It is disingenuous in the extreme that television news and various other apologists for this regime seek to label the uproar over Rohith Vemula, the Hyderabad PhD scholar's suicide as "politics". What they mean is "partisan politics" in which rival political parties try to pry advantage from the mistakes of the ruling dispensation. That is how the BJP came to power...by jumping on the mistakes of the Congress party and leveraging them into a stentorian election campaign that promised the moon. It resulted in a first majority government since 1984 and heightened expectations.
The reality has hit like a bucket of cold water on a winter's morn. In the 20 months, the BJP government has piled up an Ozymandian mountain of mistakes and faux pas that has many people wondering about its governance skills. Even more questionable are the parliamentary skills on display; with a solid majority in the lower house, the government has been unable to engage the opposition to help pass bills that are sorely needed.
To begin with, these bills including the GST had been rancorously opposed by the BJP when it was in the opposition. After it formed the government, the BJP refused to grant Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the status of leader of the Opposition in the lower house. That's not exactly reaching across the aisle.
Coming back to the latest gaffe by the government, several ministers and the party's acolytes in the media have challenged Mr Vemula's Dalit status. This is the unkindest cut of all for it simply dismisses the complaint in his suicide letter that he faced many trials and tribulations during his abbreviated life. Now that is "politics." BJP leaders seem to think that by bandying technicalities, they will re-establish their standing with Dalit voters.
Many of the saffron lot also believe that the RSS chief's comments about reviewing reservations cost them the Bihar election. This is the banal thinking. In refusing to acknowledge the growing perception that there is a lack of transparency and accountability in the government's workings, that important campaign promises are seen to have been cast by the wayside, both the government and the ruling party find themselves cornered.
Also the prime minister's deafening silence on Dadri, Lalitgate and Vyapam has severely dented his credibility. It seems that saffron strategists believe that such lapses catch public attention momentarily and if immediate questions are parried, media coverage dies down and the chapter is closed. The Bihar results show how grievously they erred.
On the governance front, the strategy seems to be to blame the Opposition for the government's inability to get any legislation through the upper house. When you start off your innings with ad hominem attacks on your electoral adversaries and through gadfly cases, seek to harass the leadership,you can hardly expect any cooperation. With just 44 seats, the Congress has stalled the government at every turn. What's worse for the government, the Congress has emerged as a unifying force for opponents of saffron.
This was evident in Bihar and is looming as a major challenge in future elections, notably Uttar Pradesh. The Congress has shown a degree of maturity in accepting the leadership of Nitish Kumar's JDU) and Lalu Prasad's RJD in Bihar. It has similarly expressed its willingness to be part of a grand alliance in UP as well.
The truth is the BJP has no hope at all of attaining a majority in the upper house through 2019. The only option the government has is to deal with rather than to harangue and harass the Opposition, particularly the Congress. The prime minister has made some conciliatory remarks but election season is in the offing and attacks on opponents have begun. Modi's recent comments in Tamil Nadu show that Congress-baiting season is underway and will only get worse as the campaigns begin in Punjab, Assam, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
Prospects of a truce appear dimmer than ever. Inappropriate though the mixed metaphor may be in the circumstances, the plan to brand India as sodom before May 2014 may backfire. Without Opposition support, no bills will get passed and the resultant policy paralysis could make the government look like a pillar of salt.
Meeting heightened expectations may become impossible without passage of the GST bill and others pertaining to the revival and acceleration of economic growth. There goes the GDP; there goes double-digit growth; there goes the one-crore job revolution; there goes the credibility; there goes the entire ballgame.
(An edited version of this post will appear in Education World, February 13, 2016.)