Under Narendra Modi, the BJP has shown a flair for audaciously changing the headline and disarming the opponent, sometimes on national issues, but more often on the international stage, as the prime minister’s seemingly impromptu happy-birthday touchdown in Lahore has again reaffirmed. By all accounts, though, this out-of-the-box thinking stops at the doostep of the party. The BJP’s inner party affairs, it would seem, are to be conducted in ways that, relatively, lack in imagination, and large-heartedness or even tact. A party that took no action at all against those who blatantly sought to spread ill will between communities, like Ministers Mahesh Sharma and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, and MP Yogi Adityanath, has now speedily suspended cricketer-turned-MP Kirti Azad.
Three days after he held a press conference in which he held forth on an issue he has been raising for nine years now, about corruption in the Delhi and District Cricket Association under the 13-year stewardship of present Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Azad has been charged with anti-party activities, of “colluding” with the Congress and AAP to bring the BJP into “disrepute”.
Azad has protested that he was not given any specific reasons for the summary action taken against him and the BJP must answer the charge that due process was not followed in his ouster. But the party must confront a yet more damaging perception: That it has lost its capacity to deal with dissent. In two high-profile instances of the opposition within — Azad now and L.K. Advani earlier — the BJP reaction can be described as mean-spirited, if not intolerant. It relegated and marginalised Advani and it has suspended Azad. If the party were to pause and reflect, it might recognise that its treatment of both men — and their arguments — belies its own promise of being the “party with the difference”. When it first asserted its presence as a national alternative to the then dominant Congress, the BJP’s difference lay not just in its critique of the secular commonsense and its articulation of “cultural nationalism” but also in its insistence and claim of being the more democratic and lively party, with no high command or ruling family. That claim seems much depleted now in a party that is quick to crack the whip against the dissenter.
Its large mandate in 2014 has given the BJP much room for boldness and experiments without and also for expansiveness and generosity within. It would be doing itself a disservice if it did not take advantage of both opportunities.