February 17, 2016

India: BJP plans nationalism campaign for the masses

Hindustan Times

Cashing in on JNU row: BJP plans nationalism campaign for the masses

Kumar Uttam, Hindustan Times, New Delhi | Updated: Feb 17, 2016 10:50 IST

The BJP feels the JNU row may have helped it in the assembly bypolls. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

The BJP plans a Jan Swabhiman Abhiyan (people’s campaign for self-respect) between February 18 and 20 to stir up ‘nationalism’ among countrymen to counter the threat of ‘separatism’ and ‘political conspiracy’.

The three-day campaign comes amid outrage over the arrest of JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans. The Opposition and intelligentsia have blamed the government for overreacting and curbing free speech.

“BJP stands for unity, integrity and development of the country. It faces challenge from separatism that is being promoted in name of freedom of expression. We want to alert people about this threat,” a BJP functionary said.

The party headquarters shot off a letter to state units to organise the event but left it to the local leadership to decide on the nature and scale of programme. “It could be a street play, seminar, playing of nationalist songs at public places, meeting or anything. The aim is to highlight the cause of nationalism,” the party leader said.

This is the first time after coming to power that the BJP is undertaking a mass contact programme for an emotive issue and not to popularise the development initiatives of the Narendra Modi government. The party will also seek feedback from its cadre on the issue during the three-day event.

Read More: JNU row: Lawyer caught in court attack on journalists has BJP links?

A BJP source told HT the JNU controversy was discussed in detail during a meeting between Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh, finance minister Arun Jaitley and BJP chief Amit Shah in Delhi on Sunday. They agreed to remain on the offensive and spread the message of nationalism through a party event.

The BJP anticipates an aggressive Opposition in the budget session of Parliament and is pinning its hope on the Abhiyan’s success to corner them. The BJP chief on Monday attacked Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, asking if he supported separatists and wanted another division of the country.

In a blog titled “Is this Congress’ new definition of nationalism”, Shah accused Gandhi of being unable to draw the distinction between pro-national and anti-national activities and asked him to apologies to the nation.

The BJP feels the Congress is bracketing itself with communists in questioning the police action against ‘anti-nationals’. Its leaders insist such position will not find support from countrymen who stood united in mourning the death of nine soldiers in Siachen and praying for Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad who survived for almost a week buried under an avalanche.

“Country’s youth does not identify itself with the style of politics done by the Congress and the Left. They are getting alienated,” BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav said.

The BJP sees no harm in keeping the issue alive till the April election in four states and a Union Territory. It gels with the party “aggressive” nationalism plank in West Bengal and Assam where illegal immigration and changing demographic profile is a key poll issue.

BJP leaders don’t rule out possibility of the JNU controversy having contributed to its good show in byelection to 12 assembly seats in eight states. The BJP won seven of these.

The voting took place on February 13, amidst a war-of-words between the BJP and its rivals over February 9 incident at JNU. Video footage of students shouting anti-India slogan went viral on social networking sites.