Back in the summer of 2014, almost anything was possible for the BJP government
Back in the summer of 2014, almost anything was possible for the BJP government. The once-in-a-generation mandate had endowed the government with enormous political capital that could be used to implement any reform, including some long-pending and difficult reforms. Alas, two years after May 2014, the government has become a punchline for jokes.
Its hardcore supporters are scrambling desperately to defend it. Many who had voted for the BJP are looking for alternatives, as they did in the elections in Delhi and Bihar. The government’s political capital has depleted considerably.
One of the main reasons for the turnabout is the government’s tendency to embark upon expensive misadventures. A party that showed considerable political skill in winning the general election has made some inexplicably strange calculations since it came to power. Here are some examples:
Amendments to the Land Acquisition Act: Amendments to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, were sought to be pushed through without due consultations with stakeholders. It made no sense to amend crucial sections of the Act so soon after it was passed with the BJP’s support. After promulgating an ordinance more than once, the government finally gave up.
GST Bill: The government tried to bulldoze the Opposition into supporting a flawed GST Constitution Amendment Bill. It has obstinately refused to engage in a dialogue with the Congress on the latter’s reasoned points of difference. Result: the GST Bill is yet to be passed and more doubts about the Bill are being expressed with every passing day.
Aadhaar Bill: It was not a Money Bill, yet the Speaker was persuaded to declare it as a Money Bill so that it could navigate the choppy waters of the Rajya Sabha. It was a stupid ploy and, as could be expected, the faux-Money Bill has been challenged before the Supreme Court. It is possible that another shipwreck is a few weeks away.
Target the congress
Congress Mukt Bharat Mission: It was, and always will be, a mission impossible, yet the Modi-Shah combine decided to give it top priority. The prime target was the Nehru-Gandhi family. Other targets were also selected. Cases were manufactured, pliant officers were placed in the investigating agencies, innuendos and leaks became the order of the day, and sections of the media were suborned to do the dirty work of the government. The misadventure has made all opposition parties more suspicious and ruined what little chance there was to cobble support for the passage of selected Bills or implementation of vital administrative reforms. Is there today one political party (including the Shiv Sena) or one state government (including the BJD government in Odisha) that is willing to trust the Central government?
Pseudo-nationalism: Starting with the bogus sedition case against a bunch of JNU students based on a doctored video, the government launched a nationwide campaign to create the perception of an “enemy within”. The only thing this strategy seems to have achieved is to turn college campuses from Hyderabad to Pune to Aligarh to Jadavpur into war zones. Add to that the stoking of divisive fires like ‘ban beef’, ‘say Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘kill rationalists’ etc, and the stage is set for deeper polarisation and the ghettoisation of towns and cities. Equating nationalism with Hindutva and a right-wing, atavistic agenda is the final blow to ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’.
Attempts to topple governments: The crude attempt to topple the Uttarakhand government has failed miserably, leaving the government licking its wounds. Sadly, the President has been embarrassed because he was advised to sign the Proclamation near midnight when the trust vote was fixed for 11 am the next day. All political parties are suspicious that the BJP will not allow space for any other political party.
Clean chit to terror accused: The portents are ominous. The procession of witnesses turning hostile has begun in the Samjhauta and Ajmer dargah cases. A prosecutor spilled the beans when she said that she had been advised to “go slow”. Chargesheets are being revised, notably in the Malegaon blast case. The most startling statement was made by the Director General of the NIA who, asked about right-wing terror, told the The Week magazine that “Since 2008 there has been no activity that has come to the notice of the agency. Hence, there is no question of any threat.” It was a command performance.
Absent, a foreign policy
Nepal: Whatever the government might say, the perception in Nepal is that India continues to interfere in the internal affairs of Nepal. The latest accusation is of a conspiracy to topple the Oli government. A key neighbour is more alienated now than at anytime in memory.
Pakistan: If flip-flop can be called policy, India does have a Pakistan policy! Nothing could have been more naive than inviting a Joint Investigation Team from Pakistan to “investigate” the terrorist attack on the Pathankot Air Force Station. The JIT played its role to perfection and, on returning home, trashed the evidence given by the Indian side and gave a clean chit to Pakistan’s State and non-State actors. It was an international embarrassment.
China: The recent visa episodes exposed the bumbling Ministry of Home Affairs and the fumbling Ministry of External Affairs. They were just the latest in a long series of foreign policy misadventures that have ended in ignominious retreats by the government.
No adventure is without a cost. The biggest cost is in terms of what could have been achieved, in both consensus-building and development, had the government chosen a wiser path on each of these occasions.