Do controversial statements by BJP leaders reflect nervousness about polls?
An increasing number of statements made by leaders of the party has caused outrage. Despite being in a dominant position in the run up to the elections, are they anxious about the result?
Elections are finally underway, a mammoth exercise which has been spread over two months and across seven phases. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular, this election is a high stakes contest. There is a lot riding on it, and they seem to be anxious to come back to power.
Perhaps, that can explain the plethora of statements by BJP leaders which have fallen foul of the Model Code of Conduct and generally sullied the atmosphere. The rhetoric is quite different from that which was being peddled in 2014. So, the question to be asked is really what is happening with the BJP? Why are many leaders of the party making such statements? More importantly, and worryingly, do they honestly believe the statements they have made?
To begin with, it is important to note that the Election Commission (EC) has taken cognisance of some of the statements being contrary to the spirit of the MCC, and issued notices. But, there are so many that some are slipping through the cracks. Also, the EC has responded only after outrage from the Opposition and civil society. So, would they have been allowed to pass if there wasn’t sufficient outrage about them?
Most recently, Union minister Maneka Gandhi was caught on camera telling a gathering of Muslims that she may not be inclined to their requests if they did not vote for her in the upcoming elections. She made the comments after a rally in her constituency, Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh. “I am winning. I am winning because of the love and support of people. But if my victory is without Muslims, I won't feel that good. Dil khatta ho jayega (Things will become sour). Then when a Muslim comes to me for work, I think let it be, how does it matter? It's all give and take, isn't it?”, she was heard saying.
Once the incident came to light, Gandhi received much criticism. She later clarified her remarks, and accused the media of twisting her words. "I love Muslims... I only meant to say that I am winning the elections and their participation would be like 'daal pe chaunka' (seasoning),” she said. Following the outrage, the EC asked the district magistrate of Sultanpur for a report about the incident. The officer, in turn, sent a show-cause notice to Gandhi to explain her comments.
Then, there is the case of BJP’s Unnao MP, Sakshi Maharaj. On April 12th, a video was leaked where he was threatening to “curse” people if they didn’t vote for him in the upcoming elections. In the video, he was heard saying, “I am a sanyasi and when a sanyasi comes to your door and asks for ‘bhiksha’ [alms], and is not heard, he takes away all the happiness of the family and transfer his sins onto them.” He went on to say that he was not there to ask for money or land, but for votes. Maharaj has denied he made such a statement. However, a case has been registered against him.
These statements have not come in a vacuum. These are just two of the latest statements made by BJP leaders since the campaign began. Both Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah have made statements which have created a ton of controversy. Modi was accused of breaking the MCC when he appealed to voters to cast their votes for “the brave soldiers of Balakot and Pulwama”. Then on the day of the first phase of polling, Shah made a statement about the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which was provocative and caused much controversy. “BJP will remove all infiltrators from the country, except Hindus and Buddhists, if voted back to power”, Shah said. Before that, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath was warned by the EC for calling the Army as “Modi ki sena”.
So, why has there been a barrage of negative statements from BJP leaders? After all, the party has been in power for the last five years. It should have built its campaign around its successes. Instead the narrative has shifted to trying to appropriate the armed forces for political gain and downright polarisation of society. While there is a core constituency of the BJP who do respond to such rhetoric, how far it works in a larger context is debatable. More than anything, this reflects a party that is more nervous than confident about its electoral chances.