The BJP leadership, especially Prime Minister Modi, is Janus-faced when it comes to socio-political and economic discourse.
Who is politically more honest — Bhopal’s first-time Lok Sabha member Pragya Singh Thakur or the BJP’s top leadership? The question arises in the backdrop of the lady’s spirited comment to party workers, that she “has not been elected to clean drains or toilets”, and would focus on the work she “has been elected to do”. Although not specifying the brief that resulted in her unprecedented election, there is no public ambiguity about this. In contrast, party leaders, after re-election courtesy an electoral campaign chiefly built on populist nationalism and selective targeting of Indians ideologically opposed to the BJP or its affiliates, have spoken of other goals — the most surprising being the need to secure “sabka vishwas”, or the trust of each Indian.
The politically correct thought that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spelt out when speaking to the National Democratic Alliance MPs who formally re-elected him their leader after the electoral verdict, is at odds with the party’s political vocabulary during the elections. This sentiment is non-existent among a large number of leaders and within the party’s core constituency. If the Pragya Singh Thakur episode is analysed, no reason can be found to get enraged at statements she made since her nomination. The BJP chose her over others to make a political statement — that the Congress-led UPA government wrongly accused a Hindu religious leader of terrorism as part of its pro-minority stance. The selection was aimed at reaching out to the fringe forces to ensure that they remained solidly behind the party and not press the button on NOTA, which if readers recall, was a genuine worry of the BJP for almost two years before the elections. Pragya Thakur was certainly picked on an “as is where is basis”, that is without any dilution in her views. The terror accused was unleashed on the people for vituperative capacity and her commitment, which was cause for her arrest and incarceration.
The BJP leadership, especially Prime Minister Modi, is Janus-faced when it comes to socio-political and economic discourse. One face of the party is turned towards those who like rabble-rousing and blunt majoritarian speak. This has been articulated in coarse style by the likes of Ms Thakur, Giriraj Singh, Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath and even Amit Shah (recall his “vote for revenge” speech in 2014). The same message has — that the Congress has pro-minority bias — been conveyed without any threat to Muslims and other heretics to “go to Pakistan” by some like even the Prime Minister. His statements in 2014 — calling Rahul Gandhi shehzaade instead of yuvraj or Rajkumar, and referring to the Centre as Dilli ka sultanat and not samrajya — or accusations against the Congress leader — that he had no option but to contest from a constituency where the “majority was in a minority” — were unabashedly aimed at furthering prejudice against the religious minorities and giving push to the majoritarian idea.
How do we analyse the provocative campaign speeches of BJP leaders in the backdrop of politically sensible statements made especially after the governance part of the innings gets underway? Is the election period somewhat like the initial power-play overs of ODIs? Are these best ignored as the rants of leaders, at best marginal in the BJP? Or are these words best erased after the polls because, as Mr Modi says, these are used in the heat of the moment? This is where the two-faced character of the BJP becomes evident. One face whips up the passions of those who get intoxicated by minority-bashing and the majoritarian idea. The other face is for non-confrontational Indians and the global community who would like Mr Modi to stop at being the market reformer and harbinger of egalitarian development, a mix which India has never had. This section would like to believe that the Hindutva push is merely strategic, at its core the BJP is just a conservative right-wing party.
To remain in power, the BJP requires both faces to continuously communicate with the constituency it is turned towards. Because the party depends mainly on Mr Modi to garner votes, he has perforce to use the vocabulary which appeases those who have been fed on the diet of majoritarianism, while simultaneously remaining within the proverbial lakshman rekha so that he is not cast alongside the rabble-rousers in the party. Once the elections are over, Mr Modi has to become the expressive leader that the global community wishes him to be, a leader fully committed to constitutional democracy and ensures that majoritarian forces are kept under tight reins. Whenever this did not happen, international leaders have unambiguously made an issue of this to the great embarrassment of the Modi government — the reminder on his constitutional duties and how providing unhindered religious freedom is essential for peace and development — by former US President Barack Obama in 2015 and recently by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
Yet, it must be kept in mind that despite Mr Modi’s harsh words when chastising Ms Thakur at the end of the campaign and Amit Shah’s promise of disciplinary action, nothing has come out of it. This indicates that leaders like Pragya Thakur would periodically play to the gallery, at which point the leadership would publicly admonish her. Interactions like the one with working president J.P. Nadda, will continue and be publicised. There would be silence from both the party and the leader, till of course the next round. Periodically, action will be taken against lesser mortals — for instance Uttarakhand MLA Pranav Singh Champion, who was expelled. No actual action is also likely against the politically connected like Kailash Vijayvargia’s legislator son. This is certainly not the last one has heard from Ms Thakur and her ilk. Her presence within the party underscores the BJP’s duality and its commitment to ideology while being pragmatic about its lending support to divisive statements when in government. As far as the first question regarding relative honesty, in a party which uses rhetoric no differently from others, this too is one. Both are equally honest or dishonest — depending on how you view it.