If the BJP strategy goes as per the script it may be able to browbeat the Congress and salvage at least a part of the monsoon session without any of its three top leaders – External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan – having to resign.
The BJP’s floor managers have adopted a multi-pronged strategy to divide the Opposition, rake up scams in Congress-ruled states and sharpen their attack on the party’s first family by targeting Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra.
The avoidable spectacle will only rob the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of their aura of being a party and PM with a difference. Even if BJP manages to cow down the Congress, the Pyrrhic victory will do little to enhance Modi’s clean image. In the larger context, what matters is public perception. Congress, when in power, acted in a similar brazen manner and paid for it.
The prime minister assumed office last year with the declaration of “zero tolerance” to corruption. If he had sacked the tainted trio last month when the scams burst out in the open, his prestige and image would have received a big boost across the country. He could have rightfully taken a high moral ground vis-a-vis the Congress.
Is he hesitating to sack them now for fear that it might impact the Bihar elections? On the contrary, action against the tainted would have further bolstered the BJP’s image in Bihar and it could have effectively flagged corruption charges against RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress. By inaction, the party has lost the “C” plank in Bihar.
Further, by shielding the trio, the BJP is giving ammo to the Congress for the next four years to take the fight to the streets. Raking up corruption charges against Congress chief ministers in Uttarakhand, Assam, Kerala, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh and reviving an 18-year-old criminal case against Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh may spur sporadic media discussion, but is no substitute for good and clean governance.
The Pyrrhic victory in Parliament will come at a personal cost to the prime minister, who is the ultimate target of the Congress. Rahul Gandhi, of late, has developed a penchant, tactical as it is, for focusing on Modi’s silence on crucial issues.
A rattled BJP hit back shouting slogans against Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat and demanding his resignation while another member sought a privilege motion against Robert Vadra for his Facebook post allegedly denigrating MPs. During the India Against Corruption agitation led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal, some speakers, including cine star Nana Patekar, had made derogatory comments against lawmakers, kicking up a storm.
Even if some corruption charges stick against Congress CMs, the party has the leeway to remove them as it did with Natwar Singh, Shashi Tharoor, Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwini Kumar earlier. But the Prime Minister’s silence may either be due to BJP’s internal politics or he does not want to be seen to be caving in to Congress pressure.
Action against the three would also have spared Modi of the embarrassment caused by a senior party leader like Shanta Kumar, a former Union minister, who spoke the Congress language. He wrote to BJP president Amit Shah seeking action in Vyapam scam and referring to graft cases in Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Incidentally, the 81-year-old- lone ranger had rebelled in 2002 too. As food minister under A B Vajpayee, Kumar was the first to ask for Modi’s scalp after the Gujarat riots.
Predictably, several BJP members took offence and berated Kumar, a reticent, soft-spoken and disciplined party veteran, accusing him of being carried away by Congress propaganda.
Nonetheless, it would be in the BJP’s interest to ponder over the question: why is there a growing unease in the party over IPL and Vyapam scams. Before Shanta Kumar, BJP MPs R K Singh and Kirti Azad had surprised the political class by going public on Lalitgate. Other senior leaders such as Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and ideologue Govindacharya had taken pot shots at Modi while L K Advani feared the emergence of an Emergency type situation.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist)