Why the BJP may not be happy that Rahul and Sonia could go behind bars

Why the BJP may not be happy that Rahul and Sonia could go behind bars
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Here is one reasonably plausible theory about the National Herald court case that has led to summons for Congress leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and threatens to derail the Parliament session: The Bharatiya Janata Party did not want the case to come up just now.

Sure, the party may have been happy when a court actually admitted the case against Rahul and Sonia Gandhi for allegedly misappropriating money and assets from their own party. But the National Herald case isn’t a Bofors-esque scandal and doesn’t even come close to approaching a 2G  “zero less” spectrum scam. It’s ethically questionable and possibly even criminal, thanks mostly to Congress-created laws and rules that mistrust individuals handling their own money. But it’s not really going to taint an already scam-ridden Congress image.

Most importantly, however, pinning the scam on the Gandhis and seeing them appear in court may make the BJP happy, but it will not be worth it if it comes at the cost of the long-awaited Goods and Services Tax Bill. If this had happened after GST had already made its way through Parliament, the BJP probably would have had the freedom to revel in the schadenfreude.

BJP’s dilemma

In the aftermath of the Bihar verdict, where the BJP was dealt a solid defeat, the party has turned its focus from political victories to policy ones, hoping to show Indians and the world that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is delivering on his promises. This makes passing a landmark legislation like the Goods and Services Tax, which would make all of India once common market, an absolute imperative.

So why isn’t the government pulling back on the matter?

Well for starters, it isn’t directly involved. It’s common enough to hear politicians say that they are not involved in law and order matters – as a way of asserting that they aren’t carrying out a political vendetta through a prosecution – but in most of those cases, the government through the police is the one pursuing the case. In the National Herald matter, however, it’s not. Instead, the complainant here is Subramanian Swamy and the court has directly summoned the accused in the matter. The government is not yet a party to the case.

Next there’s the matter of Swamy. He happens to a BJP leader, albeit one with a tendency to go rogue and do as he pleases even if the party leadership isn’t on board. It’s not like the BJP has no leverage against Swamy. If he thought it was important enough, Modi could lean on Swamy to take it easy against the Gandhis for the sake of the greater good i.e. the Goods and Services Tax.

But this BJP government has a slight insecurity when it comes to the Gandhi family. On one hand, Modi’s support base continues to clamour for action against the Gandhis, whom the BJP made out to be the ultimate examples of corrupt politicians during the campaign. Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India) was after all an official campaign slogan. What better way to ensure a Congress-free India than by putting the Gandhis behind bars?

Yet the BJP is also keenly aware that going after the Opposition in this way will only reinforce suspicions of authoritarianism that have always dogged Modi. The BJP’s voter base might be demanding Sonia Gandhi’s arrest, but the international headlines will say, “Prime Minister of Hindu nationalist party jails Opposition leader”. Coming so soon after the intolerance narrative, that would be even more damaging to Modi’s image and make politics in the Rajya Sabha that much harder. This is exactly why both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi are so keen to suggest that the Prime Minister’s Office somehow has something to do with the case.

This leaves the BJP in a pickle: Telling Swamy to back down means confirming right-wing suspicions that a slowly Lutyen-ising BJP doesn’t want to go after the Gandhis. But allowing the case to move forward is likely to damage Modi’s image and make it harder for him to pass legislation.

And then there’s the long-play tactic also. The long-drawn coronation of Rahul Gandhi as head of the Congress, starting in 2009 has coincided with a terribly successful period for the BJP. Why endanger that by giving the Opposition another shot in the arm?