Orop suicide: Why an ex-serviceman may have landed BJP in its biggest political crisis

Gangadhar Dolui's father Onkarnath had to borrow Rs 10,000 from neighbours to perform the last rites of his son, an army jawan who was killed during the Uri terror attacks. A proud father, Onkarnath rejected the Rs 2 lakh recompense promised by the Mamata Banerjee government, the same amount which is paid as ex-gratia for hooch tragedy victims in West Bengal. Gangadhar died defending the border but not a single neta drove in or flew down to attend his funeral.

As the media and political parties go into a tizzy over the suicide of one Ram (Kishan Grewal), there were no OB vans to live telecast the funeral of another Ram (Shankar Yadav), the head constable of Bhopal Central Jail whose throat was slit by SIMI operatives while they were attempting a jailbreak. The 58-year-old Yadav was scrambling money for his daughter's wedding.

Ex-serviceman Grewal would never know that a battery of OB vans and an army of reporters have descended on Bhiwani, his hometown, to 'live' broadcast the proceedings and a clutch of netas — from Derek O'Brien, Arvind Kejriwal to Rahul Gandhi — have rushed to the Haryana hamlet to perform the last rites of Indian democracy.

It may raise disgust but shouldn't invoke surprise because the compulsion that forces netas to differentiate between the deaths of jawans is politics. And politics is a game of perception. When subedar Grewal consumed poison on Tuesday leaving behind a suicide note that disgruntlement over OROP has forced him to take the extreme step, he may have unwittingly also sounded the death knell for BJP's nationalist politics. If BJP is perceptive enough it would have already realised that its positioning as a party running a 'nationalist government', riding a wave of popular patriotism fuelled by the exploits of Indian Army, is over. It may kiss the plank goodbye.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at the cremation ceremony of ex-serviceman Ram Kishan Grewal at his  village Bamla in Bhiwani, Haryana on Thursday. PTI

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at the cremation ceremony of ex-serviceman Ram Kishan Grewal at his village Bamla in Bhiwani, Haryana on Thursday. PTI

One of the biggest problems BJP has had while seeking to present itself as a pan-Indian alternative to the Indian National Congress is its ideological confusion. It never possessed an ideological knife to cut through the heterogeneity and regional complexities of this vast nation. Unlike the Congress, which had a legacy to bank upon and later came to position itself as one big tent and had something for everyone, the BJP repeatedly found its national ambitions stonewalled beyond the Hindi belt by the limitations of its platform, a curious amalgam of cultural unity and socialism.

The limitations of the Hindutva platform and the fate of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was voted out despite implementing reforms and ensuring robust economic growth would have taught Narendra Modi a valuable lesson — economic growth and development is a chimera in India.

Selling dreams of acche din may catapult one to power but it is hardly enough to ensure an encore. Modi successfully tapped into the anger of a young populace frustrated by the corruption and dole-based politics of the UPA regime but he was smart enough to understand the transient nature of electoral success. He quickly figured out that BJP's 2014 electoral mandate needed an ideological foundation to be translated into a substantive, tangible benefit that may enable BJP to break through the regional and cultural barriers. Or else the party will be buried under the very expectations that it raised during the 2014 campaign.

But when it came to an ideological foundation, what were the options? The BJP and the RSS tried their hands at appropriating some of the Congress icons such as Sardar Patel or Subhas Chandra Bose, men thrown into the dustbins of history by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. But BJP still needed a stronger base to connect with the masses. Enter nationalism.

The exploits of the Indian Army, the outpouring of vociferous, popular anger over never-ending state-sponsored terrorism from Pakistan and China's backing of the rogue nation presented BJP the perfect opportunity of presenting a nationalistic platform. It had none of the trappings of majoritarian agenda that accompanies Hindutva yet stresses on unity across diversity. In short, nationalism presented BJP the ideological foundation that it had long sought for a pan-Indian appeal.

Led by the prime minister, the BJP wasted no time in pitching for nationalism as an ideological plank. It built upon the notion that patriotism isn't still a dirty word among the masses as the entrenched Lutyens' elites would have us believe. This platform had the double benefit of nullifying the attacks of its political rivals who didn't know how to respond.

The predicament of Arvind Kejriwal, who questioned the surgical strikes and got badly burnt and Rahul Gandhi, who was hauled over coals for his 'khoon ki dalali' comment and had to issue almost-apologies, best described the high BJP found itself in post surgical strikes and the rising tide of nationalism.

But as they say, nothing is permanent in politics. It took one suicide from an ex-armyman for the entire nationalism plank to come crashing down. Modi, who had recently celebrated Diwali with jawans while proclaiming that he has kept his promise over Orop, would now firmly be in the defensive. Having done more than any other prime minister in implementing Orop, he would be hard-pressed to explain satisfactorily the death of a subedar whose suicide note makes it clear that disgruntlement over the pension led him to take the extreme step.

And having lionised the army and raising questions against making any criticism of their actions, the BJP has robbed itself of any maneuvering space.

Little wonder that the Derek O'Briens, Arvind Kejriwals and Rahul Gandhis made a beeline for Bhiwani. The ferocity and desperation of AAP and Congress's protests on Wednesday point to the frustration they have been suffering so far, having been unable to come up with an answer for BJP's nationalist plank based on praise of soldiers and war heroes. The parties now believe they have been able to bust BJP's gameplan.

Grandmother Indira Gandhi had repealed Orop and his own government did precious little to implement it but try telling that to Rahul Gandhi whose righteous indignation over Orop was matched only by the duplicity of Kejriwal. New Orop champion Kejriwal is the same man who recently questioned the veracity of Army's statement that it had conducted surgical strikes across Line of Control.

The positions might be blatantly hypocritical but in the perception game of politics, there would be very few takers for the very plausible government explanation that faulty calculation at the bank's end may have led to the ex-armyman taking his life.

Updated Date: Nov 03, 2016 16:35 PM

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