Suspension of spokesperson sets off internal churn in BJP

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The suspension of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expulsion of the BJP’s Delhi media cell chief Naveen Kumar on Sunday amid a diplomatic furore between India and West Asian countries has created a major buzz within the BJP, not just in the social media ecosystem created immediately before and after 2014 but also within the party organisation over the manner in which the issue has been handled. The episode reflects an internal churn within the BJP on rhetoric, ideology, and rewards.

Twitter hashtags like #ShameOnBJP trended after Ms. Sharma’s suspension with many prominent BJP supporters, though not officially members of the BJP, expressing the sentiment that Ms. Sharma and Mr. Kumar had been abandoned by the party at a time when Ms. Sharma had also received death threats over her remarks.

“On our internal groups she [Ms. Sharma] has received a lot of sympathy and many are questioning whether to support a party that is so pusillanimous in helping out supporters, even terming the official spokesperson of the party as ‘fringe’,” a young social media right-wing influencer said. The top leadership of the party and the government, which has only received accolades from such groups till now, has been roundly criticised for the first time.

Office bearers of the party, speaking to The Hindu, acknowledged the nine-day interval between Ms. Sharma’s remarks and her suspension, and only after demonstrable protests in West Asian countries showed the party in a bad light. “Basically that, till it became an international issue, we were not going to take any action. This depicts insincerity with regard to the reasons behind the suspension and that we can be steam-rolled,” a senior office bearer of the party said.

The most interesting aspect of the churn has been an attempt at a pivot by the larger Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) parivar to be less agitational and reflect the fact that the BJP has now been at the helm for the last eight years. As reported in The Hindu earlier, at a “ chintan baithak” of top RSS leaders in Haridwar in early April, a major discussion was held on the need to tone down confrontational rhetoric, not least because agitating for causes would lead to the most obvious question being asked — if your ideological fraternity is in government, why can’t it address your issues without agitations on the ground? RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on the Gyanvapi controversy — that it should be resolved by mutual dialogue between both Hindu and Muslim communities or the law courts — came out of that meet.

More interestingly, at a “ prashikshan varg” or training exercise for the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) held in Dharamsala recently, resource persons from the party insisted that rather than concentrating only on ground mobilisation, BJYM members should also look into academic reading, writing articles for newspapers, etc. “It was the exact opposite of what we had been told in all the training programmes we had attended earlier,” a BJYM member said.

At this, one member had a sharp question: “Why was it then that the party rewarded people like Delhi BJP leaders Kapil Mishra and Tajinder Bagga, known for controversial remarks, with party tickets during polls? Will riding motorcycles with the party flag get us the ticket or writing an Op-Ed?” This question reflects the churn within, with the party’s top leadership slowly trying to pivot to a different level, but eight years of modus vivendi for the rank and file, of leaders being rewarded for polarising rhetoric, will not go away so easily. The Nupur Sharma episode could well be an inflection point.

A senior office-bearer of the party said that the situation with regard to all these instructions was similar to the situation on the ground where “the Congress can’t reconcile to being out of power, and the BJP can’t believe it is in power”.

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Disclaimer: Suspension of spokesperson sets off internal churn in BJP - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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