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Both at party and leadership levels, the perception of encouraging communal divide by being anti-Muslim has to be set right. This has become an important tool for the opposition to flog the government and to exploit the Muslim minority by playing vote bank politics.

Muslim religious and community leaders too have played no mean hand in building this perception to suit their vested interests. As far as BJP is concerned, the fault lies mainly with some lower rung BJP leaders and party members who get carried away, either by their utterances or actions, to lend credence to this perception. Occasionally, some senior leaders too have faulted on this score. This is a difficult challenge for the party and there are no easy solutions. The problem will have to be resolved through open dialogue, spread of modern education, eradication of poverty, partnership with liberal Muslims and other similar measures.

BJP is often charged with being cold towards states that have non-BJP governments. Given the diversity of our nation and the aspiration of individual states, BJP must accept that regional parties are here to stay and will always be favoured by their voters. It will be futile, and perhaps counterproductive, to force all states to accept a BJP favoured template of governance. It may be more prudent for the central government to develop a long-term national vision that is complimented by local visions of the state governments. This will not only strengthen India’s federal structure but also accommodate regional aspirations.

Mr Narendra Modi is undoubtedly a very popular leader. He has been the star campaigner for the BJP since 2014, both for national and state elections. BJP candidates tend to seek votes by invoking Mr Modi’s name and leadership, rather than their own merit. Most ministers in his government credit him with anything and everything that the government does. This has resulted in Mr Modi being perceived as an autocratic leader who does not encourage dissent or discussion. It also gives Mr Modi a larger-than-life status that dwarfs the rest of the leadership. It is time to show the nation that while Mr Modi is the unquestioned leader of the BJP today, there are many others in the ranks who matter and contribute to the governance of the nation. This will send an important message to the opposition and the nation that there is a second rung of BJP leaders ready to take over from the current top leadership at an opportune time.

BJP and its leadership are often charged with suppression of free speech and dissent. This manifests mainly because of the overreaction of authorities whenever there is any inflammatory or anti-national statement by anyone. In principle there is no doubt that action must be taken against such offenders to discourage this trend. But what must be done is to evaluate each incident to see its severity and the likely impact before taking action. To view every incident as a matter of grave concern for national security and integration will always be counterproductive. Incidents that are minor should not be blown out of proportion by taking recourse to penal acts meant for grave offences against the nation. Instead, it may be more prudent to deal with them expeditiously with minor punishments that can act as deterrents to discourage such trends.

BJP government has often passed serious legislations through the ordinance route and ratified them in the parliament at a later date. While ordinance is an accepted tool in a democracy, its usage has to be minimum and justified by a national emergency.

Unfortunately, in India many governments have been guilty of taking the ordinance route as a matter of routine. The government must follow the normal democratic process of giving sufficient time for bills to be tabled in the parliament and discussed. If the opposition seeks a constructive discussion, it will be for the benefit of the nation. If it wants to be disruptive and only oppose, it will only expose itself. Given, BJP’s comfortable majority, once the bill is put to vote, it will always be passed. This approach will not only show BJP government in better light but also strengthen democracy in the country.

Today, political discourse in the country is at its nadir. Both BJP and the opposition are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. The opposition has nothing to lose by being crass and resorting to base rhetoric. BJP prides itself on being a truly Indian political party guided by the teachings of Hinduism. Therefore, its leadership must take a lead to show restraint, statesmanship and dignity to improve political discourse.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the relationship between BJP and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). If this is not addressed, it can only become more embarrassing and uncomfortable for both – BJP and RSS. The fact that RSS is the largest humanitarian and cultural organisation in the country, perhaps the world, is highly understated. Its goal of raising ‘national consciousness’ is often misunderstood as spread of Hindutwa. By and large the nation is unaware of the organisation’s role and contributions in modern India. The one-sided and motivated views and commentaries of leftists, centrists and biased political opposition seem to hold sway. BJP must clarify its relationship with RSS and work towards raising awareness about the organisation’s ideals, role and work. If this happens, it will not only strengthen BJP as a political entity in the country, but also increase the acceptability of RSS.

The reality is that the BJP led government under Mr Modi has done a lot of work in last eight years. The list includes some issues that were considered to be unresolvable like integration of Jammu & Kashmir or carrying out punitive strikes deep inside Pakistan’s territory. The government has had phenomenal success with its outreach programs targeted at common citizens in rural and semirural areas. All BJP detractors understand this but do not acknowledge it for obvious reasons. To beat Mr Modi and BJP, they will have to prove to the voters that they can do better than what the current government is doing. Unfortunately, the opposition seems to be incapable of taking up this challenge. Since the opposition cannot be one up, they try and push BJP one down by projecting it as communal, extreme right, authoritarian while downplaying its achievements. The opposition’s agenda is limited to building a negative perception of the government, exploiting Muslim vote banks and to sway those who have a love and hate relationship with BJP.

There is a large gap between what a voter is aware of and what he is not. This gap is occupied by perception which becomes an effective influencer over a period of time. A common man’s awareness about the reality of how or what a government does is very limited. BJP’s detractors exploit this ignorance by filling the gap with half-truths and lies to create an inimical perception of the BJP and its leadership. Surprisingly BJP has been naïve in countering this move. It is time for BJP’s think tank to address this issue of perception with a view to close the gap between perception and reality. This in turn will help the voters to make the right choices.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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