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Karan Thapar

Is India paying for PM Modi’s silence?

Karan Thapar

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silent

It’s a strange if not perplexing paradox that Narendra Modi, whose eloquence and communication skills are possibly unrivalled and definitely unsurpassed, is often disturbingly, if not distressingly, silent on issues that trouble Indians and have even become a cause of deep anguish. This failure or refusal to speak is, perhaps, the source of his most critical political lapse. Indeed, as we approach the 2019 elections, it’s, arguably, the reason so many are disillusioned with him.

Consider the multitude of times the Prime Minister has kept silent whilst the country waited in vain to hear him speak. It happened when Muslims were lynched, Dalits pilloried, Christians targeted and Gauri Lankesh murdered. But this is also the case when young girls or little children are horrifically raped or when free speech, difference and dissent is under attack.  And, sadly,  this has been the case for the last four years.

On the few occasions when Modi did speak out—for instance, when Christians were being attacked or cow vigilantes were on the rampage—it was not only far too late but, to be honest, it felt as if it had been forced out of him. But, worse, there were also occasions when the Prime Minister was found to be following on social media people who applauded the attackers and celebrated the attack.  This is what happened when Gauri Lankesh was killed. At the time Modi did not disassociate himself whilst his party publicly defended his right to follow such troglodytes.

I can’t accept this was unintended or accidental. Modi is a deliberate man who thinks and plans his moves and statements meticulously. Which raises a critical question:   why is the Prime Minister silent so often? Could it be because he doesn’t recognize the gravity of the situation? I doubt it. In fact, I find that hard to believe. Occasionally, perhaps, he might be so pre-occupied it’s genuinely slipped his mind or dipped in his priorities but that can’t be the case every time. No, I have little doubt the answer lies elsewhere.

Think, for a moment, of the people or organisations behind the attacks on Muslims, Christians and Dalits or the alleged  Unao and Kathua rapists, Gauri Lankesh’s murderers and the vicious trolls on social media. What do they have in common? They are part of the wider parivar from which the RSS and the BJP draw their support. They are a critical section of this committed constituency. In fact, they are its loyal voters.

This suggests the PM’s silence is, perhaps, best explained by a desire not to offend. Even when he disagrees with them—and I hope that is often—he sees discretion as the better part of valour. Only when driven to it and left no other option has he voiced his concern or criticism. But that’s only happened very rarely.

This strategy may have kept his followers by his side but Modi has paid a steep price for this silence. Each time he’s failed or refused to take a stand around which our nation could rally he has also, ipso facto, ducked the challenge of moral leadership. Instead of guiding or lighting the path,  he’s allowed the darkness to prevail. Perhaps even encouraged it. The truth is he’s chosen not to lead but to acquiesce and accept. And that means when India had need of a colossus he deliberately decided to behave like a dwarf.

So, now, when we vote in eight months, what is the image we have of him? Some, no doubt,  will remember his economic reforms, or the Swachh Bharat Mission or his tough stands vis-à-vis Pakistan and China. Others will recall his spell-binding oratory. A few may even bear in mind his sartorial elegance or his indefatigability. But many will be unable to forget his failure to stand up for the liberal principles of our constitution, for justice and fair play, for decency and for just doing the right thing. As Mark Antony put it, “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”

If this determines how some or many vote Modi will have only himself to blame. After all, he could so easily have ensured it was otherwise.

Disclaimer:

Karan Thapar is a Senior Journalist and News Anchor and is a columnist writing for HW News Network.  The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of HW News Network or any employee thereof. HW News Network makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.

Karan Thapar

How 2019 looks for BJP: Karan Thapar

Karan Thapar

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elections

What do the recent election results in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan tell us about the possible outcome in the same states in next year’s national elections? And how much confidence can the Congress party draw from these pointers? 

There are two ways of analyzing how recent state elections could affect next year’s national election. The first is to project the state outcome in terms of assembly constituencies on to the Lok Sabha constituency picture. NDTV has done this. It concludes that the BJP will lose 10 seats in Chhattisgarh, 17 in Rajasthan and 17 in Madhya Pradesh. Most, if not all, will be Congress gains. So in these three states alone, Congress could double its 2014 tally of 44. Conversely, the BJP’s total of 282 could come down to 238. Incidentally, in 2014 the BJP won 62 out of 65 Lok Sabha seats in these states. So the state election results point towards a very sharp drop.

The other way of analyzing how the election results could influence the Lok Sabha outcome is to look at the historical trend i.e. the 2003-04 elections, the 2008-09 elections and the 2013-14 elections. There’s a clear and striking similarity in the picture that emerges.

