On the opening day of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s two-day national executive meeting on March 19, president Amit Shah set the tone not just for the deliberations but also for the approaching Assembly elections. The battle lines between the nationalist and anti-national forces, according to him, had already been drawn. The theme was picked up by other senior leaders — Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad — stressing that while political opposition and dissent were acceptable, neither anti-national activity nor slogans >would be permitted in the name of freedom of speech . Prime Minister Narendra Modi >touched on the subject only briefly on the second day : while saying that the BJP had always given primacy to nationalism and patriotism, he instead chose to expand on issues of governance, stressing that the party’s mool mantar should be “development, development and development”. The BJP also used the occasion to target the Congress, portraying it as “anti-national”. Mr. Shah took Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to task for standing in solidarity with those who had shouted allegedly “anti-national slogans” on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. He said it was hypocritical of a party that had imposed the Emergency, crushing the freedom of the press and ordinary citizens, to lecture others on freedom of expression. Finally, the political resolution concluded by stressing that “the BJP remains the only political party where a person without any ‘illustrious’ pedigree or connections can rise to the very top of the party” — yet another swipe at the Congress.
The BJP may have aggressively trained its guns on the Congress over the weekend at its first national executive meeting after >its defeat in Bihar last year , but it is clear that its electoral setbacks and its failure to fix the economy are forcing it back to its basics of divisive communalism. There was a clear tension visible as the BJP sought to balance its development slogan with a return to its time-tested Hindutva line, though now clothed in the national tricolour. The political resolution adopted on the last day of the session described nationalism as an “article of faith”, and claimed that upholding the primacy of the slogan of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” was a “reiteration of our constitutional obligation as citizens”. The gap between pronouncements by Mr. Modi and those around him, as well in the wider Sangh Parivar, would suggest that either he is not in control or he believes that this Janus-faced, seemingly contradictory, approach will help him polarise political discourse to the BJP’s advantage even as he retains plausible deniability by remaining above the fray, ready to battle another day. Indeed, the resolution described Mr. Modi as a “beacon of hope and trust”, while Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu called him a “gift from god” and a “messiah”. So, while Mr. Modi speaks of development, the cry by others of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, with its dog-whistle invocation of a majoritarian agenda, will be a call to the saffron storm troopers.