Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rebuke to Akash Vijayvargiya, reportedly delivered during the first meeting of the BJP’s parliamentary party after it came back to power at the Centre on Tuesday, was much-needed. Akash, a first-time MLA, and son of powerful general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who had assaulted a public official in Indore a few days ago, was arrested and then feted by his partymen when he was released on bail. Through it all, he remained unrepentant. The PM’s disapproval will undoubtedly puncture his bluster — but it will hopefully do more. It will also pierce a climate of impunity that had been seen to settle down in the first term of the Modi government. In his first tenure, the pointed silences of PM Modi and the BJP high command at critical junctures, their lack of public disapproval or censure at displays of boorish or improper behaviour by lawmakers and members of the party and the Sangh Parivar, had rung loud. The reprimand to Vijayvargiya Junior — and whatever follow-up action the party takes — hold out a welcome promise of a break with a dismal pattern, which only seemed to be reinforced when the PM’s expression of anguish at Sadhvi Pragya Thakur’s outrageous remarks eulogising the Mahatma’s killer was followed by the BJP’s disciplinary inaction.
PM Modi knows well the power of example and the symbol. In his first tenure, he evocatively and imaginatively enlivened and illustrated many of his political messages to the people. Now, action taken against the cricket bat-wielding Vijayvargiya Junior, and also those who applauded his act, can drive the point home not just to the rank and file of the BJP, but also to elected people’s representatives across the political spectrum: That they cannot get away with intimidating and obstructing public officials, that there will be penalties to pay if arrogant lawmakers take the law into their own hands, or are tempted to take a swing at political and constitutional propriety. Of course, in a system governed by the rule of law, it should not take the Prime Minister to draw this line. But in an environment where the systemic restraints and checks are weak, and especially after an election in which the mandate was seen to be, above all, for the PM himself, perhaps his imprimatur is needed on this message to the power-drunk MLA.
It is on the BJP now to respect the PM’s word and sentiment. The party must recognise that it is, in the end, also in its own interest to do so. A significant part of its electoral success is made up of a revolt against the culture of entitlement and lack of accountability that the Congress was seen to preside over at the Centre and that has also congealed on the watch of many regional parties in the states. The BJP can ill afford to be seen to go any farther down that slippery road.