Updated: October 20, 2015 12:30:16 am
BJP chief Amit Shah, under orders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has, reportedly, reprimanded party leaders who hit the headlines for their clearly anti-Muslim statements. If this is true — neither the party nor the individuals in focus have publicly confirmed the censure — it is most welcome, even if belated.
The BJP leadership had earlier dismissed the communal talk by members associated with its affiliates and even party functionaries as the reaction of fringe elements. Barring a notice issued to party MP Sakshi Maharaj, the BJP was soft on the hotheads in the larger Parivar, who have repeatedly embarrassed the government with provocative statements. The reluctance of the party’s senior leaders, including Modi, to rein in the “fringe elements” at the first sign of trouble has allowed them to overshadow the mainstream. When leaders holding office — Union Ministers Mahesh Sharma and Sanjeev Balyan and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar among them — mimic the fringe, it is the BJP’s political decency and commitment to upholding the Constitution that come under a shadow. The many voices of disconcert and disappointment — from allies like the PDP to foreign investors and civil society — should serve as a wake-up call. The inflammatory rhetoric of the second-rung leadership has polarised the grassroots, leading to shocking events like the Dadri lynching and the murderous attack on a Kashmiri truck driver. The conversation initiated by the BJP governments in Maharashtra and Haryana and leaders elsewhere on the trade and slaughter of cattle and consumption of meat now threatens the fragile BJP-PDP coalition in Jammu and Kashmir and may impact the poll outcome in Bihar. It has started to override Modi’s governance initiatives and foreign forays to sell India’s investment potential. The unpleasant chatter is unlikely to help the government attract capital, economic or political.
The task before the government is to restore the development narrative. Although Modi did talk about the UPA government promoting a “pink revolution”, the fact is that the cow was not a prominent theme of Modi’s 2014 campaign. Why should it have become a talking point for the BJP now? The party ought to shun divisive agendas so that the government can focus on governance issues. And the government will be better served if senior leaders adopt a conciliatory and accommodating tone to criticism. In the absence of a positive social and political environment, the government’s task of reviving the economy will be that much more difficult.
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