Motormouth leaders and right-wing extremism may dent BJP's chances in 2019
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's main pitch is development and he is relentlessly working towards it. His vision is to make use of technology to bring about a change in the lives of common man. The Prime Minister has taken initiatives to solve decades-old problems of corruption, black money and tax evasion by taking bold steps such as demonetisation and GST. Now, how effective these moves have been is something for economists and political experts to decide.
The point here is that all the good work of Modi may take a backseat if the BJP's top brass fails to rein in their motormouth leaders who time and again make highly insensitive and communal remarks. BJP must not forget that it was not the 'Hindutva' pitch that fetched them 280 odd seats in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. What made people overwhelmingly vote for them was an amalgamation of several factors, including Modi's charisma, development agenda and also to an extent, weak opposition.
Leaders like Sakshi Maharaj, Vinay Katiyar, Giriraj Singh, Sangeet Som and many others have made statements which have seriously dented BJP's image. When Modi says "Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas", it is clear that he wants his government to be seen as a secular one which is committed towards working for all.
Recently, BJP UP MLA Surendra Singh said the 2019 Lok Sabha elections would be fought on the lines of "Islam versus Bhagwan" and "Pakistan versus India". A few days later, BJP MLA in Karnataka raked up a controversy with his comment that the upcoming state assembly election is "not about roads and drinking water but about Hindu-Muslim incidents". Another BJP leader Vinay Katiyar keeps making such statements. Earlier this year, Katiyar stirred yet another controversy after he said that Muslims should not stay in India as the 'community divided the country on the basis of the population'. Union Minister Giriraj Singh is another such BJP leader who keeps making headlines for communal remarks. Last year in November, he said, "Muslims living in India are children of Rama and not Babar. Ram temple will definitely be built in India."
It is not only the BJP leaders but other right-wing groups, whose actions greatly influence the way people perceive the BJP, have gone haywire since 2014. Some such groups, although may not be linked to the BJP, are indulging in all sorts of needless activities, including Dalits bashing and cow vigilantism, which is not helping the BJP. VHP just cannot keep quiet on the Ram Mandir issue and keeps raking it up again and again. Pravin Togadia even accused the BJP betraying Hindus.
Now when opposition parties are frantically holding talks to stitch a strong anti-BJP alliance, Modi and Shah have a lot to worry. They must now work towards building a narrative that goes beyond development agenda. They must now come up with a narrative that must convey to people that BJP is about inclusiveness and its aim is to take all sections of the society along. This has to be done in a new manner, as "Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas" is surely losing its sheen.
PM Modi seems to have taken a right step in this direction on Sunday. Modi warned all elected members and ministers of the BJP to steer clear of making controversial statements to the media. The PM's remarks come at a time when statements from party leaders, including ministers, over recent incidents of rape, attacks on members of the Scheduled Castes, and scientific and mythological topics, have fuelled controversies.
"We make mistakes and give masala (fodder) to the media... as if we are great social scientists and experts to analyse issues. The moment you see a camera you start speaking. Don't stand in front of the TV (camera) and start preaching to the country. Let the media do its job," Modi said.
His comments, made during an interaction with the party's MPs, MLAs and other representatives through his mobile application, assume significance in the wake of opposition parties' attempts to put up a united front against the saffron party over Dalit issues and also criticism of some BJP leaders for making irresponsible statements.