Two years later, with the Amit Shah-led BJP posting a good electoral performance in the latest round of state elections, the political capital of the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre appears revitalised. But two years on, surely, the BJP’s electoral victories, crucial as they are, can only be part of the political reckoning of the Modi government, not all of it.
Two years later, with the Amit Shah-led BJP posting a good electoral performance in the latest round of state elections, the political capital of the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre appears revitalised. But two years on, surely, the BJP’s electoral victories, crucial as they are, can only be part of the political reckoning of the Modi government, not all of it. Other questions must be asked. For instance, how is the Modi government negotiating the political challenges, away from the electoral arenas, where the logic of numbers and majority do not — should not — prevail? Has it tried to reach out to reassure the minorities, win their trust, given the misgivings and insecurities provoked by its taking charge in 2014?
The BJP still appears at its best as a campaigning party rather than as a ruling party, and this must be seen as a problem for the Modi government. The party is importing its manner and mien in electoral bout into other forums and spaces. There seems little to distinguish the BJP in Parliament, for instance, from the BJP that most recently slugged it out against the Congress in Assam — both seem equally combative and quick to take offence, both unabashedly bear and flaunt grudges. As a result, a forum for ideas, conversation and debate has lost crucial moments and openings for negotiation, generosity and grace and is, more often than not, reduced to a staging ground for a replay of the numbers game. Of course, the BJP is not the sole culprit here. The Congress did it too when it was in power, and there are several complex reasons for the progressive denuding of the parliamentary institution. But not only has the Modi-BJP not made a break with past petulance in government-opposition relations, it has added to it considerably. At the heart of the problem lies its seeming incapacity so far to strike the balance between its identity as an ideological being and the necessity, as a ruling party, to think and behave in more political, more capacious, ways.
In its two years, the Modi government has not addressed itself in any notable manner to the country’s minorities. Instead, at critical moments, it has sought to sidestep the need to do so by ducking behind the opaque slogan “sabka saath sabka vikas”, when it has not retreated behind loud silences. Gains have been made in terms of setting up safety nets and in the targeting of subsidies, but without a parallel effort of political engagement, genuine inclusion continues to elude. Again, while the BJP may be ideologically programmed to view any outreach to Muslims as “appeasement”, the Modi government will be judged by its ability to go beyond the party line — to talk to and listen to citizens, especially the most fearful and vulnerable, and not just to its voters.