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How the BJP plans to strike back in 'washout' monsoon session

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: July 22, 2015 11:22 IST
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The calculated playing up of confidence by Amit Shah and his team obviously means that the BJP has a strong counter-strategy in place to turn the tables on the Congress before the monsoon session is over, reports Sheela Bhatt/


Image: Prime Minster Narendra Modi, with ministers (from left) M Venkaiah Naidu, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Jitendra Singh, addresses the media at Parliament house on the opening day of its monsoon session in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photograph: Shishir Shete/PTI Photo.

The Narendra Modi government’s response to the threat by the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad,  that unless the government sacked External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the House will not be allowed to function, is ice-cold. 

The government’s lack of an adequate response to serious questions relating to corruption is worrisome because it leads to the question: does the Modi Sarkar think that corruption and development can go hand in hand? Remember, the saffron party leaders had claimed in the past that Hindutva and development can go hand in hand.

But, one will have to wait patiently till Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks on the three scams that deeply involve his party’s Swaraj, Raje and Chouhan. Till then, one will have to simply watch the parliamentary hungama.

The PM’s take on corruption is important, but who is afraid of Parliament?

Just see the BJP leaders’ display of unusual confidence in spite of facing their first ethical crisis from Lalitgate and the acutely adverse and embarrassing publicity due to the inexplicable deaths in the Vyapam case.

Unlike previous regimes, the Modi government is a political livewire that will go overboard in giving a politically fit reply, says a powerful leader of the BJP, talking off the record to this correspondent.

He said PM Modi will speak in Patna on July 25 and the BJP’s response to everything will be heard over there. 

BJP chief Amit Shah had already declared in Patna, on July16, that, ‘If you want development, you must form the NDA government under Modiji's leadership in Patna.’

This is the biggest political development for the BJP after its debacle in the Delhi assembly election. That the huge setback in playing the Modi card in Delhi has not deterred the BJP from using it again in Bihar demonstrates the party’s tremendous confidence. Bihar politics has, thus, cast a shadow over the ongoing Parliament session.

Privately, some senior leaders and ministers from the BJP do admit that the recent media coverage of Raje’s suspected business involvement with fugitive Lalit Modi and Swaraj circumventing diplomatic protocol to bail him out in foreign land, and the depth and breadth of corruption unearthed by the Vypam scam in the governance of Madhya Pradesh, have affected the party’s standing when compared to May 2014. 

They confess, in off-the-record conversations, that, “We will have to work against the wind to recover from it.” But, at the same time, a powerful BJP leader points out, while talking exclusively to “We have the right to keep silent, silence is our political right! That is politics, too. Once we start putting out our defence, the Congress will have no space to hide!”

The calculated playing up of confidence by Amit Shah and his team obviously means that the BJP has a strong counter-strategy in place to turn the tables on the Congress before the monsoon session is over. 

Nobody is speaking on record inside the government about the cards they hold, but their confidence stems from a few ground realities.

PM Modi took a dig at dynasty politics and mocked Robert Vadra in Jammu. At the PM level, no mention can be dismissed as a slip of tongue. Notwithstanding Azad’s tough stand in public, many Congressmen are speculating, with plenty of apprehension, about what lies in store for them in the current session of Parliament.

It is no secret that the Congress party, which won just 44 seats in a House of 543 in the last Lok Sabha election, has many skeletons in its almirah. It does not take much time for the ruling party to expose a preceding government if and when it opts to do so. However, it is debatable if any number of scandals of the earlier regime would strengthen the ruling party which is witnessing an erosion of its ethical edge even among its loyal voters.

Second, it is crystal clear that there is no sign of Opposition unity. Swaraj’s goodwill and reach inside the Opposition camp are helping her and the government to display tremendous confidence.

Three, the Bihar assembly election due in October-November is more important for the government than the much-hyped “washout” of the monsoon session. Actually, the Goods and Services Tax bill may reach its desired climax, and that would be enough for the Modi government to declare a big victory and prove all analysts expecting a "washout" of the session quite wrong. 

In fact, Amit Shah, from his home on Delhi’s Akbar road, is spending more time handling Bihar than the current session of Parliament. The BJP thinks that while in Delhi the slum-dwellers and Muslim voters completely deserted the Congress to create a historic mandate in favour of the AAP, in Bihar as of today, as per the party's reading of the ground situation, only the partial votes of Yadavs, Muslims and some 80 per cent of the Kurmi votes will go to the Janata Dal-U-Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress alliance if it is finally formed, while the rest of the voter groups will overwhelming go to the BJP and allies thanks to the Modi card.      

