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#PathankotAttack leaves govt, BJP and RSS divided on Pakistan policy

Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 4:03 IST
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The attack

  • Armed terrorists attacked an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, Punjab, last week
  • This came soon after PM Narendra Modi\'s goodwill visit to Lahore to meet Pak counterpart Nawaz Sharif

The quandary

  • The BJP and RSS have always projected a hard line policy on Pakistan
  • Modi\'s soft line on Pakistan has put them in a quandary

More in the story

  • What BJP & RSS members are saying privately, but not publicly
  • How RSS plans to handle this - will it send the PM a message?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Lahore for his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif's birthday was a bit hard to digest for the BJP, which has long maintained a hard line on diplomatic relations between the countries.

And now, the terror attack at the Pathankot Air Force base has made things go sour between the RSS, the party and the government.

While the official stance remains the same - that there is no difference between the government line and the party line, there are many within the organisation who feel that Modi has taken the 'wrong route' in trying to resolve issues with the western neighbour.

Modi certainly won't be sweating about any pressure from within the party, since the voices of discontent remain 'off the record' and private. But many from the Sangh Parivar are beginning to say that the PM's strategy goes against the ideology that the RSS family stands for.

Betraying Vajpayee

A party insider told Catch: "The thing is that these moves were decided upon by the PM himself. To speak on the record against them would put one directly in confrontation with the PM. The blame would be entirely upon him. That's why you won't find anyone ready to come on record."

But the message from the RSS seems to be simple. "He is making overtures to the same man [Sharif] who betrayed Vajpayee," says one senior leader.

Also read - Counterview: is #BiharResult a blessing in disguise for BJP?

During the winter session of Parliament, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj went to Pakistan for talks. Upon returning, she received a hostile reaction from opposition parties and experts, who asked why India had diluted its position on Pakistan, and why the House was not informed about the developments at all.

Swaraj later clarified in her statement in the House that the government was working hard to bring India and Pakistan closer. She happily informed the House that she had a good time with four generations of the women of the Sharif family.

PM's goodwill visit to Lahore was his own decision, which goes against the BJP-RSS hard line on Pak

This was strong, positive posturing, but something which was not welcomed by the RSS. There were whispers of disappointment among leaders of the RSS and sister organisations.

"Look at it this way. If we take a very soft position (towards Pakistan), how we will take strong decisions in case of a betrayal like Pathankot? Moreover, a rollback of the policy is nothing but admitting defeat in front of the people. The government has to be more conscious about the public perception and image," a senior RSS leader said.

The image crisis

BJP leaders' and supporters' social media reactions have also indicated this dilemma. While most of them have paid tributes to the martyrs, they have had little to say about Pakistan. The same people who used to go to town criticising the previous government for failures of the security establishment had not much to say when their party is the one in power.

Modi himself had said in 2014 that Pakistan must be paid back in the "same language that it understands". Video clips of these speeches are being dug out and shared widely these days.

Also read: BJP's #BiharResult postmortem report: don't blame Modi, Shah, RSS

The irony is that other party leaders, who've been outspoken in the past, are defending the government in very weak terms now. Ask them why they aren't doing what they themselves claimed they would, and their restlessness grows.

This is what makes the RSS worry about public perception. The cry of 'teach them a lesson' has got replaced by cordial personal relations between the PMs, and there just doesn't seem to be a way to deal with the disappointment of the cadre and traditional supporters, who prefer the hardline approach.

Strong message expected soon

The RSS is expected to send a strict message to the government at their upcoming high-level meeting in Nagpur on 8 January. According to sources, many cabinet ministers and BJP leaders will be in attendance at this closed-door meeting. This list is expected to include Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Amit Shah, Ramlal and Ram Madhav.

Also read: Why BJP cadres are still waiting for their Achhe Din

Naturally, the BJP is anxious. With the current centralised and personality-driven model in place under Modi and Shah, the top leadership is anyway losing friends. Incidents like Pathankot will only add fuel to the fire, and that's not a good sign for the PM.

First published: 6 January 2016, 2:12 IST
 
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.

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