BJP president J.P. Nadda met several retired military officers on Monday and launched a book that hails the Narendra Modi government’s achievements as it completes nine years.
The BJP had announced a month-long programme to celebrate the government’s ninth anniversary — which fell late last month — by extolling Modi’s achievements and leadership, thereby preparing the ground for next year’s Lok Sabha poll campaign.
However, Friday’s three-train crash that killed at least 275 people and injured hundreds forced the party and the Prime Minister to suspend the celebrations and engage in damage control.
Less than 72 hours later, on Monday, Nadda tweeted: “As part of ‘Sampark Se Samarthan’ campaign, it was an honour to meet with veterans of our armed forces, Gen. (Retd.) Dalbir Singh Suhag Ji, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) AS Lamba Ji, and Air Marshal (Retd.) Denzil Keelor Ji, today in Gurugram, Haryana, and briefed them about the accomplishments and initiatives made by our government led by Hon. PM Shri @narendramodi Ji in the last 9 years.”
He also posted pictures.
The train disaster has not been the lone incident that cast a shadow on the anniversary triumphalism. If the defeat in the May 10 Karnataka polls dented the BJP’s pan-India ambitions, the women wrestlers’ complaints of sexual harassment against a party MP — and the government’s high-handed response — brought it bad publicity.
“The wrestlers’ protest coincided with the Modi government’s ninth anniversary and caused considerable damage to its image, particularly in BJP-ruled Haryana,” a BJP politician said.
Party insiders said there had already been considerable anger against Haryana’s BJP-led government, and the wrestlers’ protest had added to the discontent.
The BJP had sought to use the nine-year celebrations to counter the unfavourable narratives around Karnataka and the wrestlers’ agitation. It was decided that Modi would hold rallies in multiple states.
Modi had addressed only one rally — on May 31 in poll-bound Rajasthan — as part of the programme when the train crash happened.
Party leaders acknowledge in private that the accident, coming amid claims of a big transformation, particularly in infrastructure, had hurt the government’s image.
Modi has in recent months flagged off a series of high-speed, indigenously made Vande Bharat trains, claiming a big leap forward for the railways on his watch.
“Modiji’s popularity rating is still very high but we have to be on our guard to ensure that the perception is not dented in an election year,” a party leader said.