Best defence is offence: BJP’s ‘nationalism’ card in Parliament

  • Kumar Uttam, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 26, 2016 16:37 IST
The BJP-led NDA has been forced into a corner over a series of issues including the President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh, the suicide of the a Dalit scholar in Hydrabad and crackdown on JNU students for the alleged anti-national slogans. (PTI/TV grab)

Members of the ruling party remained their belligerent best over the last two days in Parliament as they faced the Opposition amid a cloud of controversies. From young leaders to veteran ministers, the ruling party’s front line remained aggressive from the word go.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Tuesday spoken to some ministers and senior party leaders, instructing them to keep on the offensive side, and counter the Opposition with facts.

If there was any doubt in the strategy, Modi cleared the air when he tweeted the video clip of human resource minister Smriti Irani’s combative speech in the Lok Sabha with the tag – Satyamev Jayate (Truth will always triumph, the national motto).

On Thursday evening, he shared more video clippings of speeches by other members, such as Anurag Thakur, and Union ministers who defended the NDA tooth and nail over charges of interference in functioning of universities.

But what exactly has been cornering the ruling party?

The background

Before the alleged anti-India slogan controversy broke on Jawaharlal Nehru University on February 9, the BJP was at pains in defending certain developments, such as the Presidential rule in Arunachal Pradesh and the suicide by Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad. The Pathankot attack-related gaffes did not help either.

With the JNU controversy, the BJP found an opportunity to overshadow its other pressing problems. The Opposition believes that police action against JNU students and the assault on the accused and journalists at the Patiala House court did not go down well with the masses; the BJP however has kept its focus on highlighting the controversial incident that started the whole thing – the alleged anti-national slogans.

“We believe 90-95 per cent of the public opinion is in favour of action against the anti-nationals,” claimed a senior Cabinet minister.

The strategy

Once it smelled an opportunity, the BJP did not let it go. Aside from directing party spokespersons appearing on TV to not be defensive, a fact sheet about Vemula’s death and the JNU Incident were handed out to party MPs.

“The constituency that we address did not approve the conduct of students. We wanted to keep them warmed up,” another minister added, referring to an audience of young people and ‘nationalist’ populace they believe propelled Narendra Modi to the prime minister’s chair. Whipping up nationalist sentiment, the party feels, will engage BJP sympathisers.

Electoral benefits

Five states are going to polls in April. Of these, the BJP is trying to make inroads in three -- Assam, West Bengal and Kerala, which all have a substantial minority population. BJP leaders believe “nationalism” is a good card to play at this point as any polarisation in these states will benefit the BJP electorally.

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