- Claims of “scam-free” government at the end of first year withers away
- Continuing leaks demonstrates PM Modi’s losing grip over the party and government—and the media
- Ahead of crucial Parliament session, staring at a near-convulsion of legislative business and governance
- Hopes of artificial resuscitation hampered by a glaring talent crunch in party, sliding economy
Deendayal Upadhyaya is being fondly remembered by BJP veterans, some of whom are feeling quite nostalgic about old times and the personalities who shaped their past. It was to Deendayal’s village in Mathura that Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on May 25 to symbolically mark the first anniversary of his government. But, as a senior leader recalls, Modi may not know what the party ideologue had said when asked what he would do if the Jan Sangh became corrupt? I will disband it and start another party, was the reply. What if the new party also became corrupt? The answer: I will disband that too.
Disbanding a party in a cleansing process sounds like a utopian dream in the morass of today’s dirty politics. As the monsoons finally reached the capital last week, leading to cooler climes but also traffic snarls, a cloud also burst on the heads of the BJP and the Narendra Modi government. It has been raining scams for over a month now, but the darkest clouds have surely built around India’s most lethal one, Vyapam. This involves more than financial swindles, something the nation may be a little immune to. With Vyapam, there is a human connect in the pile of corpses, all such ordinary people, and some so young.
The macabre trail of death is apparently part of a terrifying cover-up. What’s particularly troubling for the forces that now rule India is that the RSS cannot claim the moral high ground and point to the filth as being an inevitable outcome of politics. Skeletons are emerging from the cupboards of both the RSS and the ruling BJP in Madhya Pradesh, and in a geographical area where the Sangh in all its avatars has always been the most entrenched. At the heart of the cover-up stands the figure of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the poster boy CM for the RSS/BJP.
The only consolation for the MP chief minister is that he is not the only BJP leader in the dock. To add a touch of dark humour, he is in good company and lots of it apparently. On June 24, a Delhi court accepted a complaint that Smriti Irani misrepresented her educational qualifications. A BJP insider is candid: “It’s a more serious source of embarrassment that the HRD minister should have such baggage. The problem is not that she is less educated but that she too falsified documents—which is the issue at the heart of the Vyapam scam—or at the very least misrepresented them.” The next hearing is on August 28.
Like the MP CM, the young minister too can take courage from the fact that the veteran woman face of the BJP, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, is sitting on an even more explosive time-bomb. That one is still ticking away. A BJP leader elaborates: “There are many issues involved in that case that will blow up again if and when Lalit Modi technically gets the notice from the Enforcement Directorate. India can then ask for his expatriation. There is a great impropriety in Sushma having used her office to give him his passport and help him leave the country when her husband and daughter are lawyers who get paid by him. Former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh has said she was not consulted. The next question the Opposition will ask is: was the PM in the know of the decision to allow Lalit Modi to flee the country?”
One consequence of the Sushma story has been the BJP being consumed by speculation over the subplot of who leaked the news (which first came out in a British paper) to the Indian media. The other dimension to the story has been the well-chronicled narrative of Lalit Modi’s links to Rajasthan CM Vasundhararaje. A party MP is blunt: “It’s all bad news. We have the issue of shares being purchased in the CM’s son’s company and their value shooting up. There is scope to investigate corruption, insider trading, occupying government land and on top of all this Vasundhara’s image as a maharani gets magnified.” Meanwhile, the Congress has accused BJP’s Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh of being involved in a Rs 36,000 crore PDS scam, but that’s yet to make screaming headlines and prime-time news. What did is the saga of BJP’s Mathura MP and cine-star Hema Malini being involved in a road accident, where a two-year-old died. She was in a Mercedes Benz, rushed to a private hospital, but days later tweeted about the victim’s father, driving an Alto, breaking road rules. It was her driver who was arrested so the entire episode smacked of insensitivity by a people’s representative.
It almost seems like there is no good news for the ruling party. While veterans reminisce about the past, the younger lot, in lighter moments, pose counter-questions of their own. Has the media turned against us? Why can’t we “manage” the media? They have been told no heads will roll and no one will be asked to resign unless proven by the courts to be guilty. After all, the entire parivar seems to be in this hamaam. Besides, mass leaders like Chouhan and Vasundhara cannot be dismissed easily. That’s a thumb rule of politics across political parties.
Still, there is the realisation that the monsoon session of Parliament, due to start on July 21, will be a washout. The impact of Lalitgate and Vyapam will be felt even more forcefully and conventional wisdom suggest they can forget controversial legislation such as bringing changes to the land acquisition laws.
The faithful do console themselves in the belief that the PM remains untainted and his image still soars high. True, he tries to fly at an altitude that is above the dark clouds, to and fro from foreign lands. But the ground beneath the feet of the mere mortals in his party is shifting in the mother country. It has been suggested that the PM maintain a doctrine of silence, but the unique logistics of democracy will force him to speak soon. There will no doubt be a ‘Mann ki Baat’ soon. Besides, August 15 is just a month away and even if he chooses to just make a speech high on rhetorical flourish on that significant day, a session of Parliament is round the corner.
Even if Modi were to want a cleansing process, he has few choices. The more gifted people in his party are all apparently now tainted while there is simultaneously a lack of talent quite visible in the pool from which ministers and office-bearers have been chosen. Journalist M.J. Akbar is expected to be included in the council of ministers whenever there is a reshuffle/expansion. A BJP veteran quips: “He will almost appear to be a genius given the current lot of Aristotles and Platos in our party.”