« Back to articlePrint this article

'PM should resist bureaucratic influence'

June 25, 2022 12:26 IST

'It seems the action against Nupur was because the vice president was in Qatar and officials in his secretariat did not want any embarrassment.'

IMAGE: Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, left, with Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani in Doha, June 5, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

As the dust set off by an upheaval over the Nupur Sharma episode settles over the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Narendra Modi government, the political fallout was described variously as a 'minor turmoil' and 'undeniably a setback' that placed the BJP at an ideological crossroads.

Indeed, a party functionary went to the extent of comparing it to the dilemma that confronted the BJP in 2002, when then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was pressured to 'take action' against Modi, who was then Gujarat chief minister, for allegedly not containing the post-Godhra violence.

However, Vajpayee, who preached the tenet of 'raj dharma' (ethics of governance) to Modi, capitulated to the overwhelming sense within his party that Modi was the new ideological mascot who had to stay.

Sharma, a former loose-tongued spokesperson from Delhi, is no Modi by a long shot.

But her suspension from the BJP's primary membership following her combustible comments on Prophet Mohammed in a television debate evoked a groundswell of support for her and indignation against the brass for throwing her under the bus.

The anger was the more intense because the 'action' against Sharma seemed prompted by a strong reaction from West Asia, particularly when Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia registered protests at a diplomatic level and painted the Indian government into a corner.

More than one BJP supporter accused Qatar of 'duplicity' because it gave the late artist M F Husain citizenship when he was forced to leave India after the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad remonstrated violently against his depiction of Hindu deities.

The BJP votaries felt Qatar's stand on Sharma was 'unwarranted'.

Asked how the events would pan out politically, a senior BJP official said: "We are aware of the distress caused to our Hindutva social media army and our rank and file, but at this juncture the choice before the BJP is clear. We must focus on development and the pro-poor agenda.

"Development and Hindutva are two sides of the same coin. Our back-to-back election victories proved this point," the senior BJP official added.

"As far as articulating the Hindutva viewpoint is concerned, we have the courts that are doing the job in their own way, so there's no need for the BJP to take to the streets. We have the VHP and the Hindu Jagran Manch to voice our cadre's sentiments."

Anil Baluni, a Rajya Sabha MP and head of the media department, stressed: "Vikas (development) and garib kalyan (welfare of the poor) are our Gita."

Despite the official sanguineness, it is apparent that the BJP and the government are fumbling for a clear response.

If on a day, the Delhi police (under the Centre's jurisdiction) provided Nupur and her family security because they reportedly received 'death threats', the next day, she was served an FIR for purveying hate messages on the social media.

"It's a setback which is not entirely insurmountable, but we must step up our diplomatic engagements," a BJP official said.

The BJP's sense was that if, heretofore, the 'burden' of damage control fell on the Centre, the party would have to 'shoulder the responsibility'.

"It is important to decouple the government from the party because the situation was created by a spokesperson who took off on her own," a source said.

Anticipating questions on Sharma in the scheduled meetings BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda was expected to hold with envoys, his aides were marshalling the defences.

"So far, generic queries were asked on our policy towards the minorities. We expect more focused questions to come up and we must have the answers," a BJP source said.

If convincing the Islamic bloc of countries of India's 'inclusive' credibility was one aspect of the Centre's problem, particularly because remarks such as those from Nupur Sharma jeopardised India's commercial relations with West Asian nations, managing domestic dissent could be a bigger issue, especially because the BJP's hardcore votaries refused to understand the pulls and pressures under which the government laboured.

"The PM and his Cabinet should resist bureaucratic influence. It seems the action against Nupur was also because the vice president (M Venkaiah Naidu) was in Qatar around the same time and the officials in his secretariat did not want any embarrassment," a source in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh said.

A dinner for the vice president which Qatar's deputy emir was to host was called off ostensibly because the host had suspected exposure to a Covid-positive person.

However, on the same day Qatar Deputy Foreign Minister Lokwah Alkhater put out a tweet warning that the 'Islamophobia discourse has reached dangerous levels in a country long known for its diversity and co-existence'.

As the BJP struggled to bring about coherence among its spokespersons, one of them ascribed the Nupur Sharma controversy to "over-amplification by the anti-BJP ecosystem, harbouring a hidden agenda".

From 2014, the Centre and the BJP did little to intervene when the minorities were attacked, verbal assaults were mounted, and state leaders freely bashed them in statements.

In the Rajya Sabha, the BJP does not have a single Muslim MP after the tenure of M J Akbar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Syed Zafar Islam ends in July.

When asked, a Sangh source replied in a scoffing manner: "Has this trio, singly or collectively, brought the BJP even one Muslim vote?"

The developments triggered by Nupur Sharma have long-term implications for the BJP and the direction it will pursue before the next slew of elections.

Can the riders get off the horse pulling the BJP one way?

Radhika Ramaseshan in New Delhi
Source: source image