First, the vote percentage of the party that won at the state level in 2003, 2008 and 2013 sharply increased at the Lok Sabha level the following year. So, clearly, in each of these three states, the momentum gained by a state level winner sizably increased its prospects at the national level.

As a result, the party that won at the state level in 2003, 2008 and 2013 went on to win the preponderant majority of Lok Sabha seats the next year. The only exception was Madhya Pradesh in 2008-09, where Congress’s Lok Sabha tally was just four seats below that of the BJP. But even in Rajasthan in 2008, when Congress only won 97 assembly constituencies, it went on to win
20 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2009.

This historical analysis suggests Congress could gain upto 10 seats in Chhattisgarh (out of 11), perhaps 20 in Rajasthan (out of 25) and possibly as many as 24 or 25 (out of 29) in Madhya Pradesh. If that happens, it would be a gain of 55.

Of course, Lok Sabha elections are very different to the state assembly elections and just because an historical trend has manifested itself three times previously doesn’t mean it will recur a fourth consecutive time. Perhaps the greatest challenge Congress faces at the Lok Sabha level is Mr. Modi’s personal popularity. In each of these states, he is far more popular than the defeated chief ministers.

A tracking poll done in September shows that in Rajasthan 35% wanted Vasundhara Raje to continue as chief minister whilst 57 want Narendra Modi given a second opportunity as Prime Minister. In Madhya Pradesh, the chief minister’s popularity came in at 46%, Mr. Modi’s at 56. In Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh scored 41% whilst the Prime Minister touched 59.

Clearly, the gap between Mr. Modi’s popularity and that of the three defeated chief ministers is both large and significant. At its minimum, it’s 10%, at its maximum 22. This clearly suggests that the image and performance of the Prime Minister will help the BJP at the Lok Sabha level and far more than it did at the assembly level.

So how much confidence can Congress derive from the recent outcome in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan? In a nutshell, it depends significantly on how Mr. Modi campaigns in next year’s national elections. With 25 other states demanding his time, he will, presumably, have to spread himself far more thinly than in a state election. That could affect the
impact he makes.

However, the outcome in December’s three state elections could also suggest a sharper fight between Congress and BJP in other states where it’s a virtual bipolar contest i.e. Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Karnataka, Assam and, possibly, Goa. A revived Congress with increasing
self-confidence will not only put up a stronger fight but may also win more seats.

Clearly, therefore, the loss in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan could lead to considerable problems for the BJP in next year’s national elections.

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Karan Thapar

Once again, we seem to have forgotten Kashmir

Karan Thapar

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kashmir

The people of Kashmir believe they have a legitimate history of decades of grievance – and I, for one, agree with them.

 

Once again, we seem to have forgotten Kashmir. I won’t use the word ignored because that implies a deliberate decision to disregard developments in the state. The truth is we appear to be simply unconcerned about what’s happening. It’s as if it doesn’t matter.

Yet in almost all respects the situation is deteriorating. First, internally. The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society estimates that 472 people have died in encounters and clashes in the initial ten months of this year. This, I presume, includes their figure for casualties from terrorist incidents. That compares to 379 deaths for the whole of 2017. This is a 24 percent increase and suggests that a civilian and a security force personnel lost their lives every second day. In October alone there were 59 deaths, the worst month since July 2016 when Burhan Wani was killed and 62 people died in clashes.

When you look at the break-up of the deaths, no doubt militant causalities are increasing but so too are those of civilians and security personnel. Between 2016 and 2017 the former went up by 28 percent and the latter by 32 percent. Those are very substantial increases.

kashmir

Image Source: Web

The situation on the border is no different. Government figures revealed in Parliament show that ceasefire violations almost doubled from 2016 to 2017 and so far in 2018 the figure is already 62 percent higher than last year’s total. According to the Defence Minister, from 881 in 2017, the figure by August of this year had shot up to 1432.

You get the same story when you look at the statistics of infiltration. Kiren Rijiju has reported that between 2016 and 2017 instances of infiltration attempts increased by 10 percent. This year, according to the Chinar Corps Commander, 3 to 4 infiltration attempts are foiled daily whilst nearly 100 terrorists have entered the state.

The only area where the situation has improved is in terms of incidents of stone pelting. After a peak in 2016, they have fallen steadily. However, for the first time in a decade, an army soldier was killed by stone pelters last month. That was an ominous development.

kashmir

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In contrast to the improvement in stone pelting, the number of state policemen losing their lives to militant firing has doubled. At least 40 have died this year compared to 20 in 2017. Some of them were victims of sniper attacks, a new and worrying innovation in the Valley’s jihadi tactics which has taken the authorities by surprise. Meanwhile, the army believes that 140 local Kashmiris have joined militancy in the first ten months of this year, the highest militant recruitment in a decade.

