Laying the foundation stone for a new party office in the capital on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the BJP as a party “swimming against the current”. “Even the Congress may not have faced so much difficulty during British rule as our party workers had to face since 1950 till date”, he claimed. The Congress has immediately taken the bait. Its spokesperson described the PM’s comments as “humiliation and denigration of the entire freedom struggle”. Quite apart from the Congress’s indignation, however, the PM doth protest too much. In fact, his remarks reveal a strong self-pitying streak in his party that seems to have withstood its ascent to power with a decisive mandate and formation of government at the Centre. The BJP’s self-styled victimhood has also survived its remarkable successes in the states since, and its expansion into spaces that had remained unmarked by its presence so far, like the Northeast.
The BJP’s tendency to play victim ill behoves a ruling party that has built itself into the second — some might even argue, the first — national pole of a polity that was, for many decades, dominated by the Congress. It also does not make the fit with the style and thrust of Modi’s own politics, which, in its best version, emphasises a problem-solving spirit and which proclaims a freedom from the habits and defeatism of the past. But the point is not merely that the BJP’s victim card jars in a party that is doing rather well for itself and is led by a politician who projects an aura of invincibility. It is also this: By constantly playing victim, the BJP continues to divide the world into “us” and “them, the enemy”; it reduces its own leadership’s room for manoeuvre within; and it does injustice to the real victims in the system it presides over as the ruling party at the Centre.
In other words, as was visible in the debate on nationalism in the wake of the JNU controversy, the BJP is too quick to label any view that differs from its own as “anti-national”. The party’s insistence on projecting itself as being the sinned-against also means that, within the parivar, more often than not, its leadership must close ranks with the fringe against the common “enemy”, instead of admonishing it. And, the BJP’s pre-occupation with its self-image as the party strenuously “swimming against the current” surely reduces its sensitivity and empathy for the truly disprivileged that its government must reach out to, be it the Dalits or Muslims, if it wants to live up to its own slogan of “sabka saath, sabka vikas”.