Vasundhara Raje-Lalit Modi scandal: Lose-lose situation for BJP, but not for PM Modi
Whichever way the party acts, it appears the extended honeymoon period it enjoyed after its spectacular victory in May 2014 is finally over.
First they said private matters should be kept separate from party matters, then they questioned the veracity of the documents ferreted out by journalists, then they sought to narrow it down to a Congress vs BJP issue, then they sought to shout out all panelists in television channels, and finally they have decided to brazen it out. The BJP has tried all tricks in the book but the media, notorious for its short attention span, is proving uncharacteristically tenacious in the case of Vasundhara Raje. Always adept at managing the media, the party seems to have lost the plot this time.
It can still resort to the tested visual and sound effects to wriggle out of the situation. Maybe a slogan like ‘ab ki baar no bhrastachaar’ or ‘desh mein new kranti, no hanky-panky’, and a well-televised national anti-corruption day involving government servants, ministers and students? It could well work, though the slogans could be improved. But it does not seem the party will go that far. It would have worked had the opponent been a political party. The media is a different challenge altogether. Even the entrenched journalists will not help much.
So what option does it have? It can stand by Raje, claiming as it has started doing already, that her dealing with Lalit Modi may reek of impropriety and be ethically wrong, but she has done nothing illegal. Or it can dump her and allow her to pick a person of her choice for the top job in Rajasthan. Either way, it’s a lose-lose scenario. If it decides to brazen it out, the BJP loses the critical advantage it has over other parties, particularly the Congress, on the issue of corruption. It will have to carry the cross over the next four years and through crucial assembly elections. It will also have to sacrifice the goodwill it enjoys in the media.
If it chooses to ask Raje to quit, the impact could be much deeper. It might be forced to take similar action against other ministers accused of acts of impropriety if not corruption as well - it cannot be seen to be picking a choosing whom it wants to punish. The party’s organization will develop deep fissures in the event of this. Further, after tasting blood, an emboldened opposition may then start focusing on other BJP chief ministers and Union ministers. Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh could easily be the next targets. The states are also the ones in which the party is most vulnerable.
Whichever way the party acts, it appears the extended honeymoon period it enjoyed after its spectacular victory in May 2014 is finally over. It’s time for reality. The Congress lost the perception battle in 2014 and suffered its worst ever defeat. The same battle has begun for the BJP now, and catchy slogans and mega events may not help it much.
The Vasundhara Raje episode has robbed it of many of its big talking points. It is likely to reflect in the upcoming assembly elections, including that of Bihar later this year. The BJP’s political opponents have not done anything spectacular to grow in public esteem, but they can hope to gain if it fails to provide that feelgood experience again.
Interestingly, while the party suffers loss of credibility, the only person who is likely to come out unscathed and stronger from the latest development is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. By letting the party to take a call on Vasundhara, he has separated himself from the matter. His Manmohan Singh-like silence may have invited ridicule from the media, but it actually does his image more good than bad.
In the upcoming elections the BJP will have to bank on his charisma more than ever before. Fractures in the grand social alliance that ensured the success of the BJP last year are visible already. To repeat its performance the party will need the unifying Modi magic once more.
And yes, in view of the changed situation the party must overhaul its media strategy. Acting holier-than-thou won’t work any more.
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