OPINION: Why India’s RSS smiling at Kejriwal’s sweep even if Delhi election is setback for BJP

by Mukesh Rawat

For long, the RSS has been trying to cultivate a culture where politicians don’t feel shy wearing their Hindu identities in public and also cheer along the lines of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’.

Of the many things that the 2020 Delhi assembly election heralded, one that stands out because of its optics is the public emergence of Hanuman bhakt Arvind Kejriwal. In his victory speech on Tuesday, Arvind Kejriwal thanked Lord Hanuman for blessing Delhi and said the mandate given to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has marked the dawn of a “new form of politics” in India.

In Kejriwal’s words, this newness is outlined by “kaam ki rajneeti (politics of work)” wherein people would vote on the basis of developmental works (schools, hospitals, affordable healthcare, electricity etc) carried out by a government. “This is an auspicious message for the country,” he said.

No doubt, that’s refreshing to hear, especially in a political atmosphere vitiated by a high-decibel cacophony of the worst order.

But development was not the only axis on which Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi election campaign rotated on.

To mellow down the vitriol of BJP’s hard Hindutva politics married to its brand of nationalism, Arvind Kejriwal rebranded himself as a devout Hanuman bhakt who isn’t shy of wearing his religious identity down his sleeves; say ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Vande Matram’; carefully side-step thorny uncomfortable issues like CAA, NRC and Shaheen Bagh; and yet anchor his discourse around development.

This careful positioning of himself as a devout Hanuman bhakt in the campaign’s last leg ensured Kejriwal that those who were with him on the issue of development and governance, didn’t stray away to the BJP on count of polarisation fanned by appeals to religious and nationalistic identities.

Having reaped the benefits of this posturing in form of a consecutive sweep (wining 62 of 70 seats), Arvind Kejriwal ensured that his victory speech on Tuesday too echoed the posturing.

After thanking the people of Delhi for the landslide mandate “for his developmental works”, Kejriwal touched base with his religious identity, lest there remain any doubts.

“Aaj mangal vaar hai…(cheers from the crowd)…Hanuman ji ka din hai. Hanuman ji ne aaj apni Dilli pe kripa barsayi hai. Hanuman ji ka bhi bahut bahut dhanyavaad (It’s Tuesday today, the day of Lord Hanuman. The Lord has blessed our Delhi and I thank him for this victory),” he said.

Later in the day Kejriwal visited the Hanuman temple in Delhi’s Connaught Place, with his entry marked with loud cries of “Jai shree Ram, Jai shree Ram” from his supporters. Later he told reporters: “Hanuman ji sabka bhala karenga (Lord Hanuman will bless us all).”

Not just Arvind Kejriwal, but other AAP leaders – Sanjay Singh and Raghav Chaddha – who addressed AAP workers at the party headquarters on Tuesday, too resonated these identities, leading crowds to the cheers of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, and ‘Vande Matram’.

Of course, Arvind Kejriwal and AAP leaders are well within their constitutional right to do so.

And that’s exactly what would make the Rashtriya Sawayamsevak Sangh (RSS) smile.

For long, the RSS has been trying to cultivate a culture where politicians (irrespective of parties) don’t feel shy wearing their Hindu identities in public and also cheer along the lines of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’.

The recent comment of RSS general secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi puts this into perspective. “Hindu community does not mean Bharatiya Janata Party, and opposing BJP does not amount to opposing Hindus. Political fight will continue but it should not be linked to Hindus,” Joshi said in Goa.

So when a Rahul Gandhi takes a “holy” trip to Kailash Mansarovar just before Lok Sabha elections, claiming to be a “devout Shiv bhakt” who is a janeyudhari Brahmin hoping from one temple to the other, the RSS senses a victory of sorts.

When a Shashi Tharoor talks proudly about Hinduism and slams RSS and BJP in his book ‘Why I am a Hindu’ for its polarising politics, the RSS, despite the attacks, senses a victory.

For the RSS, the first stepping stone rests in creating an atmosphere where: (a) politicians aren’t ashamed of wearing their Hindu identities in public life; (b) aren’t shy of responding to the cheers of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’.

Once this stage is achieved, the next logical step would be to increase the decibel of these cheers.

In this context, one should not be surprised that with the upcoming elections in Bihar and West Bengal, we may see another set of non-BJP leaders following the tracks of Arvind Kejriwal: Mamata Banerjee invoking Maa Durga and the Lalu Yadav’s RJD reaping some electoral dividends from Tej Pratap’s different avatars of Shiva, Krishna among others.

Thus, while Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor and others may try to rebrand themselves to counter BJP’s Hindutva with their ideas of Hindusim, in one form or the other they end up playing on the grounds set by the RSS — one where the broad boundaries are set but individuals are free to customise as per local circumstances.

The RSS has no reason not to be happy with this setting. At least for the moment, because a gain is gain, no matter where and how it comes from.

Now that these leaders have consciously rebranded themselves as Hanuman and Shiv bhakts (and many will embrace others deities later on) the challenge for them is to see how distant can they travel without inching closer to stage two of the RSS agenda i.e. to make the cries louder and perfume it with one-upmanship.

Piece first published on India Today.