A day after the Peoples Democratic Party and the National Conference came together to stake claim to government in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary Ram Madhav made a remarkable claim on Thursday: he accused the two parties of treason. “The PDP and NC boycotted local body polls last month because they had instructions from across the border,” claimed Madhav. “Probably they had fresh instructions from across the border to come together and form the government.”

The senior BJP official’s behaviour became even more curious after National Conference leader Omar Abdullah dared him to prove his allegation. Madhav tweeted to say, “Just take it in your stride. Not to offend you.” He ended his message with the emoticon of a grinning face. It is a reflection of the shallowness of the ruling party’s strategy for India’s most sensitive state that an accusation as weighty as treason was casually flung about on social media by the official in charge of its Kashmir operations and then retracted with a smiley.

This is not the first time that the BJP has alleged disloyalty by Opposition parties. On November 15, the BJP’s West Bengal president claimed that the Trinamool Congress wanted to merge West Bengal with Bangladesh. In December, 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself accused his predecessor Manmohan Singh of colluding with Pakistan to influence the upcoming Gujarat state elections. In 2015, Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah claimed that public celebrations would break out in Pakistan if his party lost the Bihar Assembly elections.

The BJP’s thinking is clear: it wants to win votes by being the only party identified with Indian nationalism. But its short-sighted rhetoric would cause long-term damage for Indian democracy. All democracies operate on the assumption of a loyal Opposition. First used in the United Kingdom (“His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”), it describes a system where members of parliament might oppose the government of the day, but their loyalty to the monarch, who embodies the country itself, is beyond doubt. This formulation allows dissent and prevents criticism of the government of the day from being mistaken for treason.

Political dissent is vital for any democracy to flourish. In the last Lok Sabha elections, for instance, more than two of three Indian voters voted for a party other than the BJP. To shut out their voices – and to accuse the Opposition of treason – is a recipe for instability.