Message and the politics
At the end of a two-day national executive meet, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party once again underlined its commitment to economic development, while upping the ante on the debate over nationalism and “anti-nationals”. “We have progressive policies and nationalist thoughts,” said Home Minister Rajnath Singh. “We can accept political dissent, but not anti-nationalism.” Indications about the emergence of “nationalism” as a focal point of the Modi government’s agenda came earlier in the day when senior party leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley addressed journalists on the party’s political resolution. “The ideology of nationalism guides our beliefs and philosophy,” Jaitley said emphasising that the overwhelming mood within the party was to take on the Congress for standing with “forces of destruction” in the controversy surrounding Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). “The Constitution gives full freedom for expressing dissent and disagreement, but not the country’s destruction,” Jaitley said. “Freedom of expression and nationalism do necessarily co-exist.” Despite the Finance Minister’s exhortations, his government has not yet explained why the “outsiders of Kashmiri descent”, who allegedly raised the pro-Afzal Guru and anti-India slogans, have not been nabbed. The Delhi Police and its master, the Ministry of Home Affairs, are best suited to answer that question. One must note with caution that the case is still sub-judice. Having left the hot-button “nationalism” issue for his colleagues to address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused on issues of development in his speech. If the likes of Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley had failed to drive home the point, Modi asked the party not to get “confused and distracted” as the Opposition was raising “useless issues”.
“The opposition will drag us into negative politics but we need to focus on our agenda let’s not get trapped by the negative style of politics of opposition,” said the Prime Minister. Reports suggest that the combination of “development” and “nationalism” will greatly influence the party’s campaign in the upcoming Assembly polls. Whether the gambit works or not is yet to be been. But to longtime observers, this resolution is straight out of the playbook the BJP has often used in the recent past. It has been the case ever since Narendra Modi’s ascension to the office of Prime Minister became very clear. The official comments attributed to Modi puts the focus on development while the rest of the BJP and its sister organisations in the Sangh Parivar carry on with their mission of reimagining the nation. Therefore, it is a little surprising when the BJP moans about why the media sharpens its focus on the beef ban or “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, instead of the apparent sterling work the Modi government is doing to revive the economy. After the Prime Minister’s call for greater focus on economic development, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu called Modi a “gift from god” and a “messiah” while Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tried to insist that nobody should question the need for “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. Is it any surprise that the media and the Opposition pick up on these “useless issues”?
On the JNU row, however, the BJP’s pointed attack against the Congress does hold some strategic, if not moral merit. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to show solidarity with the arrested students has only given the BJP greater ammunition. Through the JNU row, the Congress has come out looking firm with the alleged “anti-nationals”. The party must understand that if BJP leaders rake up “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” or the non-issue of “anti-nationalism”, it helps them consolidate their position with their vote bank. Recent developments suggest that the party may have understood this message. The challenge for the Congress party is to put the government on the mat on issues pertaining to economic development. It must ask tough questions about the promised “good days” and not allow them the escape route of identity politics. When one looks at the Aam Aadmi Party’s strategy through the JNU row, it is clear where the Congress lost out. Instead of television appearances, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal initiated a magisterial inquiry into the alleged raising of anti-national slogans on the university campus. As part of its inquiry, the Delhi government had sent seven video clips for forensic testing to the Hyderabad-based Truth Labs. Out of the seven clips sent by the Delhi government, at least, three were tampered with and certain “words were inserted” in the audio, as per the report submitted to the Delhi government. Suffice to say, much of the sedition case against JNU Student’s Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was initially based on videos aired by news channels that have now turned out to be doctored. Moreover, the Delhi government sought legal action against four television news channels for allegedly airing doctored footage of slogans raised at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on February 9. The party showed its support to the JNU students without necessarily hogging prime time television, while putting the BJP-led Centre and its investigative arms on the mat through quiet executive action.