Union home minister and BJP president Amit Shah is the only man in the government and the party who stays calm in the face of all-round criticism and parries the Opposition’s barbs with a certain dexterity. But others in the government and the party, including Cabinet ministers, display dogged aggression at the slightest provocation. When industrialist Rahul Bajaj spoke candidly about the “atmosphere of fear” prevailing under BJP rule, Mr Shah responded quite firmly but without dismissing Mr Bajaj’s opinion. Soon after minister of state for urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri without naming Mr Bajaj characterized the industrialist’s remarks in a tweet as a “fake narrative” and as a sign of “indiscipline”. It is gratuitous aggression on the part of Mr Puri, a junior minister, which only confirmed the fears articulated by Mr Bajaj.
Earlier in the week, during a short duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the economic situation, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman dug into the statistics of economic growth of the UPA-2 government (2009-14) to counter the criticism of the Opposition about the falling growth figures of the last six quarters. Ms Sitharaman, of course, resorted to a legitimate political counter-attack but in doing so she showed that she was not confident of explaining the present economic situation, and explained in detail the post-Budget measures that she had announced to cope with what she called a slowdown, which was not a recession. She forgot that in politics you cannot go back to the record of a Congress Party in power six years ago. People are concerned with the situation as it is today.
It just showed that BJP ministers were showing symptoms of frayed nerves. There was also a tendency on the part of other members of the BJP, who seems to be infected by the Congress symptom of frenetically jumping to the defence of the “leader” in season and out of season. The motivation of ingratiating with the leader is understandable, but it shows that there is not much difference between the cravenness of members of the Congress and those in the BJP, and which only undermines democratic traditions inside and outside the political parties.
What other BJP ministers and members can learn from the example of Mr Shah is not to get rattled by criticism and show the poise that comes from commanding a majority in both Houses of Parliament. It seems that after long years spent in Opposition, the BJP members display the mentality of being forever under siege, a deep sense of insecurity. Speaking on the SPG Amendment Bill, Mr Shah was firm in his commitment that there would be no lapse in the security extended to members of the Nehru-Gandhi family even though changes have been made based on assessment of threat perception. And he countered the emotional outburst of Congress members that the move was a political vendetta against the Congress’ first family. Mr Shah said that he and his party were not opposed to the “parivar” (family) but opposed to “parivarvaad” (dynastic principle). And when a BJP member said in the course of his speech about the reason why Indira Gandhi was assassinated, and there was uproar of protest from Congress benches, Mr Shah got up to say that though his party member was not in any way justifying the assassination of Indira Gandhi, he wanted that part to be expunged. Taking in criticism and extending small gestures of sensitivity and politeness would go a long way in strengthening the credentials of the ruling party.
But there is a form of aggression that goes beyond the speeches in Parliament and on the social media. It is the ingrained aggression of the right-wing party in its policy orientation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Shah are guilty of this Donald Trump-like aggression in policy and governance. Their stance on Jammu and Kashmir is an example of this inherent element aggression in matters of policy. Neither the Prime Minister nor the home minister are willing to accept that the situation in the newly-formed Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir is far from normal, and admit to the fact that the drastic decisions, and it is debatable whether they were necessary or not, have impacted the lives of the people negatively in the short term, instead of doggedly holding on to the claim that things were normal. It is a known fact that even before the removal of the special status and the demotion of Jammu and Kashmir from a state into a Union territory there was trouble in the state as there had been since 1989.
The BJP’s inability to look trouble in the eye, whether it be in Jammu and Kashmir or in the economy, reveals the brittle sensibility of a party that is not surefooted in its acts of governance. An aggressive attitude is not a sign of confidence, rather it is a compensatory act of hiding uneasiness. What is expected of Mr Modi and Mr Shah is that Jammu and Kashmir is a troubled spot and it will take time to restore normality instead of indulging in confidence talk that all is well, especially when all is clearly not well.
Mr Modi and Ms Sitharaman are unable to bring themselves to accept that there is a problem with the economy, and that it cannot be blamed on the acts of omission and commission of the past Congress governments. Mr Modi was sanguine that he would forge an economic miracle with his well-intentioned plans, which unfortunately were not well thought out. But he is not bold enough to accept that things did not go according to plan and that planning itself was inadequate, and that steps will be taken to set things right to the extent that it possible to do so. The admission that there is trouble and that trouble will be handled will send out a positive message than the attempt, a cowardly one, to deny that there is any trouble at all.