BJP to remain on offensive even as PNB fraud creates unrest among party leaders
The BJP is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clean image to take the wind out of the opposition’s sail over the Punjab National Bank fraud case.Updated: Feb 22, 2018 07:22 IST
Within hours of Congress President Rahul Gandhi posting on Twitter his first reaction on the Nirav Modi controversy involving the Punjab National Bank on February 15, frantic calls were made between Union ministers and BJP leaders. The earlier decision to ignore criticism and stay quiet was changed and it was decided that law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad would respond to the charge first.
The next day, Rahul tweeted again and the BJP responded through HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. On February 17 it was defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s turn. “We have nothing to hide,” said BJP’s media department head Anil Baluni. “It is a UPA scam that we have exposed.”
The BJP is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clean image to take the wind out of the opposition’s sail. “His reputation is our biggest asset,” Baluni said.
But the public stand may hide the vulnerabilities the party senses in private. The controversy has struck the BJP at a time when it has suffered an electoral loss in Rajasthan and West Bengal, and the opposition has blamed the government for ignoring the middle class in its last full budget ahead of the next general election.
BJP leaders admit in private that the Nirav Modi-Mehul Choksi controversy is denting the image of the party, especially among the middle classes. It stormed to power in 2014 on promise of providing a clean and corruption-free government, after the Manmohan Singh government became unpopular following a string of corruption scandals. Into his fourth year as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has managed to avoid any controversy and the BJP is treading cautiously so as to not to give the opposition an opportunity to create one.
Three BJP MPs admit that the PNB fraud is the first time in the past four years when they are defensive and, also, at pains to deflect the blame to the Congress. None of the three wanted to be identified .
“People are asking some uncomfortable questions and we try to answer them. But, it is not easy,” a BJP MP from a western state said. Another BJP Lok Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh said, “The controversy, certainly, is not to our advantage. How will it benefit us?” The third MP from Bihar said, “The Congress has paid for scandals under its term. If this controversy sticks to us, we will be at a disadvantageous position.”
A member of the BJP’s IT cell – which has mostly stolen a march over rivals on running online campaign – admitted countering opposition’s propaganda on Nirav Modi case is a “difficult” job. “Our rivals came up with funny videos and cartoons on the PNB scam, and we countered it with facts and figures. They seem to have scored over us so far,” he said on condition of anonymity.
The cell’s chief Amit Malviya denies that the BJP is on the back foot. “People know the reality. They know the scam started under UPA and who is to be blamed for it. If the accused shared a cozy relationship with anyone, it is the Congress.”
Indeed, far from being defensive, the party’s strategy will be “offensive”, another BJP office bearer said. Every move from the opposition to paint the BJP black will be countered at the highest level and on all platforms, this person added.
First Published: Feb 22, 2018 07:22 IST