The BJP is not covering itself in glory by calculatedly bringing up “comparable scams” occurring in Congress ruled states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Assam, if only to argue that state-related matters cannot be brought in Parliament. This won’t wash. The BJP’s aim is to invoke these “scams” in Congress-ruled states in order to dilute the impact of the mega scandals which Vyapam and the sordid Lalit Modi saga represent. Vyapam is now a national shame and it is as much about the physical elimination of a large number of witnesses as it is about the illegal, bribe-induced recruitment of over 1,00,000 state government teachers, patwaris, medical officers and so on. Students from across India applied for these posts in Madhya Pradesh through Vyapam, the official recruiting agency of the state.
Indeed, it is utterly cynical on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s part to play this self-defeating game of relative morality where the BJP brings up Congress scams to absolve itself of accountability to whatever extent possible.
This strategy is fraught with risk on many counts. The BJP under Narendra Modi’s leadership rode to power on the promise of clean governance, which would be qualitatively different from what was experienced during the UPA’s tenure. Now Modi and his men find themselves seeking for the BJP a sort of amoral equivalence with the main opposition party on a whole range of issues. “But Congress did this during their tenure so they have no right to speak”, is now a standard argument put forth by BJP spokesmen even without realising the import of what they are saying.
If the BJP wants to explain away its present actions based on the Congress’s conduct in the past, it must also remember how comprehensively Congress was rejected at the 2014 general elections. Since the people have already rejected the Congress, it just won’t help the BJP to persistently revisit past Congress sins to justify its actions today. The fact that people have voted for a qualitative change in the governance framework, especially after the nation-wide anti corruption campaign of 2012-13, somehow seems lost on BJP spokespersons. When you hear a senior leader like telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad arrogantly declare at a press briefing that the Congress should first sack their CMs in Himachal, Assam and Uttarakhand before asking for the resignations of Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Chouhan, you start wondering whether the BJP is in a race to the bottom of the moral ladder in politics.
Opposition ready to debate
It is also a puzzle that the BJP should have upped the ante so early in its Parliamentary brinkmanship with the Congress. It was expected that the Congress would stall Parliament proceedings given the range of issues it has in its kitty to embarrass the BJP. After the first three days of logjam in both houses, the BJP was getting some early signs from opposition parties like Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party that they would rather prefer a debate than resort to the continued boycott of Parliament. Indeed, there was a nuanced difference of opinion even within the Congress over whether it should persist with boycott of the house or relent in favour of an orderly debate. The big surprise is even before these differing thoughts among opposition leaders played out, the BJP chose to bring up corruption cases against several Congress Chief Ministers.
The BJP’s premature counter attack on the Congress provoked Rahul Gandhi to demand criminal proceedings against Sushma Swaraj. It is well known that some senior Congress leaders want greater focus on Vasundhara’s misdemeanour as well as the Vyapam scam. Rahul invoking the spectre of criminal action against Swaraj may have brought the BJP and the main opposition to a higher plane of confrontation. Rahul Gandhi has essentially sought to invoke section 13(1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act which says a public servant bringing any third party anything of value which is not in public interest would be a criminal offence. Interestingly, Arun Jaitley too had invoked this section against UPA ministers in the spectrum and coal scams in 2012-13.
The BJP, by aggressively attacking the Congress, has also ensured that some of the critical economic reforms agenda items are put on the back burner. The Congress, going by present Parliamentary discourse, would be in no mood to concede the GST constitutional amendments which require a two-thirds majority. This would be a setback to the FM, who has pitched GST as “the biggest tax reform since independence”. The land bill has gone into a different loop altogether.
So the big picture is that the BJP and Congress are on a new path of confrontation, which will not help in productive parliamentary work. More importantly, the BJP, by constantly equating itself morally with the Congress’s past actions, is losing the larger perception battle around clean governance.