At a time when various new equations are taking shape among Opposition parties in the country — for example, the recent meeting between TRS supremo K Chandrashekar Rao and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar — Delhi Chief Minister and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor Arvind Kejriwal displayed bonhomie with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK chief MK Stalin in Chennai on Monday, 5 September.
Kejriwal was participating in an event hosted by the DMK government in Tamil Nadu to inaugurate 15 “model schools” and 26 “schools of excellence” on the occasion of Teachers Day.
These schools were set up by the state government emulating the Delhi model of modernised government schools, which MK Stalin, School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi, and other senior officials visited during Stalin’s trip to the national capital in April this year.
Stalin also launched the “Pudhumai Penn” scheme which provides ₹1,000 monthly financial assistance to girl students — credited directly into their bank accounts — who studied in government schools from Class 6-12 until the uninterrupted completion of an undergraduate degree, diploma, or ITI courses.
The scheme, which Kejriwal termed as “pathbreaking” and “revolutionary”, aims to encourage girls from economically weaker families to pursue higher education given that there is a low enrolment of girls from government schools in higher-education institutions.
It also gives families the incentive to send girls to college instead of marrying them off at an early age. According to the state government, approximately six lakh students will benefit from this programme every year.
Following the event, both leaders also visited the Anna Centenary library in Chennai.
Stalin, Kejriwal praise each other
Both Kejriwal and Stalin displayed great bonhomie and were all-praise for each other while they were on the stage.
Speaking after inaugurating the schools, Kejriwal said he was “very surprised” at how his Tamil Nadu counterpart expressed interest in visiting government schools and hospitals run by the Delhi government, and asked his office to confirm it doubly whether Stalin actually wanted to do it.
“In the last week of March, we got a message that Stalin saheb wanted to come and visit Delhi government schools. I was very surprised. Because in our country, we rarely see chief ministers going to each other’s states to see schools or hospitals. Most of the time, the time of a politician goes into politics, and very little time is spent on development,” he said.
Kejriwal added that he was “pleasantly surprised” when he got the invitation to inaugurate the modernised schools in Tamil Nadu just about six months after Stalin announced during his visit to the national capital that he would set up similar government schools in the state based on the Delhi model.
“I thought it would take about a year to three years before it happened. Stalin saheb, I’m so pleasantly surprised that you have done it in six months,” the Delhi chief minister remarked.
Kejriwal also emphasised the importance of states learning from each other.
He said: “We might belong to different political parties, but there is so much good work that the government in each state is doing. It is extremely important that we learn from each other.”
Kejriwal also drew attention to how it was pertinent to provide quality and free education to each child for the overall development of the country.
‘Kejriwal is a fighter’
“He (Kejriwal) is not just the chief minister of Delhi. He is a fighter.” This is what Stalin said at the beginning of his speech while welcoming everyone for the inauguration of three “revolutionary” schemes.
Talking about how Kejriwal left his job in the Indian Revenue Service to be in public life to serve the people, Stalin said the AAP founder went on to become the chief minister of Delhi due to his “hard work”.
He also described Kejriwal as “active” while talking about how the AAP came to power in the state of Punjab.
“He (Kejriwal) is closely watched by everyone in the country,” Stalin added.
Further, while welcoming the “celebrated leader” Kejriwal to the Bharathi Womens College in Chennai, where the event was held, Stalin also recalled his visit to the government schools in Delhi and stated that “just like everything else, when the country is getting modernised, our classrooms also need to be modern.”
The launch of #PuthumaiPenn, Model Schools & Schools of Excellence is a firm step that shows our commitment towards modernising the learning spaces & herald a new era of educational development.
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) September 5, 2022
What does Congress think?
Interestingly, the meeting between Stalin and Kejriwal came at a time when the AAP was perceived to be replacing the Congress — an ally of the DMK — in several states. Even nationally, many project the AAP to be the next main Opposition party.
Asked about the bonhomie between Stalin and Kejriwal, a senior Congress leader from Tamil Nadu stated that the meeting between the two leaders was just a government event and did not have many political implications. However, he asked why the DMK gave Kejriwal a platform.
“Kejriwal uses everybody for his politics. It is a well-known fact. So, why did the DMK give him a platform and give a certificate to his governance? Tamil Nadu has a better infrastructure in terms of hospitals, etc, than Delhi,” the Congress leader told South First.
Dismissing any political angle to the meeting, Congress Member of Parliament Karti Chidambaram said he welcomed the kind of “cooperation and exchange of ideas” between the two state governments.
He told South First: “Everything may not be politics. Don’t look at everything from a point of absolutism. Stalin met and interacted with his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan, who is from the CPI(M). That party is the main rival for the Congress in Kerala. Does that mean Stalin should not meet Vijayan just because the DMK is in an alliance with the Congress? No!”
Political or not?
According to political analyst Prof P Ramajayam, the meeting was “more about governance than politics”.
“The past record shows that the DMK always takes a clear position when it comes to alliances. It is either the Congress or the BJP. So far, the alliance with the Congress has been going on well. And the DMK has been clear that it will not go for a third front,” he explained.
Even though both Stalin and Kejriwal are fiery critics of the BJP-led Union government, they refrained from making any political statements on stage. The public statements were largely about development and governance.
After the event, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia took to Twitter and said: “CM Kejriwal and CM MK Stalin launching key educational initiatives for Tamil Nadu together. This marks the beginning of a new era in Indian politics in which state governments work together to improve India’s education system and make India the no:1 nation. [sic]” This was retweeted by Kejriwal.
This marks the beginning of a new era in Indian politics, in which state govts work together to improve India’s education system, & make India the No.1 nation. Congratulations to all https://t.co/2hI8HvzBrL
— Manish Sisodia (@msisodia) September 5, 2022
As for the DMK, a senior party leader told South First that “one can interpret the meeting in whichever way they want”.
He added: “But at this stage, it may just be about good governance.”
Asked what the event meant for both the AAP and the DMK, AAP Tamil Nadu convenor Vasigaran said that the party was thankful to Stalin for inviting Kejriwal without showing any ego and giving due credit to him for the model schools in Delhi.
“It is probably the first time a government-to-government event such as this has happened in the country,” he told South First.
While lauding Stalin for setting up model schools and schools of excellence in Tamil Nadu within such a short time, Vasigaran added that Stalin was “right when he said that the entire country is watching Kejriwal now”.
He said: “The AAP is slowly becoming a national party. We will definitely play a role in national politics. So, all this could also be stepping stones to the 2024 general elections.”
“At one point corruption was the biggest enemy. Now Modi is a bigger threat than corruption. In 2024, the AAP will go to any extent to fight Modi,” Vasigaran added.