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An own goal

Turning every government-Opposition disagreement into an India-Pakistan debate weakens the Centre

By: Editorial |
December 26, 2016 12:06:16 am

In Varanasi last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that those who disrupted Parliament on the demonetisation issue were trying to rescue the corrupt and compared their action to Pakistan giving cover fire to terrorists to cross the border. Pause for a moment on what the PM said, there is a dispiriting pattern that involves his party and government. From the time it swept to power with a decisive mandate two and a half years ago, to the present moment just days away from a new year, the government has often sought to stave off criticism by labelling any disagreement with its positions and policies as anti-national and pro-Pakistan.

In retrospect, a till-then little-known Bihar BJP leader, Giriraj Singh, may be credited with setting the tone and giving the cue when, amid the 2014 campaign, he exhorted all those opposed to Candidate Modi to go to Pakistan. In 2015, in the middle of another heated campaign, this time for Bihar, party president Amit Shah famously claimed that should the BJP lose in the state, firecrackers would be burst across the border. If you must eat beef, go to Pakistan, said Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. MP Yogi Adityanath wanted to despatch Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistan when the actor spoke of rising intolerance in the country. And more recently, the government alleged that questioning its surgical strikes against Pakistan was lending succour to the enemy. Common to all these episodes is the same message: A government with a decisive majority behaves in insecure and obsessive ways. Of course, political rhetoric — not just here but across the world — taps into the idea of an enemy, real or imagined, within and without, to electorally encash a sense of siege. Yet, at the same time, it is also true that the 2014 vote for the Modi-led BJP was a more complicated thing. It was not just about polarisation, but also about hope and affirmation. By labelling all critics and opponents as enemies of the “nation”, therefore, the BJP-led government at the Centre gravely lets down its own rich and layered mandate.

But more is at stake here than just the image of the BJP and its government’s (mis)reading of its mandate. Its nervous tic on Pakistan is also taking a systemic toll. It means that debates on crucial issues, such as demonetisation, are abbreviated, if not still-born. The relationship between government and Opposition looks headed into a dead-end. By alienating the Opposition even before talking to it, the government is making it more difficult for Parliament to function, and in the process, given its ambitious agenda, as on the GST, scoring a massive own goal. The government must realise and acknowledge an obvious and crucial difference: Sulking, not talking, and surgical strikes may be options vis a vis Pakistan. With the Opposition at home, there is no way out of the more mundane give and take.

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