So, clearly, the tough posture adopted by the Modi government has not worked. With each month the violence and killings are escalating whilst the number taking up militancy is increasing. The more the security forces go on the offensive the more worrisome the problem seems to become.

Beyond these sorry statistics is the impact of it all on the Kashmiri people who, after all, we look upon as fellow citizens and claim to respect and love. Has the government asked itself what this is doing to their morale and to the way they view their status as Indian citizens? Certainly, the turnout figures in the Valley for the recent urban local body elections show that commitment to democratic voting is at an all-time low. The figure not only suggests that a preponderant majority heeded the boycott call but perhaps also feel there’s no point in voting.

kashmir

Image Source: Web

This raises the question do we realize we’re pushing the Kashmiri people further and further away? They believe they have a legitimate history of decades of grievance – and I, for one, agree with them – but rather than resolve and ameliorate the hurt of the past we’re adding fresh injury to previous insults. In other words, we’re making things worse.

The truly depressing bit is with elections just five months away I cannot see the government accepting its error and changing track. The present tough stance is likely to continue unmitigatedly and the situation will correspondingly deteriorate. The dark night that’s fallen on Kashmir is not going to loosen its grip anytime soon.

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Karan Thapar

Rafale Deal: Transparent or murky???

Karan Thapar

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defence

Depending on who you talk to the Rafale deal is either mired in scandal and controversy or it’s the very epitome of squeaky-clean transparency. It’s hard to imagine two positions further apart. Which is why it may be a good idea to sit back and take a careful look at all that we’ve been told and then ask what it adds up to.

Let me focus on three concerns. First, the decision to reduce the number of planes from 126 to 36. Did this happen in disregard of the Air Force’s requirements? If the government has now issued another tender for over 100 planes how is the reduction justified?

On 1st September former Air Force Chief Krishnaswamy wrote that in 2014 the Air Force made a request for an urgent purchase of 2 squadrons i.e. 36. The present Air Force Chief, B. S. Dhanoa, has defended this “emergency procurement” claiming there have been several instances of similar procurements in the past. In such circumstances, he adds, 2 squadrons is the ideal quantity. But the rest of the Air Force’s requirement is still uncatered for and who knows how long that will continue?

The second issue is the price. In November 2016, the government told Parliament that each Rafale would cost 670 crore. A year later both Dassault and Reliance Defence claimed the price would be 1,660 crore. The latter figure has led many to claim the planes are considerably more expensive than the ones Congress was negotiating.

Arun Jaitley, however, insists the cost negotiated by the UPA included room for price escalation and currency fluctuation and, therefore, today the cost per plane would be 9% greater than what the NDA has negotiated in terms of the simple plane and 20% greater in terms of the weaponized plane. The Air Force’s Deputy Chief, R. Nambiar, has gone a step further. He says the present Rafale deal is 40% cheaper than the earlier one.

In this connection, it’s interesting to note a change in the present government’s position. Initially, it claimed the higher price per plane was because of India-specific add-ons. When Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha revealed the 2015 agreement specified the NDA was buying planes with the same configuration as the UPA’s the government became silent on this subject.

The third issue is the decision to award the 30,000 crore offsets to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence. Critics point out that this company has no experience of manufacturing aircraft whilst it carries a heavy burden of debt. To them, this smacks of crony capitalism.

In his defence, the CEO of Reliance has said Dassault has a right to give the offsets to any Indian partner it chooses, a point corroborated by the Defence Minister in recent interviews. Secondly, no component of the 36 planes will be made in India. Thirdly, it’s no secret Dassault and HAL could not reach an agreement over the 126 aircraft deal. So it’s not surprising the former would choose a different partner this time round.

These explanations would be convincing but for the fact the CEO of Dassault, Eric Trappier, has said the joint venture with Reliance will manufacture components for his Rafale planes. The only question is whether they will be for the planes bought by India or manufactured for other countries.

So, now, what does all of this add upto? To my mind, the outcome is not just uncertainty but confusion. There is no doubt serious questions have been raised but, equally, we don’t have clear answers. Unless you take sides, you probably don’t know what to think.

Finally, when Shourie and Sinha call the new Rafale deal “a major scandal … by far larger than the ones that the country has had to contend with in the past”, it’s worth bearing in mind that so far there’s no money trail nor a discernable smoking gun. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t disturbing questions and a strange resistance by the government to reveal the price, which only adds suspicion to concern. The claim that a secrecy clause won’t permit the latter is a telling example of the ham-handedness with which this issue has been handled. The government seems to be making matters worse for itself.

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