Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, shown here campaigns during the 2015 Delhi polls, swept to power again in February 2020. Photo: Courtesy AAP

Recently, the Delhi state government led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), approved the prosecution of leftist youth leader Kanhaiya Kumar, who is often praised by India’s left liberals as a symbol of protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and nine others in a sedition case that is linked to raising anti-India slogans in 2016 at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of the topmost universities of India. This is a major cultural right turn by a non-BJP party.

On February 11, Kejriwal led the AAP back to power with a thunderous mandate. The Delhi election results were celebrated with great enthusiasm by the left liberals of the country. But within days, it seems that the same left liberals are done with their cherished political hero Kejriwal regarding his government’s nod to the prosecution of Kanhaiya Kumar.

This disillusion was bound to happen. But more than this, what catches the eye is the hypocrisy of the left liberals, who had viewed Kejriwal’s victory as a victory of his government’s pro-people policies against the “hate politics” pursued by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). No doubt his government’s welfare schemes played a major role in bringing the result in the AAP’s favor – which is now looking to fill the vacuum of the opposition space left by the country’s grand old party, the Indian National Congress. Also one can’t deny the hate speeches delivered by some BJP leaders, which Home Minister Amit Shah later admitted were giving the party a bad image during the election campaign.

But the Indian left liberals, in analyzing the AAP’s win, missed a very crucial point. The point was that there was hardly any difference between Kejriwal’s victory and that of Modi last year. Modi returned to power banking on social-welfare schemes woven with threads of Hindu nationalism. Kejriwal’s campaign was no different, as he himself took a leaf out of Modi’s playbook. His campaign was based on welfarism plus shades of Hindu nationalism.

The difference was that Kejriwal’s Hindu nationalism was softer than the BJP’s. Apart from this, Muslims voted heavily for the AAP – clearly suggesting that religious polarization too played a role in Kejriwal’s triumph.

Those intellectuals who were busy condemning hate speeches of some BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra ignored the allegations of spreading hate against Amanatullah Khan, one of the AAP candidates to win with a huge margin. This AAP leader was booked for inciting mob violence during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December last year. 

Nevertheless, for Indian left liberals, the story of the BJP’s electoral defeat matters the most. Those who viewed Modi’s triumph last year as “majoritarian” and “unhealthy for Indian democracy” were celebrating the success of the AAP in Delhi – despite the fact that the opposition party’s win clearly reflected a shadow of the BJP’s cultural-right politics.

If Kejriwal won banking on health care, electrification and education, Modi too had won the 2019 polls banking on free health care and cheap medicines, access to electricity, monetary benefits to farmers, cleanliness, women’s empowerment and digitization of the country. Instead, they only found and still find Hindu nationalism in Modi.

The nationalism followed in India is mostly civic nationalism, which adheres to the values of freedom, tolerance, equality and individual rights. It is true that in the debates on nationalism, Pakistan often finds a place. That is because of the neighboring country’s uninterrupted interference in India’s internal matters through terrorism.

This one-sided analysis by these intellectuals misinterprets the ground realities of India. However, Kejriwal was smart to read the pulse of Indians on matters related to Hindu nationalism. That’s why his was the only opposition party openly to support the abrogation of special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and refuse to take a stand on the Citizenship Amendment Act, described as “divisive” by these left liberals and also by the Western media.

If these weren’t enough, Kejriwal’s government gave the nod for a leftist youth leader’s prosecution in a sedition case, much against the wishes of the left liberals. Actually, earlier Kejriwal used to describe himself as an anarchist. So when a self-described anarchist opposition leader like Kejriwal takes such a turn, the message is clear that to survive politically in today’s India, one has to take the right-cultural turn, which is often seen through a negative lens by the left liberals but liked by a majority of Indians. 

Sagarneel Sinha is a freelance contributor from Tripura, India, who tweets @sagarneelsinha

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