Losing game? The BJP's own goals may not amuse the referee

  • Sanjoy Narayan, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 21, 2014 13:06 IST

In football, an own goal is when a player scores by putting the ball into the goal he is supposed to defend--a stupid and usually inadvertent move but one that can sometimes cost a side a match. In the last couple of weeks a few members of Parliament, all from the ruling side, showed off their prowess at scoring own goals. These included a minister who made abusive remarks about a rival party at a public rally; an MP who wanted the Mahatma's assassin deified; another who wants to launch a drive for "re-conversion" of Muslims to Hindus; and the HRD ministry, which sent a notice to schools asking them to mark Christmas Day as "good governance day" by getting students to participate, ostensibly voluntarily, in various activities. All this caused enough controversy and disruption to stall business during a winter session of Parliament that had begun quite promisingly.

Whatever people might think, in the BJP, not unlike in the Congress and other parties, leaders come from different backgrounds and with different ideological priorities. Some of the BJP's top leaders have cut their teeth as volunteers in the RSS, rising from the ground up; others began as student leaders in the ABVP, the RSS's student wing; and yet others have risen from the dozens of organisations that make up the Sangh parivar, including trade unions, farmers' associations, the BJP's youth wings like the BJYM, or organisations such as the VHP and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

During the Congress-led UPA regime, you could find leaders with varied beliefs--from die-hard leftism to unapologetic economic liberalism--coexisting in the same council of ministers and Cabinet. Similarly, Narendra Modi's ministers and his party's MPs who won 282 berths for the BJP in Lok Sabha last May represent a wide spectrum of beliefs, priorities and ideologies: from pro-development and indifferent-to-Hindutva moderates (one or two of whom could blend rather well with Congressmen) to hardliners whose priorities are all about building a temple in Ayodhya, rewriting history books and converting Muslims.

For such hardliners, the BJP's brute majority in the Lok Sabha is like a carte blanche allowing them to push their priorities. The incidents of the last couple of weeks--such as minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti's hate speech at a rally, MP Yogi Adityanath's call for a 'ghar vapsi' campaign, and another MP Sakshi Maharaj's demand for declaring Gandhi's assassin a patriot--can create social and communal tensions that can quickly snowball into worse. Already, some Muslim organisations have hinted at retaliatory action by stepping up the preaching of Islam. Likewise, the peculiar decision to choose December 25 as 'good governance day' could certainly affect the sentiments of Indian Christians.

As well as stoking tension, these could hit Modi's main agenda that helped him win the elections last May. In his high-voltage campaign before those elections, Modi scrupulously avoided Hindutva issues, focusing instead on 'Vikas' or development and progress. If his agenda gets derailed by the own goals some of his party's leaders have been scoring, it will disappoint many Indians who came out to vote for development and not temples and conversions. The fallout could also affect foreign investors. For now, foreign investors are bullish about the Modi effect on the Indian economy. Recently, Standard & Poor's, a rating agency, called India "the only bright spot in the Asia Pacific region". And McKinsey & Co.'s boss Dominic Barton told a newspaper that under Modi, India had become a "magnet" for investors. But foreign investors are quick-change artists. If they see that the Vikas agenda runs the risk of getting hobbled by Hindutva issues, their views on Modi's India can do a U-turn.

The prime minister is said to have cautioned his party colleagues , including ministers, against speaking out of turn and jeopardising the government's core agenda. The problem is that for many along the variegated spectrum of ideologies among the BJP's leaders and influencers, their core agenda may be quite different from the government's.

(Sanjoy Narayan is Hindustan Times' editor-in-chief. Follow him on Twitter at @sanjoynarayan)

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