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Connect Kejri dots: Shaheen, Hanuman, Gita

The AAP convener’s advice to read the holy text came towards the end of his daily webcast briefing
Arvind Kejriwal

Pheroze L. Vincent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 30.03.20, 10:27 PM

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday asked people to read the Bhagavad Gita for half an hour every day over the remaining lockdown period, triggering fears that such advice could alienate sections of the society.

A source in the ruling Aam Aadmi Party said Kejriwal passes on to the public “whatever suggestions” could help ease their fears in this time of crisis, as a family member would.

The AAP convener’s advice to read the holy text, part of the Mahabharat, came towards the end of his daily webcast briefing. “If you feel good about doing this at home, then there are 18 chapters of the Gita and 18 days of lockdown,” he said.

“Since yesterday, my wife has started reciting the Gita in my house too. Our whole family sits together and reads a chapter. It takes only half an hour. Therefore, if you also feel like, you can… recite the Gita in your home.”

Sunday was the fifth day of the 21-day lockdown the Prime Minister had announced on March 24 as part of concerted efforts to battle the Covid-19 pandemic.

This wasn’t the first time Kejriwal had resorted to religion in recent times. Ahead of the Delhi elections last month, he had invoked Hanuman — a popular deity especially in North India — in what appeared to be an attempt to undercut the BJP’s narrative of projecting the AAP as anti-Hindu for its opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Later, after the riots broke out in the capital, the Delhi government had stood aloof. Party leaders said the government’s role as a bystander was a misguided attempt to appease Hindus that affected his credibility as an efficient and secular leader.

“No, this (invocation of the Gita) should not have been done…,” former AAP leader and journalist Ashutosh told The Telegraph.

“Is he claiming that he is only the chief minister of Hindus. I don’t know his intent, but if you connect the dots — he did not meet (the anti-CAA) protesters at Shaheen Bagh, he did not visit Northeast Delhi while the riots were happening — then one can assume that he is trying to cultivate a Hindu vote bank. There is no problem if he recites the Gita in his personal capacity, but as a chief minister asking everyone to do so is crossing the line.”

Ashutosh added: “If it is a mistake, he should correct it. If not, then it is dangerous to alienate sections of society…. This is the danger of getting caught in a narrative that is not your natural narrative. This could be explained as a strategy before elections, but there are no polls now.”

The Delhi government is yet to respond to the suspension of two of its senior officers by the Centre, ostensibly for allowing buses to ferry those who wanted to leave Delhi.

Kejriwal’s private secretary Bibhav Kumar and the AAP’s chief spokesman and Delhi MLA, Saurabh Bharadwaj, did not respond to queries on the Gita pitch.

A source in the government, however, said: “It is a bit rich to talk of the Gita when one can’t summon the courage, if not common sense, to defend bureaucrats whose careers could be jeopardised for implementing orders.”

The nature of Delhi’s polity, the source added, is such that the Centre has a greater say than it has in other states. “In such a situation, if their government does not defend their actions, there is no motivation for public servants to heed lawful directions of the elected government of Delhi rather than toe the line set by North Block (the seat of the Union home ministry).”

An AAP source said it was a “policy decision” not to get into confrontation with the BJP or the Centre at a time of crisis.

“Kejriwal made that clear too at yesterday’s briefing…. MLA and senior party leader Raghav Chadha is now set to face harassment as a case has been filed against him for criticizing Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath…,” the source said.

“We have taken a conscious decision of focusing on helping those in need. The time to counter the BJP is not now. Whatever suggestions can ease the fears of the public, and help them stay calm, the chief minister passes them on, as a family member would.”

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