WHY BJP WILL FIND IT TOUGH THIS TIME

The govern­ment can hardly go full throt­tle against the Saradha scam­sters and Vadra un­less it wishes to risk its own cred­i­bil­ity

The New Indian Express - - EDITORIAL - SU­JATA ANANDAN Se­nior jour­nal­ist and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Email: su­[email protected]

Barely four months ago, an RSS ide­o­logue from Nag­pur was lay­ing bare to me the elab­o­rate and tan­gled web they had wo­ven for op­po­si­tion par­ties try­ing des­per­ately to form a ma­ha­gath­band­han for the com­ing Lok Sabha elec­tions. The fly they ex­pected to en­trap was Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi, who had then been starkly con­trast­ing his Shiv bhakti with his sec­u­lar­ism. “We have ma­nip­u­lated him right into the corner where we wanted him. Af­ter pro­fess­ing his Hin­dutva so openly, can he stop us from build­ing the Ram tem­ple in Ay­o­d­hya? He will be ex­posed as a hyp­ocrite and will be com­pletely fin­ished in one fell swoop,” he told me. That was in Oc­to­ber 2018. The RSS was not ex­pect­ing the Supreme Court to post­pone its hear­ing of the tem­ple is­sue and thought Rahul had alien­ated his Mus­lim vote bank with the proud dis­play of his ja­neu (sa­cred thread) and his visit to Kailash Mansarovar. When poll re­sults in the three Hindi heart­land states in De­cem­ber 2018 proved other­wise, I sensed a lot of be­wil­der­ment run­ning through the RSS men who seemed to be com­fort­ing them­selves with the thought that they could cut Rahul’s Rafale cam­paign down by res­ur­rect­ing Bo­fors—in­deed, true to ex­pec­ta­tion, Union Min­is­ter Arun Jaitley did bring it up vig­or­ously in Par­lia­ment in De­cem­ber but noth­ing much came of it. I still do not know whether to be­lieve the man who told me that for­mer prime min­is­ter Ra­jiv Gandhi had sought RSS help to win the 1989 Lok Sabha elec­tions. The re­turn favour ex­pected for that help does not even merit con­tem­pla­tion for the se­ri­ous con­se­quences it would have had for the peo­ple. But if his story is true, the na­tion was lucky that the Congress lost that elec­tion. “Be­cause then Bo­fors hap­pened. And noth­ing we could do to help him could save his govern­ment. The per­cep­tion among the peo­ple of cor­rup­tion in the govern­ment went deep and he had a very bad fall.” Thirty years later, Rafale threat­ens to do the same to the BJP govern­ment at the Cen­tre. When I called my RSS source back again he ad­mit­ted re­luc­tantly that the gov-

There is a recog­ni­tion among many mem­bers of the cur­rent dis­pen­sa­tion that ad­mit­ting tainted mem­bers from the Tri­namool and Congress to the BJP, who are al­legedly in­volved in the Saradha scam, was a bad move. But worse is the con­nec­tion of San­jay Bhan­dari, a de­fence dealer said to be an as­so­ciate of Vadra, to the Rafale deal

ern­ment may have been wrong in all its re­cent moves, in­clud­ing the needling of West Ben­gal Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee and Congress gen­eral sec­re­tary in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s hus­band Robert Vadra. While Vadra may or may not have properties in London that are be­ing probed by ED or Ma­mata may or may not have some­thing to do with the Saradha chit fund scam be­ing probed by the CBI, there is a recog­ni­tion among many mem­bers of the cur­rent dis­pen­sa­tion that ad­mit­ting tainted mem­bers like Mukul Roy from the Tri­namool and Hi­manta Biswa Sarma from the Congress to the BJP, both said to be in­volved in the Saradha scam, was a bad move. But worse is the con­nec­tion of San­jay Bhan­dari, a de­fence dealer said to be an as­so­ciate of Vadra, to the Rafale deal—the govern­ment can hardly go full throt­tle against the Saradha scam­sters and Vadra un­less it wishes to risk its own cred­i­bil­ity on the is­sues. Which is why both Ma­mata and Priyanka have made mince­meat of the op­tics the rul­ing party was hop­ing to cash in on ahead of the elec­tions with their high fire­power last week. It is un­usual for a chief min­is­ter to sit on a dharna but Ma­mata did just that and suc­ceeded in ral­ly­ing al­most the en­tire op­po­si­tion, in­clud­ing the BJP ally Shiv Sena led by Ud­dhav Thack­eray, and his es­tranged cousin Raj Thack­eray’s Ma­ha­rash­tra Navnir­man Sena, to her side (they didn’t go to Kolkata, but tweeted in her favour). Priyanka’s ride with her hus­band to the ED of­fice and her pick­ing him up af­ter ques­tion­ing has rat­tled the saf­fron ide­o­logues even more. Firstly, af­ter an on­a­gain-off-again kind of un­cer­tainty, they were not ready for the sur­prise Rahul sprung on the na­tion by in­duct­ing his sis­ter of­fi­cially into the party. Se­condly her un­ex­pected car ride brought back mem­o­ries of Indira Gandhi’s ele­phant ride to Belchi in Bi­har to a Dalit basti. Though this was a per­sonal ride and young­sters may not re­late to the com­par­i­son, the RSS has not missed the pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal mes­sag­ing by Indira’s grand­daugh­ter. How­ever Priyanka might fare in Ut­tar Pradesh, what wor­ries them more now is the po­ten­tial fail­ure of the Ram tem­ple plank—their re­cent moves in this di­rec­tion have left the sants and seers in Ay­o­d­hya a bit scep­ti­cal with none of the ex­pected con­sol­i­da­tion in sight. The SC has not re­ally come forth in the man­ner they ex­pected and the or­di­nance they were hop­ing would be passed to fa­cil­i­tate the build­ing of the tem­ple is no op­tion, as it will never stand ju­di­cial scru­tiny. In any case, the time for it is long past. Un­der the cir­cum­stances, the BJP faces the prospect of go­ing into this elec­tion with the same hand­i­cap Ra­jiv did—a de­fence deal gone awry, which is threat­en­ing to re­duce their first ma­jor­ity govern­ment to the mar­gins. There were many in the BJP who de­scribed 2014 as akin to 1977 when the Congress suf­fered its worst loss against a com­bined op­po­si­tion. How­ever, 2019 now threat­ens to be more like 1977 and the RSS men who were sure they had ev­ery­thing in place for this elec­tion are re­luc­tantly ad­mit­ting that the best laid plans of men and mice might still go awry.

AMIT BANDRE

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