Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his cabinet colleagues that the row linking top BJP leaders to former IPL boss Lalit Modi was overshadowing the development agenda, sources said on Thursday, underlining the growing unease in the government over a scandal that has hurt its image.
As the storm over the allegations entered its fifth day, a source told HT that Modi told his senior ministers after a meeting on Wednesday that "people believe in what they see".
In an informal chat with his senior ministers, the PM rued that the controversy was taking focus away from the good work his government had done so far, including the cabinet's decision this week to provide universal housing.
Government sources were also apprehensive that if the opposition did not relent, it could have a bearing on plans to push several key legislation in the next session of Parliament that is likely to commence from the third week of July.
Getting parliamentary approval for a raft of bills, including those related to the Goods and Services Tax, land acquisition and real estate is seen as crucial to Prime Minister Modi's efforts to revive large-scale investments needed to create jobs.
The possible impact from unrelenting media coverage has created some concern within the BJP with opposition parties gunning for the ruling alliance since Sunday, when a London newspaper revealed foreign minister Sushma Swaraj helped Modi get UK travel documents. Since then, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje's name has also been dragged into the controversy but no senior leader has come to her defence.
"Sushma Swaraj has been forthcoming in giving an explanation, which Vasundhara Raje has not done so far. There is an apprehension that there could be more to it than what meets the eye in her relationship with Lalit Modi. We are adopting a wait and watch approach," a Union minister told HT.
BJP sources said party spokespersons have been asked to lie low and avoid unnecessary appearances on TV show regarding the controversy.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the saffron party's ideological fountainhead, also appeared to grow more worried about the negative image of the government created by the episode. A source said senior RSS leaders have sounded out BJP leadership to address the issue to avoid any deflection from government's development agenda and further damage to its image.
Though top BJP leaders have thrown their weight behind Swaraj, the leadership appeared reluctant to defend Raje for the second consecutive day. Home minister Rajnath Singh - the number two in the government - had a one-on-one meeting with Modi on Thursday.
Singh is travelling to Anandpur Sahib on Friday, and sources in the Rajasthan CM's office confirmed that Raje was also expected to be there to attend the 350th anniversary celebration of the holy town.
Veteran leader Murli Manohar Joshi, a member of the party's Margdarshak Mandal who recently questioned some of the ambitious schemes of the Modi government, met Sushma Swaraj in the evening. Sources said the meeting lasted about 30 minutes and the two discussed the controversy.
Other sources said an immediate change in the party's strategy on Raje was unlikely but Rajasthan BJP leaders said it was waiting for a signal from the high command.
"Earlier, MLAs used to openly come out in support of Raje. In 2008, when she was removed as leader of opposition, they even went to Delhi. But this time everyone is unsure and keeping quiet," a party leader in Jaipur said.
The leader said earlier the CM used to have the backing of party patriarch LK Advani's but now her ties in Delhi are tepid.
Moreover, many within the party are happy at Raje's misfortunes, said the leader. "The way she was functioning, her arrogance and distance from party leaders and workers made her unpopular. She may not have the same level of support she enjoyed earlier," he said.