Even as Parliament is stalled, the BJP-led government is refusing to consider the Congress-led opposition’s demand for the resignations of Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and Chief Ministers Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan over “Lalitgate” and the Vyapam scandals, respectively. In all probability, its strategy is to brazen it out, and to wear down the opposition. But what could the party be thinking when it dismisses the concerns raised on the billowing scandals by one of its senior-most leaders, Shanta Kumar, and suggests, as Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy has done, that its veteran — who, incidentally, also reiterates his admiration for Narendra Modi — is influenced by Congress “propaganda”? Shanta Kumar, who has been chief minister of Himachal Pradesh and a Union minister, had written to party president Amit Shah that the recent scandals had “made us all bow our heads in shame” and suggested that the party should institute an ethics committee. The party needs to engage with his concerns and respond to them seriously. It appears small-minded and disrespectful towards its senior leader when it questions his motives.
Shanta Kumar has also spoken about the absence of — and the need for — samvaad or dialogue within the party at a time when it is seen by many to be stepping back from its promises to the people. He has pointed out that the Modi government rode to power on enormous expectations and lamented that the recent allegations against the party are a reason for disillusionment for those who hoped that it would help change the prevailing “person-centric politics of corruption and selfishness”. Both in drawing attention to the need for the Modi government to address the serious allegations against Swaraj, Raje and Chouhan, and in highlighting the dwindling of internal debate in the BJP, Shanta Kumar is a voice the BJP can ill afford to disdain. It must realise that suppressing its inner voice will extract a far greater price in terms of damage to its own image and credibility than its dismissal of the opposition’s demands.
The Shanta Kumar episode underlines the awkwardness the Modi-led BJP has displayed with internal dissent. When L.K. Advani, one of its founding fathers, now relegated to the Margdarshak Mandal, expressed his apprehension in an interview to this paper last month that the Emergency could return because of weaknesses of political leadership, the party evaded the veteran’s concerns. Its snubbing of Shanta Kumar now underlines the pattern. The BJP, it seems, desires not just a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, but also a dissent-mukt BJP. The sooner it recognises that these fantasies are out of place in a diverse and argumentative democracy, the better it will be for the party, and for the government it leads.