All is Not Well for the BJP
Narendra Modi’s seventh year as prime minister has not been the best of times for him. Battered by the pandemic, his government is also engaged in all kind of avoidable controversies which include allegations of megalomania and eroding federalism.
The charge of an excessive display of power has been made with regard to what is mockingly called by the opposition the “vanity” project of remodeling the central vista in the heart of New Delhi involving the building of a new parliament and the prime minister’s house. “People are dying of Covid”, the former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha who is now in the Trinamool Congress has said, but the government’s “priority” is the central vista project.
Federalism, too, has taken a hit in the aftermath of the BJP’s defeat in the West Bengal assembly elections with “petulance” becoming a part of policy, according to Jawhar Sircar, a former secretary in the Government of India. His charge refers to the targeting of a former West Bengal chief secretary who is now facing a possible jail term for being “late” at a meeting called by the prime minister. The Trinamool Congress believes that this is the BJP’s way of taking revenge for its electoral defeat.
It is not only with the West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, with whom the BJP is having a running battle. Other chief ministers, too, like Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan and Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren have had their differences with the centre with Soren complaining that a telephonic conversation with the prime minister is a one-way monologue.
However, it is the centre’s run-ins with Mamata which apparently underlines the BJP’s specific purpose of harassing and provoking the West Bengal leader in order to scuttle her chances of emerging as the BJP’s primary opponent at the national level.
Having targeted Congress leader Rahu Gandhi till now to undercut his national ambitions by labelling him as a “juvenile delinquent”, as the Union minister, Smriti Irani, called him, BJP is now focussing on the next possible challenger, Mamata. Since her party inflicted a heavy defeat on the BJP in West Bengal, she is obviously a front-runner in this context. Hence, the BJP’s annoyance.
But it isn’t only the political battles which are taking up much of the BJP’s time. The continuing pandemic is another preoccupation even if the second wave of the disease is apparently petering out. But by exposing the government’s lack of preparedness for the disease, the outbreak has dealt a heavy blow to its image at home and abroad.
Among the states which have suffered the most is U.P. which is run by the BJP’s poster boy chief minister Yogi Adityanath. A series of meetings attended by the prime minister, the home minister, the BJP president and bigwigs of the RSS and the latter’s fact-finding mission to the state emphasized the concern felt by the BJP and the RSS about the party’s electoral prospects in the state next year
Having lost three of the four state assembly elections this year in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the BJP cannot afford to go down in yet another and especially not in U.P. But whether the clean chit given by the RSS to Yogi Adityanath on his handling of the pandemic and the inclusion of his book in a university syllabus on philosophy will save the party are open to question.
Vaccination across the nation is another area where the BJP is under fire with the Supreme Court calling its policies “arbitrary” and “irrational”. However, this observation has provoked a saffron blogger into saying that the judiciary is entering “dangerous terrain” since the courts are not “imperial durbars” which can adjudicate everything.
What developments such as these show is that the government’s seventh year is the worst it has experienced since assuming power in 2014. Critics say that to get out of the current predicament, the BJP will resort to its usual communal tricks by peddling the Hindutva agenda. Its latest antics in Lakshadweep are believed to be an example of this tactic.
By focussing on another Muslim-majority Union territory after Kashmir, the BJP is trying to mobilize its cadres at a time when they have lost some of their zeal following the ravages of the pandemic and electoral defeats. By banning beef and enacting draconian laws like the Goonda Act in a region with one of the lowest crime rates in the country, the BJP wants to show who is the boss who will determine what a person eats and how he or she behaves.
But even as the BJP pursues its hallmark proactive policies – trying to understand what, if anything, went wrong for it in U.P. or opening up new areas of confrontation with the opposition as in Lakshadweep – the opposition remains as comatose as before. Only Mamata is showing signs of life, but she is fighting to protect her own turf from a predatory attacker whose wounds seem to have made it all the more vicious.
The other opposition parties are mostly preferring to lie low, tweeting an occasional barb from their air-conditioned bungalows. They do not seem interested in going out in the field, being in touch with the people to empathise with them at a time of great stress and galvanizing the rank and file to take on the BJP when it is clearly vulnerable.
There is little doubt that the absence of a credible opposition is the BJP’s greatest advantage. This political vacuum has helped the party in the past and may do so again when it needs all the help that it can get.