As the Narendra Modi government completes two years in a few days’ time, it could well be asked: Has it been two years since the BJP stopped campaigning and started governing — really? It’s not a rhetorical question. Take a look at the images of the last few days, in the run-up to the two-year anniversary. The prime minister, deep in the heat and grime of assembly poll battle, comparing Kerala to Somalia, provoking a reaction much like the one he did last year in Bihar, where his barb about Nitish Kumar’s DNA lent ballast to an entire campaign from the other side, Bihari vs Bahari. The NDA government forced to retreat by the Supreme Court and the floor test in Uttarakhand, where it has been accused of trying to topple yet another government in an Opposition-ruled state. The Modi government on the offensive against the Congress in Parliament over the controversial AgustaWestland helicopter deal, armed with rhetoric but without the homework to match the shouting. These images are eloquent. They speak of a government at the Centre that is yet to pronounce the battle over and call an end to the hostilities. Two years later, it’s still 2014.
To an extent, the crowded election calendar in this country demands a constant battle-readiness from parties. And a healthy antagonism between government and opposition is a feature of a robust democracy. But the BJP’s unending bellicosity is about more than just that. As the party that rules the Centre, it needs to draw crucial distinctions. Even as it faces off with the Congress and other Opposition parties in state assembly arenas, it must, at the same time, engage them in a conversation in Parliament to push its own agenda, especially in the Rajya Sabha where it lacks a majority. In the last two years, however, there is little evidence of attempted political outreach, and even less of a follow-through. By all accounts, the BJP appears to be allowing its slogan of “Congress-mukt Bharat” to get the better of its dialogue with other parties and its own judgement, and even push it onto constitutionally slippery ground as in Uttarakhand. It is true that Prime Minister Modi shoulders the burden of being his party’s lead campaigner. But both he and his party must be mindful of the fact that his no-holds-barred immersion in the heated poll battle also singes his office — the PM must, in all circumstances, be a figure larger than the leader of his own party and he must be seen to be so too.
The BJP must ask itself why, two years into government, it looks angry and resentful — a polariser and a settler of old scores, rather than the party elected with a large mandate to break with the past and build anew.