If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to be believed, the choice before Indian voters in the 2019 general elections is a no-brainer, between a majboot sarkar that the BJP can offer and a majboor sarkar hobbled by the contradictions and opportunism of its multiple constituents.

With this, the BJP wishes to convey two things: (a) that it, with its selfless, nationalist ideology and tough leadership, is best placed to undertake the much-needed and painful break the nation needs from its past to scale greater heights; and, (b) that its opponents, rooted in dated frameworks of caste, minority rights and federalism and coalescing under maverick leaders, can only dissipate energies in balancing acts, irresponsible decision-making and collusive swindles of the exchequer.

For a party that has led only coalition governments in Delhi, is a coalition partner in most states in which it is in power and is now bending backwards to retain old partners and hunt new ones, the anti-coalition stance implicit in the BJP’s criticism of majboor sarkars smacks of empty rhetoric at the very least.

The irony of the BJP’s fear-mongering over irresponsible decision-making by temperamental opposition leaders is difficult to ignore too, coming as it does from party that has stoutly defended, indeed eulogized, a sweeping and ill-advised decision such as demonetization and struggled to shake off perceptions of an unprecedented centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The majboot/ majboor sarkar framing is also problematic for other weightier reasons. For one, the BJP-led central government has shown little majbooti in the last five years, unless the intimidation of religious minorities, dalits, students and dissenters in general, a cavalier disregard for institutional autonomy, an obstinate silence on controversies, and demonetization are taken as evidence of a majboot sarkar. Another, much-touted show of majbooti – the surgical strikes – has not checked cross-border provocations, let alone create space for a lasting peace settlement.

The brand of majbooti displayed by the current government and ruling party then has had much to do with asserting positions calculated to appease the Hindutva-leaning demographic. Thanks to its selective readings of history and contemporary issues, optics – chest-thumping, grandstanding – have mattered more to this demographic than the substance and propriety of governmental actions. In essence, the majboot sarkar that the BJP speaks of is as at least much a hostage to select groups as the majboor sarkars it disses.

Meanwhile, the nation is yet to see the kind of resolve and coherent action that makes a serious dent on pressing issues of job creation, farm sector distress and corruption, and fundamentally resets the balance of power and public resource allocations. This, the latter in particular, is the true unshackling that India needs to soar. Alas, the Modi government has lacked the necessary sagacity and purposefulness – true majbooti, if you will – for this. The bravado and window-dressing that it passes off as majbooti has achieved little meaningful.

The BJP’s understanding of majboor sarkars is no less exceptionable. Coalition governments, it argues, are weakened and directionless because smaller partners hold the nucleating partner to ransom and advance constituency-specific interests unmindful of its implications for the bigger ‘national’ picture.

This is a troubling position that views every ‘non-mainstream’ assertion whether from the subaltern or regional viewpoint with suspicion, as antithetical to a so-called ‘national’ agenda that privileges dominant groups, especially those from the Hindi heartland.

Governance, especially in a country as diverse as India, requires interests of multiple interest groups to be negotiated and settled in a framework consistent with the constitutionally committed values of equality and federalism. It is a complex task involving much sensitive and often contentious prioritizations, and far from a linear one driven by homogenizing and hegemonic designs.

However, in defining national interest from the viewpoint of some privileged groups and branding other positions as distracting and detractive, the BJP reveals a desire to impose an agenda and a reluctance to accommodate others.

To be accurate, the BJP is not the only party and the Modi government is not the first government to have used national interest as a mobilizational tool and protective shield when under fire or have pandered to the elite.

This is more about the majboot/ majboor vocabulary gaining currency and its implications as a determinant of voting choices and governance style going forward. For what is being called majboori today is the spirit of accommodation, what is being called majbooti is posturing - and lost in the majboot/ majboor framing is the intent to chart a new development path without the multiple access barriers of today.