With a portrait of the Aam Aadmi Party supremo Arvind Kejriwal hanging on the wall behind him, Pravin Lotankar, a Maratha in his late twenties, was working at the front desk at the party’s headquarters in Delhi’s ITO area on 4 February. That day marked a week since Lotankar, a Mumbai-based businessman, first sat on the front desk with a laptop, noting names and addresses of new volunteers. His job comprised connecting outstation volunteers to the assembly constituencies where their services would be required as booth agents or for other purposes. Lotankar had taken a one-month long sabbatical from his job to volunteer for the party during the 2020 assembly elections.
Of all the volunteers I met at the headquarters that day, over a dozen, Lotankar was the only one from a backward class. I asked his opinion on the representation of backward classes in the AAP’s highest decision-making body—the political affairs committee—which has three Rajputs, two Brahmins, one Brahmin Bhumihar, one Baniya and one Dalit member. “It should happen,” Lotankar said, referring to a need for a greater representation of backward classes. But, he added, “It’s early for this party to adopt that kind of thing and I feel we should give them time.” Lotankar told me that “these things” are more of a political decision. I asked him about the AAP’s ideology—it is evident that the party does not having a fixed ideology, which would also shape its outlook on social justice. But for Lotankar, as well as others, the representation AAP gave to marginalised groups or its broader ideology did not seem to matter as long as the party promised good governance.
A majority of the volunteers I met were rich and working professionals who had not suffered any socio-political discrimination themselves. Most of them opposed affirmative action for communities that have been systemically marginalised and persecuted—Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims. Many of the volunteers claimed that reservations for specific communities should not exist as it is unfair to those belonging to unreserved categories. They said Kejriwal was right in not taking any stand in favour of the protesters in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area, who have been holding a sit-in against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act for over a month, because that would further a Hindu-Muslim discourse. Often exposing their own prejudices against marginalised communities in their answers, they tried to reason that Kejriwal’s policies on health and education and his efforts against corruption nullify the need for social-justice policies altogether.
I spoke to Lotankar about a range of subjects. Like many other volunteers, he told me he began to idolise Kejriwal after seeing his role in the 2011 movement to appoint a national anti-corruption ombudsman called the Jan Lokpal. After Kejriwal came to power in Delhi, the capital’s assembly passed a similar Jan Lokpal bill. However, the bill has still not come into effect—the AAP and the BJP have engaged in a blame game about the non-implementation of the bill. In his five years as the chief minister, Kejriwal has also not rallied against corruption with the same force as he did in 2011. Yet, this has not deterred Lotankar’s belief, and that of other volunteers, in Kejriwal’s righteousness and the party’s philosophy of keeping the “aam aadmi”—the common man—at the center of its politics.
I reminded Lotankar that back in 2012, the AAP had voiced its opposition to reservations in promotions for those in government jobs and Kejriwal had asked his followers on Facebook if such reservations should exist at all. Lotankar replied, “There was a pre-government image and now there is a post-government image of him. He was very vocal then.” He felt that Kejriwal has been strategic in not clearly supporting the protesters in Shaheen Bagh as it would give an opportunity to the BJP to polarise the electorate.