Much has been written and debated in our media about the speech that Arvind Kejriwal gave after taking oath as Delhi’s new chief minister. Commentators have tried to analyse many aspects of his speech—his references to communal violence, his assertion that Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will not try to expand across the country but focus on Delhi, his admission of arrogance after winning 28 seats in the last assembly elections, and so on.
But the one aspect no one seems to have talked about is Kejriwal claiming AAP’s staggeringly sweeping victory in the Delhi elections as God’s handicraft and part of God’s grand strategy for the city-state.
In his speech, Kejriwal invoked God at least six times. Of course, he invoked a secular God, unlike US politicians who claim the Christian God is on their side at the drop of a hat.
However, I have never heard a senior Indian political office-bearer refer to the Higher Entity so overtly and so many times in a single speech, that too in the first one after taking office.
Some excerpts from Kejriwal’s speech (translation taken from the Indiatimes website) “No human effort could have pulled this off (a 67-3 majority), this was a miracle. This is God’s way of saying he has some grand plan. We are insignificant, only the medium. But we are fortunate God chose us to carry out his wishes.”
“Last election, we won 28 seats, but we…became arrogant and decided to contest elections across the country. God punished us for our arrogance and the Lok Sabha election results made that clear.”
“We need to learn a lesson from this. Since God has instructed me, Delhi’s people have instructed me, people have put their faith in me, for the next five years, I’ll live in Delhi and serve people of this city and put my heart and soul into fulfilling my responsibilities.”
“I pray to God to give us good sense and courage. I pray to God that we never become greedy, we never become arrogant and are able to take the right decision.”
Even on the issue of Delhi’s statehood, he couldn’t avoid saying that this was God’s will. “BJP promised people of Delhi they’ll get full statehood,” he told the 100,000-strong crowd at Ramlila maidan. “I told the PM God can’t give a better opportunity than this.”
Now, Kejriwal may have been speaking from his heart, and out of a true feeling of being humbled by the people’s verdict—it is highly unlikely that he would have been expecting a nine-tenth majority, yet, his belief that he is God’s messenger to Delhi is troubling.
There were surely many factors that led to this massive victory, and analysts have been putting forward their theories by the dozen. But why bring poor God into it? “This is God’s way of saying he has some grand plan.” “God chose us to carry out his wishes.” “God has instructed me.”
Kejriwal has said that he prays to God so that he and his party leaders and supporters do not fall prey to arrogance, yet, isn’t it uncommon hubris to believe that God has chosen AAP and is instructing him? If you imagine that your decisions are coming from Up There, that the Big Guy in the Sky has put his money on you, it could easily lead to delusions of grandeur and actions could have considerable negative repercussions.
The most famous recent example is the disastrous Iraq war, when George W. Bush imagined that God told him to invade that country. Of course, that has been par for the course in the US for many years. In his book The Podium, The Pulpit, and The Republicans: How Presidential Candidates Use Religious Language in American Political Debate, Frederick Stecker notes that “God Bless the United States of America” was used only once in a major national address by a US President prior to 1980. But once Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1980, things changed dramatically.
From 1981-2007 it was used by presidents of both parties a total of 49 times. In fact, God was invoked in 93.5% of the national addresses made by Reagan and his successors Bush the First, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush!
One hopes that Kejriwal and his team will be able to stamp a new set of values on the Delhi administration and Delhi’s people, and God knows that the city needs a new set of values. One hopes that the AAP government will bring in efficient and honest governance and service delivery to citizens.
If the belief that God has chosen Kejriwal for a special role in a divinely figured out greater scheme of things makes him more humble and more committed to his mission, it will certainly be a good thing.
But if the belief that he is God’s messenger, that God is instructing him, makes him a megalomaniac, that would be a tragedy. And the brute majority that AAP has in the Delhi assembly can make Kejriwal slide down that path very easily. One devoutly hopes that does not happen.
Kejriwal should spend all his time thinking about what the people of Delhi need, not what an inscrutable God may be desiring when the chief minister speaks to him.