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AAP ad salutes Dalit reformer Narayana Guru. Eye on Kerala for 2019?

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:47 IST

A newspaper advertisement published by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on 20 August revealed a surprising choice of icon.

At least one prominent English daily published from Delhi featured an ad by the minister for the welfare of SCs/STs in the Delhi government, Sandeep Kumar.

The large ad is a tribute to Kerala's iconic Dalit reformer Narayana Guru, and salutes him on his birth anniversary. Kumar also posted the ad on Twitter.

Given his portfolio, it makes sense for the minister to offer tributes to a Dalit icon. However, Narayana Guru is a strange choice, because the influence of his movement and legacy is restricted to Kerala and, to some extent, Tamil Nadu.

Dalit symbolism in Delhi's political circles has so far revolved largely around only BR Ambedkar. Political parties desirous of reaching out to the Dalit vote bank most frequently observe Ambedkar's anniversaries. His is the face most frequently seen in political posters. Against that backdrop, AAP's choice of a new symbol is surprising.

AAP's ambition

That AAP wants to expand its presence across the country has never been a secret. Its growing presence in Punjab, Gujarat and Goa dominates the headlines these days, but Kerala is among those states which are on the party's radar for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

AAP already has a sizeable following among Dalit voters in Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat and other states, and saluting Narayana Guru could be a ploy to reach out to the Dalit voters of Kerala.

Three problems

However, at least three incongruities threaten the prospects of AAP enjoying a fruitful association with the reformer's legacy.

First, the followers of Narayana Guru have already formed a political party. Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), the organisation that claims his legacy, formed the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) political party last year and contested the recently held Assembly elections.

Second, this party has also chosen its electoral partners. BDJS fought the elections in alliance with the BJP and together, they bagged over 14% of the votes in the state.

Joining hands with the BJP-RSS subjected the SNDP and the new party to heavy criticism from most of the other parties in the state, including the Congress, the Kerala Congress and the CPI(M). These parties slammed the SNDP for forgetting the teachings of Narayana Guru, who fought against casteism, while the RSS is widely perceived as an organisation for the so-called upper castes.

The third problem, which is yet to surface but may come up later, is that the convenor of AAP's Kerala unit is a former Leftist. CR Neelakandan is an environmental activist and writer, and was earlier a member of the CPI(M).

The CPI(M) has always had its strongest base among Narayana Guru's Ezhava community, but the party has been quite critical of the SNDP's decision to ally with the RSS-BJP. It remains to be seen whether Neelakandan approves of a reach out to the Ezhavas directly, or through the SNDP-BDJS.

However, these are early days for AAP in Kerala, and the party can afford to experiment on the road to 2019. What will be interesting to watch is whether the Delhi government ad turns out to be a one-off, or whether AAP follows it up later with a strategic outreach to the Dalit voters of Kerala.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 20 August 2016, 9:56 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.