The alacrity with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded to instances of vandalism in parts of the country by BJP workers and retaliatory action by political rivals and groups is noteworthy.
On earlier occasions, such as when self-proclaimed gau rakshaks indulged in violence and even murdered some Muslims in the name of cow protection, Modi came out with the strongest condemnation and asked state law enforcement agencies to come down heavily against those goons.
Although he initially took his own sweet time to make his party and government stance clear.
File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI
Modi's tough stance had an impact, but in the intervening time the damage was done, political discourse heated up and the social fabric was disturbed. Apparently, Modi has learnt lessons from the past.
This time around, the issue was slightly different. Instances of vandalism, which could potentially lead to political violence in different parts of the country, emerged from the celebratory mood in the BJP after its astounding performance in Tripura, a red bastion since 1978 (barring the period 1988-1992 when a Congress-led coalition held power).
In Vajpayee-Advani era, the BJP prided itself as "the party with a difference". The party still boasts of discipline. Acts of vandalism in the aftermath of victory was the hallmark of certain other parties. The BJP, which rules at the Centre and 21 states along with its allies, can't afford to be placed in that category, particularly when it prides itself on strong leadership from Modi and party chief Amit Shah.
It should be noted that soon after Modi reviewed the situation and gave necessary directions to the Union home ministry, government sources informed sections of media. Which is indicative of how Modi views the entire situation and its possible implications.
A source said, "Prime Minister has strongly condemned the reported incidents of vandalism in certain parts of country and said stern action will be taken against those found guilty. Incidents of toppling of statues have been reported from certain parts of the country. The prime minister spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh in this regard and expressed his strong disapproval of such incidents. Home ministry has taken serious note of such incidents of vandalism and has asked the states that they must take all necessary measures to prevent such incidents. Persons indulging in such acts must be sternly dealt with and booked under relevant provisions of law."
It's true that the BJP fight's against the Left in Tripura was a bitter one, so much so, that to some extent, party workers and sympathisers' emotional overflow in removing statue of Lenin, the symbol of Left, is understandable.
After all, Lenin is no Indian icon. He has no appeal in India beyond a limited circle of die-hard believers in Marxist philosophy. After Lenin assumed power in 1917 and by the time he died in 1924, he left behind a post-Russian revolution state which had blood on its hands.
In any case, the miscreants were booked under relevant provisions of the law. But then overenthusiastic BJP leader H Raja erred by lumping Dravidian icon EV Ramasamy, commonly known as Periyar, with Lenin, suggesting his statue could also be brought down in Tamil Nadu.
Raja's argument was beyond comprehension of the BJP leadership and the saner elements in the party. Though the popular outrage and anger of BJP leadership forced Raja to apologise and delete his post, once again, the damage had been done. Two persons: A BJP supporter and a CPI activist vandalised a Periyar statue. Both have been booked. Raja's apology notwithstanding, the incident has become a major political flashpoint in Tamil Nadu, one the BJP can ill-afford to let escalate.
Amit Shah tweeted:
I have spoken to the party units in both Tamil Nadu and Tripura. Any person associated with the BJP found to be involved with destroying any statue will face severe action from the party.
" Amit Shah (@AmitShah) March 7, 2018
The BJP will always remain committed to ideals of openness and constructive politics through which we can positively impact people's lives as well as build a New India. " Amit Shah (@AmitShah) March 7, 2018
What also alarmed BJP leadership was the retaliatory action by workers of rival political formations: The statue of Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder Dr Syama Prasad Mookherjee being vandalised in Kolkata's Kalighat and the lobbing of a petrol bomb at party headquarters in Coimbatore. And that too at a time when the BJP is trying to expand its footprint in West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where its presence " except Karnataka " has been marginal. Fresh off its victories in North East, particularly the mandate it received in Christian-dominated Nagaland and Bengali-dominated Tripura, the BJP was hopeful of opening new frontiers in east and south India.
Remember, Modi paused during his speech on the BJP's performance in North East polls at party headquarters for a few minutes so that azaan (prayers) from a nearby mosque could be completed. And by doing so, while he was live on television all across the nation, sent the message that he respects the beliefs and practices of all communities. Modi can't allow some hooligans from the ranks of the BJP to undo his attempts at outreach to the country's minority communities and ethnic groups.
Beyond political wins and losses, as prime minister, Modi was expected to take a position and let everyone know that the law of the land reigns supreme, irrespective of the political affiliation of the miscreants or the colours they wear. He's done exactly that.