaign.

With respect to a view about Kejriwal deliberately displaying his religious identity by visiting temples, one may beg to differ. It did not change and/or increase by this religious act of his and his party members. He has the right and freedom to be as religious as he desires to. How can this be perceived as his being “communal” and going along the path of BJP? Let us remember, majority of Indians are extremely religious and also secular. Protests going on at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi demanding withdrawal of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), etc are a strong indicator of this reality. Though Muslim ladies are in the forefront here, they are supported by people of all religions. People of respective groups, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs perform their prayers together at Shaheen Bagh. One can be extremely religious as well as secular in India. And this has been strongly proved by Delhi voters choosing to elect AAP.

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. Her latest book is Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019). Others include:– Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).