Time to worry for the BJP as the cracks begin to show

People have begun to ask questions about the Central government’s performance which cannot be ignored by the BJP. This has spread disquiet in the party and among its allies ahead of the 2019 elections

With the 2019 elections looming large over the horizon, the cracks are beginning to appear in the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Bluntly put, the ruling dispensation is suffering from a credibility crisis which is manifest in the growing swell of dissatisfaction perceptible whenever you engage with ordinary folk. You can sense it in Delhi and you can read it when you go into rural pockets near the national capital. And those who express their displeasure are not necessarily supporters of one party or the other and may have even voted the BJP in 2014. But today, many of them seem united by a common thread of discontent – the feeling that they have been taken for granted and let down by the government they had emphatically voted to power.

This disenchantment is also reflected among middle rung BJP leaders. The fact that five Dalit BJP MPs have openly raised the banner of revolt in the backdrop of the April 2 nation-wide protests over the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court is a pointer to the trouble brewing within the Saffron party. Three of these MPs have even written to the Prime Minister openly expressing their displeasure with the atrocities perpetrated against Dalits by the police, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, and the casual response of the party to issues like reservation.

There is a general feeling that the government has not delivered and has relied far too heavily on its publicity machine to provide an illusion that all is well and better than ever before in post-Independent India. While people were so far overwhelmed by the statistics thrown at them, they have now increasingly begun to question the veracity of the claims made by the government and the economic experts who double up as its cheerleaders on prime time

Yashwant Singh, the party MP from Nagina, Western UP, in his letter to the PM pointedly attacked the Centre for “not delivering on even one promise made to Dalits in the last four years.” Similarly, Chotte Lal Karwar, BJP MP from Robertsganj complained to Narendra Modi about being ill-treated by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who not only refused to hear his grievances but even “threw him out of his office.” If that was not enough, there is talk within the party that 44 of its SC/ST MPs are unhappy. This, if left unchecked, could not only drastically impact the party’s electoral fortunes in 2019 in several North Indian states, but could have a ripple effect across the nation.

It is not just the Dalits who are unhappy. There is a general feeling that the government has not delivered and has relied far too heavily on its publicity machine to provide an illusion that all is well and better than ever before in post-Independent India. While people were so far overwhelmed by the statistics thrown at them, they have now increasingly begun to question the veracity of the claims made by the government and the economic experts who double up as its cheerleaders on prime time. `Where is this growth? Are we really better than China? How have things improved? Why is there no check on fuel prices? Where are the jobs?’ are questions that are often thrown at journalists trying to gauge the popular mood.

This level of scepticism was unthinkable six months ago unless you were making enquiries with committed followers of the Congress or some other party strongly opposed to the BJP. This is not to say that there were no murmurs of discontent then. As a matter of fact, many people were aware that the central government was perhaps underperforming and not delivering on its 2014 promises. They also doubted the wisdom and effectiveness of several of its policy decisions.

For example, many were not convinced that demonetization uncovered any black money or yielded the positives trumpeted by the government. It was also quietly acknowledged that some of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claims must be taken with a pinch of salt. So, figures about remarkable economic growth, galloping GDP numbers, decreasing inflation rates and the success of the ‘Make in India’ programme were counterposed with rising prices, shutting down of businesses and growing unemployment.

But people were still willing to give the benefit of doubt to Modi. Many believed in the Prime Minister’s sincerity of purpose. And the fact that his government was relatively corruption free was seen as a major plus. Issues like intolerance, targeting of minorities and protection for the cow were brushed under the carpet. Given all that, the popular perception was that the BJP was the only sensible and viable option when it came to providing good corruption-free governance. The party’s victories in the North East at the beginning of the year only seemed to reinforce the lack of a political alternative.

Tainted with allegations of corruption, the BJP is no longer in the same position of moral strength that it once was. As a result, the campaign by the Sangh Parivar and its friends on social media is now beginning to bring diminishing returns. Several of their trump cards – including the 2G corruption case against the previous Congress-led government – have fallen by the wayside 

But the downslide came soon after. The Nirav Modi mega scam provided the trigger. Try as it might, the government could not blame this one on the previous Congress-led dispensation. That the PM was in a group photograph at Davos with the controversial diamond trader less than a month before he fled the country suddenly raised questions about his links with the BJP leadership. Suddenly, the Rafale deal, gains made by industrial houses close to the BJP and the sops offered to them began to be seen as acts of a compromised government. Many policies relating to agriculture, education, employment and banking (including the threat of introducing a bail-in) were perceived as either ineffective or anti-people. The spell that the BJP had woven since 2014 seemed to have been broken.

Politically, the gains made by the Congress in the Gujarat Assembly elections and its remarkable victories in Assembly bye-polls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh proved that the BJP was vulnerable. But the coming together of the BSP and the SP to defeat the Saffron party in the crucial Lok Sabha bye elections in UP provided the stimulus for the Opposition parties to think of coming together. The signal from the ground was that people were ready for a change if there was a force to rival the BJP. This set off a series of meetings between the most unlikely of leaders in the last few weeks as talk veered around to forming an anti-Saffron front.

Tainted with allegations of corruption, the BJP is no longer in the same position of moral strength that it once was. As a result, the campaign by the Sangh Parivar and its friends on social media is now beginning to bring diminishing returns. Several of their trump cards – including the 2G corruption case against the previous Congress-led government – have fallen by the wayside. Fake news praising the government is being exposed by the day. Claims made by BJP leaders, the PM included, are being questioned. The attacks on Opposition leaders through an online troll army and government-friendly websites no longer carry the same resonance.

People have begun to ask questions which cannot be ignored by the BJP. This has spread disquiet in the party and among its allies. In all likelihood, these questions are likely to become sharper in the days to come. However, it remains to be seen if the Opposition can tap into the popular discontent that is brewing. Reversing the 2014 mandate is no doubt a difficult task. But it is no longer impossible.

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