As a nation mourns, the BJP’s show goes on ...
Even BJP leaders are finding it difficult to defend Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s attempts to capitalise on the suicide attack in Kashmir even as they want everyone else to rise above politics
With every new national crisis there is less and less to admire about the Bharatiya Janata Party and more and more to sit up and take notice of the Congress under Rahul Gandhi.
The Pulwama terrorist attack in Kashmir has brought out the worst in the former and the best in the latter.
AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi cancelled her maiden press conference in Lucknow, saying she could not talk politics while the nation had suffered such a huge tragedy. The Congress postponed the high profile entry of former cricketer and sitting BJP MP Kirti Azad to the party.
Rahul Gandhi held a press conference to mourn the deaths of 44 CRPF jawans and flatly stated that while his party stood by the government on every action against the terrorists, nothing further would be said on the issue - no politicisation, no gaining brownie points off the dead bodies of India's protectors.
Contrast that with how BJP president Amit Shah continued with his political rallies in Karnataka, how Narendra Modi wished to draw full political mileage from flagging off India’s fastest train (Vande Bharat Express) from New Delhi to Varanasi (I guess it was poetic justice and in a way Bharat Mata protesting when the train broke down 200 kms outside New Delhi even before its first commercial run scheduled for February 17) and how BJP Delhi unit president Manoj Tiwari, MP and Bhojpuri film star, was dancing at a show in Allahabad and seeking votes for his party the same evening.
Contrast it also with how Modi as Gujarat chief minister, instead of leaving his then Maharashtra counterpart Vilasrao Deshmukh to it, was attempting to gain brownie points on 26/11 even as commandos were trying to flush the Taj and Trident hotels of terrorists. The Delhi assembly was going to polls two days later and Modi, who then had no jurisdiction over Maharashtra or Delhi, being neither the chief minister of Maharashtra nor the president of the BJP in Delhi or even nationally, arrived outside the Trident hotel to blame the Congress, then ruling both the state and the Centre, for the attack by Pakistan (this was even before Pakistan’s role in the attack had been established beyond doubt).
Perhaps it is worth mentioning that the BJP lost the Delhi assembly elections anyway and though Deshmukh quit as chief minister of Maharashtra along with RR Patil of the NCP who was then the state’s home minister, (they did the right thing, morally) after the Bombay terror attacks, the Congress returned to power in Delhi the next week and in Maharashtra and the Centre the next year.
But will the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, a BJP appointee, quit or Modi, already on his last legs as prime minister, take the moral responsibility for not just the intelligence failure but also for messing up Kashmir? Hardly likely.
Although, the BJP always had the kind of elements who attempted to gain from the blood and death of others (India’s recent history from the 1990s onwards is a sorry tale of how it ushered in terrorism with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya), contrast it also with itself in past decades.
LK Advani who was campaigning in Ahmedabad in 1991 the night Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, immediately called off all his meetings for the next few days - even before the Election Commission announced the postponement of the second and third phases of Lok Sabha polls that year.
A local BJP functionary who saw only political advantage in the removal of a charismatic and powerful leader of the main political party in the country at the time (even the BJP was a bit player in 1991), came running over to Atal Behari Vajpayee, all smiles and asked, “Saab, hum ko is baar gaddi milegi, nàa?”
Vajpayee withered this political vulture with a look and said in his inimitable slow measured style, “Tum yahan gaddi ke sapne dekh rahe ho aur hum isi chinta mein doobe ja rahe hain ki kahin hamein vanvaas na lena pade!”
Vajpayee then reckoned that all that the BJP was talking about then was Hindu-Muslim, Mandir-Masjid and had not a single socially relevant issue like roti, kapda aur makaan or bijli-sadak-paani in its manifesto. The assassination of a former prime minister had an emotional appeal that went beyond any Hindu-Muslim rhetoric and could influence all but the hard core voters of the BJP.
That is already happening now with the BJP's responses to the Pulwama attack. Notwithstanding the war-mongers among them, many critics of the BJP leaders’ responses come from their own support base.
The most scathing comments have seared the BJP for its “show must go on" and “song and dance” attitude amid a time of national mourning.
The BJP does not come out smelling of roses from the Pulwama attack, not just because of its business as usual attitude in the past few days but also its past history of maladministration by its past government in view of the claim by the Jaish-e-Mohammad that they engineered the attack.
People are recalling how the Vajpayee government had mishandled the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight from Nepal and was eventually compelled to release the dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar, the JeM leader, in return for passengers on board that flight. Memories of then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh accompanying terrorists to Afghanistan have been revived and are being contrasted with the Congress-led government’s tough stance over 26/11 when current BJP-RSS favourite Pranab Mukherjee, then India’s external affairs minister, had put Pakistan in the international dog house over those attacks.
Then prime minister Manmohan Singh – often disparaged as weak by Modi and the BJP - had, refused all talks with Pakistan and despite being born in a village now in that nation had refused to visit the country during his tenure. Contrast that with Modi's parachute visit to Pakistan to greet the then Pak PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and holding hands with him, sharing in the birthday cake and luncheon...
Even BJP supporters are finding it harder and harder to defend these transgressions and have been left with only Photoshop to fool the people into believing the Congress leadership could be as callous as the BJP.
It is always a crisis, personal or otherwise, which brings out the best or worst in both men and nations. We now know where the BJP and the Congress stand on this score.
(This was first published in Lokmat Times on Sunday, February 17)