In 70 years, there has never been an incident quite like BJP president Amit Shah’s party conference in the terminal at Goa’s Dabolim Airport. Presumably, Mr Shah did it with Mr Modi’s consent. The alternative is equally worrisome; if the party leader commandeered a high-security platform for his meeting on his own steam, the number of questions multiplies.
Either way, the meeting at Dabolim airport is an unprecedented event. Clearly, rules and regulations were wilfully ignored or bent to facilitate it; worse, security was compromised. The civil aviation ministry, the airports authority, the home ministry, the Central Industrial Security Force, the Goa state government, the Goa police… all need to be held accountable for the violation.
The disingenuous response by BJP’s Mauvin Godinho, whose Dabolim constituency includes the airport, was that they had taken “all the permissions required to host the function.” The question is about these permissions being given at all. Today, given global terrorist threats, airports rate the highest possible security levels; the Goa airport doubly so because it is a military asset.
No matter how saffron sophistry plugs it, the fact is Mr Shah’s act is reckless, much like Mr Modi’s demonetization. He was on a two-day visit to Goa, the welcome event could have been staged anywhere but he chose to hold it at the airport. There could be a number of reasons for it:
One, Mr Shah now thinks he is beyond accountability, especially after he claimed responsibility for the BJP’s much-hyped victory in Uttar Pradesh. That is a dangerous dimension of power. To select the airport as a venue for a party meeting is to show he can do whatever he wants. He simply has to wish it and the forces at his command will browbeat the central bureaucracy, state governments, and the security establishment to make it happen.
Two, Mr Shah seems to treat Goa as a pocket borough like Gujarat. It would seem that way: since the Vajpayee days, the BJP and its various Hindutva offshoots have chosen Goa as a venue for significant saffron meetings. Also, according to the local grapevine, following its failure to emerge as the single largest party in the last election, the BJP lavished resources on the state to ensure the formation of a government.
As such, it may have been easy for his people to persuade the powers that his plan to hold the meeting in the high-security airport terminal was normal.
Three, if Mr Shah decided to do this on his own, without consulting anyone in the government, especially the prime minister, then the act is a flagrant abuse of power. He has no locus standi to direct government agencies; leave alone command them to transgress rules and regulations. There is no provision in the Representation of People Act of 1951 or its many amendments that extends such powers to the head of a political party.
Four, if Mr Shah did get an okay from the prime minister, then the questions extend to both. The thinking on display is that electoral victory determines the freedom to act without let or hindrance. It would appear they simply do not feel bound by the dos and don’ts of the constitution. Seen in conjunction with the fact that both are products of the RSS, a cultish organization that explicitly refuses to acknowledge the Indian constitution, Mr Shah’s airport meeting becomes even more questionable.
One of the most disconcerting aspects of the ascent of Mr Modi on a 31 per cent mandate is his clear signal that India is now a Hindu rashtra in place of the secular nation envisioned in the constitution. Worse, all those who abide by the notion of an inclusive republic are dismissed out of hand, either as weak-kneed liberals or wild-eyed radicals.
Meanwhile, the prime minister and the BJP president have simply ignored instances of violent bigotry that are evident with increasing frequency. Beyond that, Mr Shah revived dog-whistle politics in a recent campaign speech in Gujarat, referring to Muslims as “alia-malia-jamalia.” The phrase was first used by Mr Modi during his communally-surcharged election campaign following the Godhra train burning incident.
Especially since the UP victory, the general assessment seems to be that under the Modi-Shah duo, the BJP will win the next general election in 2019. The RSS and the browbeaten and servile media have pushed that line as an inevitable outcome. But this assumes that the 69 percent of voters who did not vote for the BJP plus millions of citizens not on the electoral rolls will simply watch as cunning bigotry helps the BJP steamroller its way to a victory.
Actually, the recent hue and cry about Mr Shah’s Goa airport meeting shows that the duo may have misread the extent of their support, surrounded as they are by yes men and pliant media.
The Goa airport meeting may well have been the last straw. It comes in the wake of the #notinmynameprotests that have spread across the country. For the first time, we have seen a galvanized opposition in Goa besiege the airport director, who negated the BJP claim they had requisite permissions to stage the meetings.
An activist high court lawyer has upped the ante by taking his complaint to the high court. A television news channel known for its aggressive advocacy of the government featured the meeting on its broadcast.
Meanwhile, the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court has issued notices to senior officials in the central government, state government as well as the central industrial security force and asked them to provide a written explanation in three weeks to the petition by Goa lawyer Aires Rodrigues seeking a probe into the event. The BJP and its leadership is about to be cut down to size.
(An edited version of this post will appear in DailyO.in, July 13, 2017.)