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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

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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