The NDA government’s slow and inadequate response to Union minister Giriraj Singh’s racist comments involving Congress chief Sonia Gandhi points at a nagging problem with the Narendra Modi dispensation. The coming to power of this government was always predicated on a development agenda. To its credit, it has started work on some much-needed economic reforms. However, no development agenda would be complete without taking on divisive and socially regressive politics. And this is exactly what prime minister Modi and his advisors within the BJP must urgently focus on.
The government has been lethargic—indeed, muted—in checking the regressive attitude some members of the ruling party have displayed. First, it failed to respond forcefully and in a timely manner to the communal statements made by BJP leaders in the past few months, with the result that opposition parties milked it to paint a picture of a government passive about the communal forces within the Sangh Parivar. Then, even though the 2014 general elections decisively rejected caste politics as an influencer of votes—evident in the rout of the seasoned “caste warriors”, the SP, RJD, BSP et al—the NDA government turned back the clock by seeking a review of the Supreme Court order that quashed the UPA’s Jat reservation policy. Similarly, while the BJP had rallied hard against the vindictive stand the Congress government in Haryana adopted against IAS officer Ashok Khemka—he was transferred frequently— it has managed to shoot itself in the foot by taking the same “punishment transfer” route with the senior bureaucrat after it came to power in the state. All this has nobody convinced that the government could have a social reforms agenda, and this, as the Delhi elections showed, could come at the cost of the goodwill earned from all those economic reforms.