Schools vs riots: How AAP has tweaked patriotism to fit its education course

Mujhe raajneeti nahin karni aati, school banane aate hain (I don’t know how to do politics, I know how to make schools); “Humein dange karvane nahin aate, school banane aate hain (We don’t know how to conduct riots, we know how to build schools)”. Over the past few months, as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal travels the country, from Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat to Karnataka, to expand the Aam Aadmi Party, one common message is the Delhi government’s “success” in transforming schools in the Capital.

While the so-called Delhi model has been its pitch for long, AAP has been increasingly tweaking it to project it as its brand of nationalism, one that is focused on health and education issues — even as it balances soft Hindutva to match the more strident version. AAP hence comes across not just as a party offering a governance alternative, but also one talking universal issues, with appeal across caste, class, religious divides. And which other parties can find hard to counter.

In his public speeches and television interviews, the AAP national convener often calls himself and AAP “kattar deshbhakt (staunchly patriotic)”. The theme of a recent video released by the party, shot in various schools across the Capital and focused on Kejriwal and Delhi Deputy CM and Education Minister Manish Sisodia, underlines this: the party wants to provide the kind of education that ensures children are not led astray, and teaches them the true meaning of Allah and Ram, and promotes aman (brotherhood) instead of nafrat (hate).

AAP’s recent Punjab success was also widely attributed to the popularity of its ‘Delhi Model’, as opposed to the trite, old messages of its counterparts.

And within this ‘Delhi Model’, the one where the AAP Delhi government is seen to have achieved the most – visibly and in terms of results — is education. This includes new buildings, state-of-the art laboratories and swimming pools in government schools, innovative curricula, and schools of excellence, some of which were highlighted in the party video.

Now this carefully cultivated education plank is seeing a new push. In the past few days alone, AAP has pitted its Delhi Model against the ‘Gujarat Model’, picked up a fight with Kerala over a tour of Delhi schools, and showcased its Punjab CM Bhagwant Singh Mann’s fawning praise for its institutions. The Congress and BJP have tried to counter by putting up photos from their own trips of Delhi government schools. However, what every such political flashpoint eventually does is throw a fresh spotlight on its education initiatives.

Since it came to power in Delhi in 2015, AAP has devoted almost a fourth of its government’s budget to education. “The first three years were spent working on improving the infrastructure of schools. We believe that if schools are not well-maintained, children will not want to attend. Some schools that were rebuilt are now better than private schools in the city. In the second phase, we moved on to tackling issues like learning levels and outcomes, and then curricula like those on happiness, entrepreneurship and deshbhakti,” said a senior Delhi government official.

The announcement of the deshbhakti curriculum came ahead of the Punjab polls. AAP crucially swept the polls despite its rivals digging up old claims of its “links with Khalistani elements” and talking repeatedly of a government that could stave off “enemies across the border”.

While there is no textbook for AAP’s deshbhakti curriculum, a handbook is made available to teachers to conduct discussions on topics such as the use and cleanliness of public places, conservation of historical monuments and civic duties. These are again carefully curated issues that seek to redefine patriotism and cannot be contested by any party.

A senior party leader closely involved with AAP’s education policy said that when they highlight their measures, “the Opposition has little to say about their 70 years in power”. “Successive governments at the Centre and in state have ignored public-funded education. It is clear to us that people want policies that will have a positive impact on their children. It is a platform that you can use to talk about issues such as joblessness, patriotism and civic duties… Now, as the Opposition tries to paint AAP as anti-national and communal tensions are rife, our focus is on talking to people about how providing meaningful education is real deskbhakti,” the leader said.

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