Principles are the first casualty of realpolitik. Nothing epitomises this more than the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Indian politics.
The young political party that sold itself as the principled alternative in a corrupt political system has been slowly and steadily sliding down the slippery slope of majoritarian politics.
Arvind Kejriwal's latest demand to include images of Goddess Laxmi and Lord Ganesha on currency notes could have been written off as a political gimmick to corner the Hindu hardliners of the BJP. But seen with several recent policy decisions and statements by AAP, it shows that the party has firmly sacrificed the liberal plank at the altar of cynical vote-bank politics.
Over the last couple of years, the Aam Aadmi Party has fallen over itself to try and ace its Hindutva game as it pitches itself as an alternative to the BJP.
It started with the party's ambiguous stand on the discriminatory CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and the studied silence on the Shaheen Bagh protests during the Delhi assembly polls as the BJP made it a big communal issue.
Delhi saw rioting right after the elections in 2020 and Kejriwal did precious little to douse the fires, lest he be seen as siding with Muslims. As northeast Delhi burned, the Chief Minister sat at Rajghat instead of parking himself and his MLAs in the affected areas as the elected representatives of people. This, after Muslims voted wholesale for AAP, ditching the Congress that was vocal in its support of the anti-CAA-NRC protests.
Then came AAP's support to the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, couched in the nationalism argument. While many opposition parties took a principled stand against the move, AAP backed it to the hilt.
Earlier this year, AAP competed with the BJP in proving itself to be more anti-Rohingya than the saffron party. Its leaders, including the very woke Atishi, cloaked their vitriol in the "national security" argument. The message was not lost on anyone.
More recently, the shameful silence of AAP leaders on the release of the rapists of Bilkis Bano left little doubt that the party is now firmly on the Hindutva bandwagon, principles be damned. The very vocal AAP leaders have not uttered a word on Bilkis as they look for a foothold in Gujarat.
Arvind Kejriwal claims AAP is a party of educated people. What use is education if you can't take an ethical and moral stand on women's safety and justice to a rape victim?
Arvind Kejriwal displayed his religiosity from the beginning; he has now swerved towards crass majoritarianism. Kejriwal now totally relies on the heady mix of populism and Hindutva as a means of expanding his national footprint.
Post-2019, Kejriwal has been on a mission to position AAP as the new Congress, which has fast lost political currency. Unlike Rahul Gandhi, who has been a consistent and staunch opponent of Hindutva and majoritarian politics, Kejriwal has taken to pandering to Hindutva for political gains.
Kejriwal has mastered the art of saying what people (read the majority) want to hear and staying silent on what they don't. So, he will zealously talk about the Ram Mandir, spew hate on the Rohingya, support the "nationalist" project in Jammu and Kashmir and stay silent on Bilkis, riots and hate speeches by BJP leaders in the capital.
Kejriwal is serving guilt-free Hindutva to the Centrist supporters of both the Congress and the BJP - Hindutva that is full of high octane rhetoric but not peppered with overt anti-Muslim rants, unlike the BJP's brand of Hindutva.
While the Congress still harps on an ideological battle against the BJP, AAP, which wants to replace it, has turned totally ideology-agnostic. The "idea of India" as espoused by the Congress, and other BJP critics, has no value for Kejriwal. He, like PM (Narendra) Modi, also sells the idea of a "naya Bharat". AAP behaves like a true millennial who is neither aware of, nor concerned about what India grew up with ideologically. It finds principles and ethics boring and dated. It only understands and speaks the language of votes.
How far this paperback version of Hindutva takes AAP against the BJP's hardcore Hindutva is to be seen. But it is quite clear that Kejriwal has taken the majoritarian route to votes.
(Mohd Asim is a Senior Editor at NDTV 24X7)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.