Sunday, September 1, 2013

Asaram Bapu unites, economic policy divides BJP….

I refer to two separate issues which help define the BJP for us. One is the alleged sexual assault case against self-professed godman Asaram Bapu, on whom the media has showered saturation coverage, and the BJP’s lack of any clear economic vision, as captured in today’s Business Standard. Both of these help crystallize what the top claimant to the next government stands for. Unfortunately, the picture that emerges is hardly exciting.

Take Asaram Bapu. Two responses have characterized the BJP’s stance on the issue. One is that of utter silence. I searched the net and found hardly any important leader’s comment on the subject. I couldn’t hear anything attributed to Advani, Jaitley or Rajnath Singh. Even Sushma Swaraj kept quiet on the issue, until she was needled by Digvijaya Singh. And even then, her response was over twitter, where she has merely 6.5 lac followers, not over mass media where millions of people would have gotten to see her stand. And even over twitter, her statement appeared mild: “I told the media in Vidisha yesterday also. In our country we have a law that is same for everybody” and “There is no one big or small. The law will take its own course”. Now this last line about the law taking its own course is usually a euphemism for a soft stand; an attempt to befuddle the issue and distance oneself from it. All that the voluble Narendra Modi had to say was “If saints will indulge in such things then it is a big mark on society” (source: DNA). A minor criticism. But not a word said on whether he should be arrested or not. It was left to lightweight Mukhtas Abbas Naqvi to say “The police should be allowed to do its work. Asaram Bapu is acknowledged as a saint and whatever chaos had taken place, shouldn't have happened” (source: Business Standard). Again, no comment on his arrest. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, CM of MP where Asaram has a big following had no comments to offer.

The second response of the BJP has been one of keeping a close eye on developments and testing the waters on defending him. Subramanian Swamy, who recently merged his party into the BJP, tweeted this yesterday “I have sent my legal sharp cookies to assess the police documents on the Asaram Bapu case. Await my tweet”. Uma Bharati, the aggressive face of the BJP said this (as quoted in DNA): “Rape charges against Asaram Bapu is a well planned Congress conspiracy”. C’mon.

It’s nobody’s case that Asaram Bapu has been found guilty. He may well be innocent, and due process of law should indeed be followed. But just because he is a godman, the BJP has gone soft. As a contrast, this is what Sushma Swaraj said when a 5-year old girl was raped recently in Delhi: “Nothing short of death sentence in cases of rape of children and cases involving brutality and barbarity will help” (source: DNA). Even here, the accused had not been proved guilty till then. But the leader found a good opportunity to show where she stood. Was it because this rape had happened in Delhi, where an election looms large? In the same way, she said this on yahoo about the Delhi rape/murder victim “that harsh punishment to the perpetrators of the December 16, 2012 gang rape in the national capital could serve as a deterrent to those committing these crimes”. This is the kind of language we want to hear from our leaders on all cases of assault, even if they are allegedly carried out by godmen right?

So the BJP appears to be going soft on Asaram Bapu. It’s like the party has closed ranks on the subject. There is unanimity on how to handle the issue: mostly keep silent.

Now look at the discord over economic policy. I have for long argued that the BJP has offered no alternative vision to the Congress’s. They criticize the Congress all the time, but don’t let us know what is on their own mind. Are they pro or anti-subsidy? Are they pro or anti the Food Security Bill? They made a lot of noise against it, but they voted for it. At the first opportunity, they quote Chhatisgarh’s even more generous act. In a story titled “Uncertainty dogs BJP’s economic policy”, the Business Standard says Gopal Agarwal, head of BJP’s economic cell “agrees the party lacks a consensus on reforms”. The paper mentions “Although the NDA during its tenure promoted FDI, the BJP has opposed the government in increasing FDI in the telecom and insurance sectors”. The paper mentions another of BJP’s ex-economic advisors (he quit the party) Jagdish Shettigar saying that the party’s opposition to government on most economic issues is driven by “narrow politics”. Shettigar also mention’s the BJP’s opposition to petrol price hikes in this context. Clearly, the BJP is a divided house. There is no unanimity on economic policy. This explains why they always criticize, but never offer anything of their own.

The real truth is that seen together, the two issues tell us something we already know about the BJP. That the thing that unites the party, its raison d’etre, is Hinduism. The party stands for Hinduism. Its main political plank is Hinduism. Every time there is even a mild threat to its Hindutva image, it speaks up loudly. Equally, when there is any embarassment caused by one of the religion’s practitioners, it goes mute. I am not saying that this is not an acceptable political strategy. Only that the BJP should be more candid about it. To that extent, I appreciate Modi’s “I am a Hindu nationalist” posters. At least the man has the guts to say who he is, and what he stands for. Most of the others just hide behind small fig leaves.

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