In an off-the-record conversation, asked a senior and powerful BJP leader: “In view of the expected tough times in Parliament, how do you see the big political picture?”
The senior leader said, with a chilling expression and a show of tremendous confidence, “All these noises will be there till the day of counting of votes in the Bihar elections!”
He said beyond a point, the disruption of Parliament for two-three weeks does not affect either the running of the country or for that matter democracy itself.
The government’s calculation is that once development on the ground becomes perceptible and if the Bihar election results put the BJP as the largest party in the state, the government will recoup its losses.
“Yes, our voters are asking questions, they have fears, but we have more than 45 months to go. Our voters are not going to the polling stations any time soon. Meanwhile, as we said earlier, we will respond to the Congress on the ground of realpolitik,” said the BJP leader a day before his party’s high-level panel met for six hours to plan a counter-strategy to handle the Opposition’s attacks against Modi and the government.

The Modi government’s wherewithal is in the form of a psycho war. The BJP leaders find it absurd that the Congress is taking them on over corruption so soon.

Critics of the Modi government may be in a hurry to bury the Congress’s defeat in view of the government’s failure on many fronts but obviously the BJP has not forgotten its massive victory and the power that stems from it. 

A senior ruling party leader had told on the eve of the monsoon session, “This hypocrisy must end. The Congress stands no chance to hit us hard on corruption. All the so-called corruption issues that our critics and media are talking about relate to the pre-Modi era. In the case of Sushma Swaraj, the party does not think any wrong has been done at all so we will support her 100 per cent. That is our political stand. Actually, from our side Sushma’s matter is closed. Seriously, I still do not understand what crime Sushma has committed."

When told that it was a moral issue involving the minister’s ethics, the leader said, "We have answers to explain it, but the Opposition must allow a full-fledged debate so that we will expose the Congress and others on the issue." 

Interestingly, the BJP’s core group in Delhi has apprehension that Raje has not put all her cards on the table about the allegations against her on Lalitgate when she met Shah. BJP’s defence of Raje is not as robust as its support to Sushma because Raje is her own master who is revealing facts selectively

About the Vyapam scam, the party headquarters thinks a CBI probe will blunt the effects of the scam somewhat and will also give time and space to Chouhan as well. Also, Vypam is seen by many BJP leaders as something that is more about the socioeconomic and sociopolitical aspect of corruption in an era of India’s rising middle-class, and that its ugly manifestations are due to the control over medical and engineering seats since the last 50 years. The BJP is forwarding the weak argument that the Congress regime of Digvijaya Singh was involved in it as well, and we will expose it too. 

BJP leaders in Bhopal and Delhi also complained that it was totally wrong of the court and investigators to make the students “accused” in this case. That decision created a panic among the poor and middle class parents who had bribed their way through and the fear of arrests and the insecurity of losing their jobs (for which lakhs of rupees had been paid) became the cause of many deaths. However, the question is, if and when Chouhan’s wife Sadhna is called for interrogation in the scam by the CBI, how will the Centre support him. 

Talking about the difficulty in managing public perceptions, a senior party leader told, “The Modi government does not believe in "management" of media. The media has never been with us since 2002. It will never be kind to us. We will show results to the people, directly. By 2018 our government is planning to provide more than 60 per cent homes and 24x7 electricity for the first time in Indian history. By 2019 we will ensure that the Ganga water is good enough to use as prasad after a holy dip in it."

He adds, "By 2019 more than 70 pc of the poor people will have life insurance worth Rs 2 lakhs and the building of the smart cities will begin at more than 70 to 80 locations all over India, which will provide work to the labour classes. We are totally focused on building 12 km of roads per day. Just wait and see how we divert pressure on land by creating alternative opportunities for rural youth. Until all that becomes visible in districts, the disruption of Parliament and the negative publicity are unavoidable.”   

But, in spite of such high claims, serious questions remain. A government that boasts of being politically savvy has suffered a massive political defeat on two fronts.

The changes in the land bill of 2013 were brought in through an ordinance, out of the blue. Then, the government including PM Modi put their weight behind it and got it passed in the Lok Sabha, with speeches from the treasury benches sounding as if a revolution in India was just a few years away. But, in the Rajya Sabha, unable to cobble together a majority through consensus and strategy, they could not debate the bill which has now gone to a select committee. The third ordinance of the land bill is in effect right now, with no sign of political consensus.

The land bill and current scams have actually created a realisation, once more, that Indian democracy always needs a robust opposition. PM Modi’s rule is such that a season of “movements and street-level opposition” has just kickstarted all over the country.

The setback in the land bill, however temporary it may be, is a significant development.

As soon as the ordinance had come out in December 2014, it required no brains to vouch that the bill on the most important political issue in India can never be passed in the current Parliament through normal means. But still, the government ventured out to create a favourable political opinion in the country and Parliament. So far, it has completely failed in this objective.  

Second, the ugly row over the appointment of actor Gajendra Chauhan as chairman of the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India is no minor political controversy. Through their concerted opposition to his appointment, the students have created a strong sentiment against the appointment and breathed life into street protests, proving in the process that government is fast losing the plot in strengthening institutions.

Such pushback from the ground level is surely a good sign for democracy but it also shows that the government is grossly miscalculating the people’s mood so early in the day. 

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Sheela Bhatt / in New Delhi