By Devika Bedi
At the onset of this year’s winter session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh of being a part of a discussion that was centred on ways to ouster the BJP government in Gujarat. A dinner was organised by suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar at his residence in honour of Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, the Pakistani High Commissioner, and the former VP of India. Describing it as a “secret meeting”, the PM has angered the opposition parties who seek an apology for casting doubts on Dr Singh’s patriotism, thereby spoiling his reputation along with that of Congress. During a rally in Palanpur, allegations were made about Manmohan Singh, that he, along with a former army chief and a foreign minister had tie-ups with the Pakistani forces to influence and alter the elections.
The game of Gujarat
Amidst campaigning for Gujarat state assembly elections, an aggressive rhetoric was used by BJP and its spokespersons. They alleged a Congress-Pakistan partnership, aimed at influencing voters in Gujarat. Its campaigning strategy was based on the perceived failures of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in Gujarat and elsewhere, and Congress’s reputation of a corrupt and controversial party. As alternatives, Modi-led BJP advertised a Hindutva ideology that has ruled Gujarat since 1991 after the success of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign. Binaries were drawn among a weak prime minister versus a strong one, a party marinated in corrupt cases of money laundering versus one that took India to a global platform, an inexperienced royal scion versus an honest leader. Hindu majoritarianism seeped not only onto the busy streets of Gujarat but also in the parliamentary affairs.
Demand for proofs
The result has been that the opposition is publically hurt. Congress loyal Manmohan has also expressed gloom, stating that aversions had been made on him. In retaliation, the opposition has asked the PM to clarify the basis of his allegations by presenting reasonable proofs. “In the middle of the Gujarat campaign, PM Modi had alleged that the former Prime Minister, former Vice-President and the former Army chief conspired against him. We have asked that if this is correct then let the government state it on the floor of the House,” said Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. “I am deeply pained and anguished by the falsehood and canards being spread to score political points…” said Dr Manmohan Singh. Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President of India M. Venkaiah Naidu moved the houses, asking the leaders of the opposition to resolve the issue. “I also have a view that the Opposition must always have its say irrespective of the numbers but at the end of the day, the government must have its way”, said the VP.
A state of denial
Consequentially, after the leaders met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, the government came up with a denial to tender an apology to the former PM. It has refused to make any clarifications or apologise for the issue. Since then, the Congress party has kept the winter session—which will end on January 5, 2018—from functioning. All eyes are on Narendra Modi, the most popular face of BJP, for finding a move for or against the demand. The government feels that it is rather the Congress that owes the nation an apology. “To expect the prime minister of India to apologise… for having flagged that issue [Aiyar’s dinner] is indeed beyond comprehension,” Jaitley said.
The dangers of apologising
BJP stands at the crossroads of losing the unbeatable, untamable reputation of Narendra Modi if he makes the apology. His charisma will fall for having pursued unethical and flawed rhetoric for electoral gains. To apologise at this time, when every public action of BJP will add on to its revised image in the 2019 general elections, will be more damaging than good. It might settle the opposition for a while but that will not remain. Apologising will show regret, remorse and confession of wrongdoing to the entire opposition, along with a promise of not repeating it in the future. The public confidence of BJP will come crippling down and put a question mark on Modi’s credibility, especially after a tough victory in Gujarat. The image of a dominant “right” will be corroded and the ambiguity will result in the party losing many voters nationwide.
Difficulty of niches
BJP has a niche audience of its own, like any other political party. It assumes the nationalistic right among all the others. Any action indicating its malleability in the ideology can signify a glitch in not only its own identity but also in the identity of all its supporters. The almost failed winter session, along with a united opposition, are strong reasons for the BJP to employ quicker and more effective political strategies to win back hearts.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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