Why Arvind Kejriwal should come out in full support of LGBT rights

Here is a politician who has captured the imagination of the youth and whose left-of-centre politics stands in agreement with LGBT issues.

 |  Miscellany  |  5-minute read |   13-02-2015
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With the Aam Aadmi Party romping home in the Delhi Assembly elections, one group of people eagerly looking to Arvind Kejriwal for succor is the queer community. Since its inception, AAP has made all the right noises about the LGBT community, Kejriwal himself having condemned the reading of Section 377 that criminalises homosexuality.

Kejriwal dubbed his humongous victory "scary" because it is clear that people from vastly different swathes of society voted for him, and each such group will have a list of expectations ready. For the LGBT community, Kejriwal's win is a bittersweet moment. Here is a politician who has captured the imagination of the youth and whose left-of-centre politics stands in agreement with LGBT issues. But here too is a politician who is yet to make any inroads outside Delhi and whose performance as an administrator is yet to be tested.

There is no doubt that a leader like Kejriwal can be a great ally in a country where LGBT rights must first win the battle of political visibility. Shorn of the divisive ideology of a BJP or the sepia wistfulness for a dying Congress, Kejriwal can usher social change that goes beyond his USP: fighting corruption. Given the diverse phalanx of voters who have elected him, Kejriwal will need to keep everyone from Dalits to the poor to minorities to women happy. He may as well add the queer to the mix.

As it stands, there is little clarity on how the LGBT debate will move politically in India. While the Congress position on LGBT rights has been assuaging, the party's grim political status outweighs any hopes. The other side has of course been traditionally untouchable to us gays. Rajnath Singh enthusiastically welcomed the Supreme Court judgment of 2013 - which read homosexuality as criminal. Not to mention that the BJP has habitually hobnobbed with all manner of anti-gay bigots, starting with Baba Ramdev.

If I wilfully silence the raging queer inside me though, I have to concede that in a democracy the fight for equality, by nature, becomes subservient to the opinion of the majority. Over the past few years, for instance, the battle in the US has often gone down to the brass tacks with each state taking a call by vote on the issue of gay marriage. Legal tangles have inevitably followed and the US Supreme Court will finally decide on nationwide gay marriage later this year.

Should homosexuality ever become a debating point among political parties in this country - one had hoped in vain for that moment to arrive after the SC judgement last year - Kejriwal will need all the political and intellectual armour he can muster to take on the naysayers. This being a country where sundry godmen wield great influence on the popular imagination and where crude homophobia still permeates all walks of life, expect the discourse to be divisive, if not downright filthy.

How far Kejriwal will be able to deliver is anybody's guess. While he may be keen to raise LGBT issues, compulsions of electoral politics can tie his hand. It is plausible that the same sections of society who have voted for him in large numbers will desert him should he choose to evangelise on the LGBT cause.

Which is why any big-bang expressions of support for the LGBT cause are not expected from MufflerMan, at least in the short term. At any rate, he seems to have become a more seasoned politician after learning from the mistakes of his 49-day first term. He may, therefore, procrastinate on taking up the LGBT issue until he has gained greater political ground.

This is not necessarily a bad outcome. Experience suggests that Kejriwal's greatest asset - his integrity - can also become his severest drawback. Unable to usher the Ram rajya he envisages, the danger is he will simply desert the field. I don't mean running away from chief ministership as he did the last time, but giving up on his political ambitions over the long term. Much better for the LGBT crowd to have an amenable player, however uncertain, on the field than a perfect mélange of ideas with no representation.

Modi, meanwhile, is also playing this game, albeit from different goalposts. He has framed himself as a spokesperson for women's rights by launching the "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" campaign and speaking of female foeticide/infanticide as a "mental disease". Even so, he has not reigned in the likes of Sakshi Maharaj who asked Hindu women to produce four babies each to counter the demographic challenge from Muslims. That Modi is walking this tightrope and not completely giving in to the hardline elements in the Parivar is the most we can, at the moment, realistically expect from the system.

What Kejriwal can do then is to claw his way into the same rotten system, and slowly but steadily, effect change from within. He already partly achieved this with corruption during his brief stint in power last year. His impressive mandate indicates that people are looking to him for substantive change. It will be interesting to watch how he balances his popularity with the less conventionally popular but equally important items on the liberal agenda. Remember, LGBT rights will not be granted to us in one fell swoop. It will be a long battle of hits and misses culminating in an ultimately hopeful victory. The gay community can do worse than count on MufflerMan's support as we hunker down for the long haul.


Vikram Johri Vikram Johri @vikramjohri

I write for a living. Sometimes the words comfort the heart too.

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