28 JANAURY 2016
A message in Amit Shah
Amit Shah’s re-election as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party for a full three-year term had probably been secured in the summer of 2014 itself. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closest political aide, one who crafted the campaign in Uttar Pradesh to contribute 71 of the State’s total 80 seats and ensure the BJP’s success in getting a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, he had the organisation’s support and the momentum to take over the leadership of the party from Rajnath Singh. That momentum may have been checked after the BJP’s reverses in the Delhi and Bihar Assembly elections, but Mr. Modi’s and, by extension, Mr. Shah’s control of the party has not been. In Mr. Modi’s BJP, Mr. Shah is arguably the only claimant to the top post. It is not only that Mr. Shah’s power draws from his proximity to Mr. Modi; it is, more importantly, that Mr. Shah’s exercise of power as BJP president is seen, among the wider public and within the Sangh Parivar, to be in conjunction more with 7 Race Course Road, the prime ministerial establishment, than with 11 Ashoka Road, the party headquarters. Indeed, the perfect fit of the Mr. Modi-Mr. Shah partnership is seen in their joint messaging, with Mr. Modi playing the development-oriented patriarch and Mr. Shah bringing up the majoritarian Hindutva mobilisation and agenda.
Mr. Shah’s first challenge will be to reverse the impression of a party unable to stare down a fast-uniting opposition, as was seen in Bihar. The BJP faces a batch of important Assembly elections in 2016, and just about a year from now Uttar Pradesh must go to elections. That election may well bring the BJP full circle from the triumph of 2014, and its success or failure in replicating the Lok Sabha sweep in the State Assembly could set the mood for the lead-up to the 2019 general election. Mr. Shah is given to showcasing his achievement in increasing the party’s membership three-fold to more than 100 million. But the proof of success would obviously lie in electoral victories. And the BJP appears visibly lost for an effective strategy. After the debacles in Delhi and Bihar, embarrassing for also having been fought in Mr. Modi’s name, it must decide whether to revive the practice of declaring chief ministerial candidates, and thereby surrender poster space away from the Prime Minister. More importantly, the party must take stock of the message it gives to rally its base and keep new voters interested. The softly played polarisation of 2014 under the overarching development rhetoric, had by Bihar given way to outright Hindutva mobilisation. Ministers have added their voice to communally divisive comments by Sangh rabble-rousers. In contrast, top leaders in the government and the party have remained silent on hate crimes such as the lynching at Dadri. How Mr. Shah oversees an appraisal of the party’s message and mobilisation must be judged not only by the electoral outcome, but also by its conformity to constitutional principles.
Denmark’s absurd law on refugees
The passage of a law by the Danish Parliament that allows the authorities to confiscate valuables from refugees is the latest blow to those seeking asylum in Europe. Denmark’s centre-right government says the legislation is intended to cover the cost of each asylum-seeker’s treatment by the state, and bring refugees in line with unemployed Danes who also have to give up their savings before they receive welfare benefits. But the reality is starker than what the government claims. The Danish move is in line with the hawkish stand several European governments are taking towards asylum-seekers. Earlier in the month, Switzerland started seizing valuables from refugees to help pay for their “upkeep”. Last week, Germany’s southern states, including Bavaria, adopted similar policies. Most of those seeking asylum in Europe are fleeing war, mass crimes and rapes. Some of them make perilous boat journeys across the Mediterranean to reach the shores of Europe. Some pay huge sums to people smugglers to get themselves out of their war-devastated nations. And they go to Europe seeing the relatively prosperous and secure continent as their last hope to find a place to rebuild their shattered lives. These are the people the European governments are seizing valuables from.
Yet, these moves are not surprising given the response of several European leaders to the refugee crisis. To be sure, Europe is facing the biggest migrant crisis since the Second World War. In 2015 alone, more than 850,000 asylum-seekers landed in Greece, from where most of them moved to other European countries through the open borders. But instead of coming up with a bold pan-European plan to address the issue, the European leadership let member-states have their way. Hungary has already sealed its boundaries to stop the entry of refugees. The Hungarian Prime Minister has, in fact, given a call to wall off Greece from the rest of Europe to prevent the movement of refugees. Several Balkan leaders have recently demanded the same. How can confiscating assets from the already vulnerable refugees and blocking them at the borders help address one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time? How can Europe, known for its human rights-driven, combative foreign policy, treat the victims of wars as mere intruders? Besides the ethical arguments, Europe also bears some amount of direct responsibility in this crisis. Most of the refugees reaching the continent are fleeing Syria and Libya. In Syria, besides helping rebels in the civil war that has destabilised the country, European nations, particularly France and Britain, are waging a bombing campaign. In Libya, France was in the forefront of an invasion that has thrown the country into chaos. And when the people fleeing these countries reach its shores, Europe cannot just turn its back on them. Instead of building walls and seizing assets from the refugees, what Europe actually needs is an effective resettlement plan at home, while pushing for peace and stability in the war-hit countries.