Friday 1 July 2022
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BJP’s Foot-In-Mouth Disease

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f one looks at the history of foot-in-the-mouth disease in Indian politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will always rank on the top. The recent comment of BJP’s Dayashankar Singh, a vice president of its Uttar Pradesh unit, is yet another example. It threatens to bring to a naught the impact of party president Amit Shah’s Dalit outreach initiative. A careful scan of media will show there are many such instances when some BJP member makes a comment that can serve as a bouncer of sorts for the party leadership.

Dayashankar Singh said Mayawati was worse than a prostitute; later, he apologised for the comment, but was expelled from the party

Two questions should be posed to the BJP top brass. First, it claims to be a disciplined party. Still, how such daily doses of embarrassment are dished out by its party office bearers! Second, does the party have a well-planned media outreach programme where it is decided what to say where and by whom? The events that unfold give the impression that the BJP top leaders have no answer to both the questions.

Compare the BJP with the Congress, the only other national party in the country. The hierarchies of both the parties are similar — centrally administered, where the States are a mere part of the central command. The difference is that, in the Congress, only a family controls everything while the BJP has a system of sorts of electing office bearers, at least the top ones. Nobody can say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not selected through a process and finally elected by the agnipariksha of a national election. But a Congress leader does not put his foot in the mouth as frequently as a BJP member does.

Giriraj Singh
Giriraj Singh did not get a rebuke in public view; he instead got a promotion: he was inducted as a minister

One reason could be the keenness of media to play up any stray comment by any BJP office bearer anywhere and turn it a national issue. The comment of Dayashankar Singh may fall in that category. Similarly, minister Giriraj Singh was caught on camera saying that, had Rajiv Gandhi married a “Nigerian” woman instead of the “fair-skinned” Sonia Gandhi, the Congress would not have accepted her as its leader. In one ‘brilliant’ repartee, Giriraj Singh helped the Congress to express disgust and also appalled the Nigerian High Commissioner who demanded an apology. The High Commission had said that it might file a complaint with the Ministry of External Affairs. The Congress condemned the remarks as “intemperate and distasteful”.

Remember what Smriti Irani said when Prime Minister Modi was being criticized for appointing an uneducated greenhorn in the heavy weight HRD ministry? The quote may be worth repeating: “In that kitty of mine where people call me ‘anpadh’ (illiterate), I do have a degree from Yale University as well which I can bring out and show how Yale celebrated my leadership capacities. Extraneous circumstances are being created so that I deviate my concentration from what my goals are.” She said it at the India Today Woman Summit 2014, not exactly an unprepared, off-the-cuff statement. Irani equated a certificate with a degree, in effect confirming that the critics were right in calling her “anpadh”.

He also made a permanently damaging statement that Modi's promise of bringing to every Indian's bank account an amount of Rs 15 lakh was a "jumla"
He also said Modi’s promise of bringing to every Indian’s bank account an amount of Rs 15 lakh was a “jumla”; detractors miss no opportunity to ask the government when that money would finally arrive

And why blame all the relative light weights? Amit Shah in a campaign speech in Bihar said that Pakistan would celebrate a BJP loss in Bihar assembly election. Coming from the party president during the course of the election, the statement not only did more harm than serve the purpose of inflaming national (read communal) feeling of sorts, but also painted a poor picture on his judgment.

There are umpteen such instances of BJP leaders’ slipping of the tongue. Not that Congress leaders are any better, but the media coverage shows that the instances are not as regular as those from the BJP. While given media antipathy for the BJP, the leaders must be most careful in their comments. In practice, the foot in the mouth disease rules merrily in BJP.

Some comments originate due to a deep-rooted conviction of the party leadership. For example, when veteran leader and Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh proclaimed that Rabindranath Tagore’s composition of our National Anthem Jana gana mana was meant for the British King George V, it came from the belief of the BJP’s sister organisation that it was so. Many of the supporters keep mentioning this on their social media posts. Evidently, the party think tank did not care to research adequately before believing and propagating some facts. Similarly, the long held belief makes Prime Minister Modi to talk of surgery from the evidence of India worshipping Ganesha, the Elephant god. But the point is, while speaking for the larger audience, one must be circumspect and restrict one’s feelings. Evidently the BJP leadership often winks at the need.

No less than the country's prime minister believes Lord Ganesha's elephant head is a result of plastic surgery!
No less than the country’s prime minister believes Lord Ganesha’s elephant head is a result of surgery

Second and no less important reason for the imprudence is the leadership’s lack of exposure. Many of them came up from the ranks after spending time in working in various sister organizations of the Sangh. When they join the political party, they fail to shed their baggage and end up passing judgements that are not politically correct and inappropriate for the audience that eventually consumes it. It seems the BJP did not create an organized training programme for the newly inducted leaders who, more often than not, give in to their inner conviction. Also, the newly appointed leaders love to reach out to the media without discretion. The party suffers as a result.

Third is the inability of the party leadership to create a system to nip such possibilities in the bud or to devise a crisis management mechanism. For instance, when Dayashankar Singh did that daya (blessing) of providing arsenal to the opposition, the party, knowing fully well the possible impact, failed to take action in the morning before Parliament sat for the day. Stripping the man of his after the Rajya Sabha was interrupted did not help the party.

It is for the people who are neither blind bhakts nor sworn enemies of Modi that good work of the government and many other legislative efforts in the are losing their shine because of irrelevant debates occupying headlines. Such headlines impact investment decisions. If the prime minister fails to inculcate this sense among his party men and machinery, those who voted for him will continue to feel betrayed. On this, Amit Shah must act decisively and fast enough before further damage is done. The BJP president may not admit it, but the stark reality is that he has failed. Dayashankar Singh is proof.

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Sugato Hazra
Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi

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