Dilemmas mount over ‘Lalitgate’
The BJP may have partially succeeded in maintaining internal peace by supporting Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje in le affaire Lalit Modi. However, the party cannot be unaware that it has lost the moral high ground in the process, as the current bee in its bonnet, L.K. Advani, has pointed out.
As is known, the reason for its exceptional success in last year’s general election was not only the promise of development, but also the expectation that it would rid the country of an atmosphere of sleaze and underhand dealings which came to be associated with the Manmohan Singh government.
Consciousness of the popular urge for transparency and clean governance was reflected in Narendra Modi’s comment, “<g data-gr-id="74">na</g> <g data-gr-id="75">khaoonga</g>, <g data-gr-id="76">na</g> <g data-gr-id="77">khane</g> <g data-gr-id="78">dunga</g>” (I will neither be corrupt nor let anyone be corrupt) during the election campaign. But, the post-poll ground realities are apparently making it difficult for the prime minister to live up to his commitments.
In view of the realisation of this dichotomy, the BJP is now feverishly engaged in asserting that neither the external affairs minister nor the Rajasthan chief minister did anything legally wrong in lending a helping hand to an old family friend like the former IPL chief.
No one, however, knows better than the BJP leaders that claims are one thing and public perception is quite another. It was undoubtedly the Congress’s poor image which led to the party’s crushing defeat last year and is still making it difficult for it to recover. That the BJP’s reputation is not as squeaky-clean as it probably believes is evident from the virtual wipeout which it suffered in the Delhi elections last February.
There was no “Lalitgate” then to harm the BJP. Yet, it was routed by someone who was asked by Narendra Modi to join the Maoists in the jungle because of his “yes, I am an anarchist” boast. Now, with the shadow of a tainted former IPL czar hanging over the party, the BJP cannot be too sure of its success in the forthcoming elections, notably in Bihar this winter.
Its position has been made worse by the fact that even as allegations of hobnobbing with a fugitive are ruling the airwaves, the BJP has been unable to achieve any success with regard to its main electoral promise of rapid economic progress. Even the claim of a 7.5 percent growth rate has been derided by some as a “statistical illusion”.
Yet, the party’s dilemma is understandable. Had it acted against one or the other of the two ladies involved in the Lalit Modi affair, all hell would have broken loose both inside the party and outside. While Sushma Swaraj is not a political heavyweight, Raje is. Besides, the stepping down of one of them may be interpreted as a confirmation of the ‘fading’ Narendra Modi “magic”, whose first sign was seen in the Delhi poll.
It may not matter if the party “sacrifices” Smriti Irani for allegedly having been economical with the truth about her educational qualifications, as the judiciary prima facie believes. After all, she is a minor politician despite holding a major portfolio. What is more, her critics have always believed that she is not fit for the post. But, an external affairs minister and a chief minister are another matter.
It is not that there haven’t been resignations earlier in the party. Nitin Gadkari’s left the party president’s post in 2013 following allegations about his business deals and, in 2001, another party president Bangaru Laxman resigned when caught on camera putting wads of cash handed to him by a visitor in his table drawer.
But, the BJP hadn’t set its aims as high then as at present. Now, it is posing as the party which will not only rescue the country from the corruption and policy paralysis of the last regime, but also take it into a new direction, which is free of Westernised and left-liberal influences. Such an attitude manifests itself in the Centre’s drive against NGOs and the appointment of Hindutva votaries to key institutional positions ranging from history to films shows.
In Narendra Modi, the BJP and the RSS have seen a “yug purush” or a man of destiny, who will be able to draw the curtains down on the long, post-independence years of Nehruvian dalliance with secularism and socialism. For this grand vision to evaporate suddenly because of the subterranean links between important ministers and a flamboyant buccaneer is not something which the BJP can easily accept. Hence, its contortions like Raje’s flying visit to Delhi but still maintaining a safe distance from the party and government bigwigs.
It is possible that the “<g data-gr-id="67">yug</g> <g data-gr-id="68">purush</g>” never anticipated running into so much trouble in his first year in office – a lethargic economy, continuing farmers’ suicides, cross-border terror in both the north-east and north-west and, on top of it all, the egregious acts of impropriety by two senior ministers.
In addition, he may not have expected the Congress to recover quickly enough to exploit his political difficulties and for the media to shed its earlier deference and launch a full-scale attack. Now,
winning in 2014 must seems like an easier game to Narendra Modi. IPA