The Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, lost no time in hitting the campaign trail after the Pulwama attack and India’s airstrikes on terror camps in Pakistan. Waving the nationalism card, the BJP leadership jubilantly declared that only a strong leader like Mr Modi could be trusted to safeguard India’s security. But of late, there has been a blip in the BJP’s heady narrative. Three recent developments have provided some breathing space to the Opposition, which was silenced effectively post-Pulwama. The BJP was first discomfited when its leaders, including its party president, claimed that the Indian airstrikes had killed 300 terrorists in Pakistan. Given the government’s official statement and that the Air Force chief had not mentioned any figures, the BJP leaders had a lot of explaining to do about their tall claims. The Prime Minister’s public statement that the result of the airstrike would have been different if India had Rafale fighter planes also did not go down well as it implied that the Indian Air Force mission had been a failure. Then came media reports on the enhanced price paid by India for the purchase of Rafale aircraft to which the Centre responded saying the documents quoted had been stolen and was a violation of the Official Secrets Act. It is now for the Opposition to seize the initiative and set the agenda, provided it is up to it.
Embarrassed by the recent ugly public brawl at Uttar Pradesh’s Sant Kabir Nagar between its MP Sharad Tripathi and MLA Rakesh Baghel, the Bharatiya Janata Party initiated an inquiry into this incident. However, it was soon revealed that the altercation has its genesis in the ongoing confrontation between traditional caste rivals — Brahmins and Thakurs. Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh have been feeling neglected ever since Yogi Adityanath took over as chief minister because of the systematic manner in which he has been promoting Thakurs. Mr Tripathi, who is a Brahmin, has been locked in a longstanding battle with his party colleague, Mr Baghel (a Thakur), over the appointment and transfer of local police officers. Mr Baghel, who is also a member of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a group founded by Mr Adityanath, has been refusing to accommodate Mr Tripathi. The latest incident, when the two used abusive language and hit each other with slippers, was essentially an extension of this ongoing caste rivalry. Battle lines have now been drawn as Mr Baghel’s Thakur supporters have vowed vengeance while Mr Tripathi also demonstrated his strength last week when he travelled to Lucknow in the company of a host of powerful Brahmin leaders.
When a delegation from the Election Commission of India visited Jammu and Kashmir last week, all political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, said that Assembly elections in the state should be held along with the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. But governor Satya Pal Malik is learned to have expressed his doubts about holding simultaneous polls in view of the prevailing security situation. Though they held opposing views, both Mr Malik and the BJP’s state unit are said to have acted on cue from the Centre. Apparently, the Central BJP leadership is not keen on an early election in Jammu and Kashmir but instructed its state unit to go along with the other political parties on this issue for tactical reasons. Though the BJP is on a high post-Pulwama, the party is playing for more time as its MLAs in Jammu are facing flak from the electorate for not delivering on their promises. Consequently, the BJP wants to rejig the reserved and general seats in the Jammu region, which is the saffron party’s stronghold, to be able to move around its MLAs to minimise the anti-incumbency against them. However, this is a long drawn-out process and the party needs time to get its house in order before it goes into an election in the border state.
The Congress has been facing a huge cash crunch ever since it was relegated to the Opposition benches in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. After being constantly nagged about cutting costs, the party’s state units were pleasantly surprised when they received a note from the Congress headquarters in Delhi that they will send their budget estimates for the coming Lok Sabha election. Needless to say, the Congress state chiefs lost no time in responding with lengthy lists of expenses they would be incurring during the poll campaign. Expectedly, their proposals were shot down by the party’s central leadership, which sent back their documents with a stern reminder that the Congress is no longer in power. The state units were instructed to revise their proposals accordingly. While the Congress is still struggling to finalise its budget, the BJP has moved ahead and booked all the prime advertisement space in newspapers and the hoarding sites in major towns and cities.