This Independence Day, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) set its 'deshbhakti' juggernaut rolling, with the party's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal inaugurating a Tricolour installed on a 115-metre pole in East Kidwai Nagar in his constituency, New Delhi.
High-mast national flags were hoisted at four other places - Patparganj, Shakur Basti, Kalkaji and Dwarka - on August 15 by his ministers.
These five flags were installed under the AAP government's plan to put up 500 Tricolours across the capital by Republic Day so that they evoke patriotic sentiments among Delhiites whenever they step out of house.
The plan itself is part of the Kejriwal government's larger pitch for 'deshbhakti' or patriotism, as a counter to the BJP's 'rashtravaad' or nationalism, in a bid to reach out to a wider audience.
As the AAP seeks to expand its base beyond Delhi, it has realised that banking on the 'Kejriwal model of development' alone won’t suffice to get a firm foothold in states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttarakhand, where the party has its eyes set on becoming a key political player, and eventually wresting power.
Having keenly watched the trajectory of both the BJP and the Congress for nearly a decade, the AAP has chosen to steer clear of the 'secularist' vs 'communalist' camps. But, at the same time, the party has noted how well the nationalism card played by the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has worked with the masses.
Hence, it has embraced the strategy after tweaking it a little by adopting its own brand of nationalism, which is bereft of the high-pitched Hindutva rhetoric and is more inclusive. The careful use of the word 'deshbhakti', that is patriotism, is aimed to distinct itself from BJP's 'nationalism'.
For the past two-three years, the party had been experimenting on this front till it finally found its 'deshbhakti' formula. The experiment started with AAP's tacit support to the Modi government’s abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
With the nationwide mood in favour of the move, the AAP, given its ambitions for pan-India expansion, thought it wise to back a decision acceptable to the whole country.
Summing up the party's newfound strategy, political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said, "The AAP does not wish to openly challenge the BJP on ideological grounds when it is going to these other states. Hence, it is trying to play its innings in the same half of the BJP's nationalism. Now, while trying to expand its base outside of Delhi, being the B-team of the BJP has its own limitations and plus points. Since 2019, supporting (abrogation of) Article 370 helped the party move into this fold where it is trying to create its own style of nationalism."
During the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the AAP cautiously chose to adopt an ambiguous position, with its senior functionaries muted in their criticism of the CAA and steering clear of backing the protesters.
From practically supporting the Modi government on Article 370 and CAA, the AAP went to take an adversarial position against it when the farmers' campaign against three central agricultural laws reached Delhi borders in November last year.
Given the party's electoral stakes in Punjab, whose farmers took the lead in the agitation, and the general sentiment sympathetic to the country's 'annadaata', it sought to establish its 'deskbhakti' credentials by supporting the farmers' cause. The party put its weight behind the agitation, taking care of food and logistical arrangements and even helping out the farmers with legal aid.
Taking on the BJP over the farmers' protest, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had said at that time, "It is astonishing for the opposition to take credit for the bravery of our army and our soldiers, but at the same time, condone violence against the farmers whose sons and daughters are enrolled into the army and who provide food to the entire country. These superficial actions do not define deshbhakti."
Taking budget route to make patriotism pitch
In order to stand apart from other political parties, the AAP pushed the common man's agenda in the assembly elections early last year, which worked very well in a metro city like Delhi. But as the party started looking at fresh avenues to expand base by contesting local polls in states like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, the leadership understood that that keeping itself limited to the development agenda will not work in the complex politics of states, particularly UP.
So, apart from 'Kejriwal model of development', it decided to strongly push the 'Kejriwal model of development', too. So, this year, the Delhi government came up with a 'Deshbhakti Budget', which contained several key provisions aimed at promoting 'patriotism'.
"For us, progress and growth of Delhi is deshbhakti; educating students and teaching them is deshbhakti; accessible and quality schooling is deshbhakti; healthcare for all citizens and mohalla clinics, especially for our women of Delhi, is deshbhakti," Sisodia, who is also the finance minister, had said while presenting the budget.
This deshbhakti under the 'Kejriwal model' involves hy per patriotic moves like installing national flags across the national capital and launching 'Deshbhakti Curriculum' in schools; aspirational goals such as hosting the Olympics in Delhi and having Singapore-level per capital income by 2047; and developmental push such as road redesigning and providing free water, electricity, education and health services. All of these, the party is likely to highlight in their election campaigns in other states where it is planning to contest, such as Uttarakhand, UP, Punjab, Goa and Gujarat.
The AAP has already started working on this plank. For instance, Kejriwal, after the flag hoisting on Independence Day, making comparisons of free water scheme launched in Goa with that of his government.
His party is contesting the assembly elections in the western state. Party leaders plan to familiarise other states with AAP’s deshbhakti vision by highlighting the Delhi government's plan to launch 'Deshbhakti Curriculum' in its schools from September 27, the birth anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. The curriculum, to be taught daily for 45 minutes from Classes nursery to 8th, will not include any tests or assessments but will be completely activity-based.
Cleaning the Yamuna and making its water fit to drink in a few years is another ambitious goal of the party which it plans to project in other states, given the religious and emotional value attached with the river in some parts of India.
The AAP also plans to present the Kejriwal government's other achievements and successes wrapped in the cloak of patriotism to hardsell them across the country. For instance, it loses no opportunity to highlight how much the 'happiness class' started in Delhi government schools impressed former US First Lady Melina Trump.
Similarly, the government has been claiming that the US followed Delhi in introducing the plasma therapy for treating Coovid- 19 patients.
Whether this strategy works or not remains to be seen, but the AAP is trying its best to showcase that its brand of nationalism is better than what the country has seen under the BJP and that the alternative people are looking for is ready.
Deshbhakti initiatives in Delhi budget
The AAP government set aside Rs 90 crore in this year's budget for projects and schemes promoting patriotism
Rs 45 crore 500 high-mast tricolours across Delhi
Rs 10 crore each cultural events on the lives of Bhagat Singh and Babasaheb Dr BR Ambedkar
Rs 25 crore yoga instructors in colony parks "on demand"
Curriculum on patriotism in schools
Delhi government's 'deshbhakti' push is now quite visible with roads revamped on themes of patriotism, landscaping being done to invoke pride in the country and national flags being installed across the city