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Sanjay Jha

The man and the mirage

Sanjay Jha

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For politicians, every opportunity to be heard is a godsend; after all, reaching out to a vast constituency is never easy, and the message itself is constantly evolving on account of rapid developments, usually uncontrollable.  We also live in a world ballooning with fake news, fictitious claims and fabricated posturing, where flamboyant presentations easily overwhelm the factual content. All it takes is grandiloquent positioning, bombastic promises and frenetic melodrama to make that big impact. The truth suffers serious collateral damage. The critic will argue that such luminous verbiage has been a political leader’s inherent birthright from time immemorial.  Sure, but it has never been more flagrantly deployed before. One such instance was witnessed on August 15th, 2018.

Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his last Independence Day speech of his tenure from the Red Fort amidst rising apprehensions and growing disenchantment from a large section of Indians.  While understandably the Bhartiya Janata Party would have us believe that everything is hunky-dory and that Modi deserves hosannas for his grocery-list of accomplishments, the reality is extraordinarily different. I am aware that #ModiToadies (those who believe that Modi is an impregnable hero who is infallible and has never uttered a single lie in his life) take plentiful umbrage when their Supreme Commander is questioned, but facts don’t cease to exist because we choose to overlook them. Reality bites.

Modi expectedly made his farewell speech into an electoral pitch forgetting ruefully that while it is kosher to do a ballyhoo if there are spectacular achievements, a little honesty goes a long distance.  Fact is, his 2014 zeitgeist Acche Din (Good days are here again) has proved to be the proverbial mirage. In fact, the reverse is true, as people have seen a comatose economy and a fissiparous society. The national mood appears woebegone despite a massive Rs 5000 crore government expenditure to ensure Modi is looking at you through airport kiosks, gas-station, front-page ads, TV commercials and every conceivable publicity platform in every nook and corner available.  Even George Orwell’s celebrated Big Brother would be flushed with embarrassment at such gargantuan meretriciousness. A few miles away from where Modi lives in magnificent opulence in Delhi,  a family of three young children below the age of 10 years starved to death a few weeks ago. There are moments when a country is numbed by its ineptitude, by its opprobrium, , by its callousness in respecting basic human dignity. This is one of them. The least Modi could have done was to state that India needs to ferociously battle the scourge of poverty.  After all, we still have over 20% of our people living below the poverty line.  Thus, when Modi boasts of GDP and fastest-growing-economy etc, it sounds like a grotesque contradiction with ground realities, and worse, altogether mendacious.

Modi

Modi frequently lambasts the Lutyens Delhi supposed cabal, but unwittingly, has become part of the same ossified Establishment that he once dismissed with contemptuous indifference. Let me take just one issue in this piece; corruption, to explain my point.  Modi’s seeking the controversial politician Amar Singh’s attention and approval at a recent conference, whose track-record in public life has several allegations of unscrupulous conduct, exposed his vulnerabilities. Brazening it out has been BJP’s trademark, but the problem with this political strategy is that it cannot become standard operating procedure.  Occasionally employed, it can get salutary results, but if it assumes obdurate constancy, it smacks of political arrogance and deliberate obstruction of scrutiny.  On Rafale scam accusations, Modi is standing with both his feet on a banana peel.  Rhetoric and sound-bytes is unlikely to distract from what appears to be an open and shut case of crony capitalism gone horribly rogue. Given the humongous scale of potential revenues ( Rs 1,30, 000 crores) being given charitably to a local tyro defence-offset manufacturer, India demands answers. Some silly video on Twitter doing a deconstruction of Rafale scam for dummies can be best described as juvenile theatrics. It is not working.

Modi

The Congress-led UPA passed the Lok Pal bill in 2013; an astonishing five years later, several Supreme Court strictures notwithstanding, Modi has not appointed the Lok Pal.  There cannot be a better instance of his government’s duplicitousness, as Modi got the jackpot from the Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal IAC agitation. The Congress party paid a mammoth political price of the subterranean RSS-sponsored agitation that grievously damaged its reputational capital. Pseudo-scandals such as 2G ( since rejected by the courts ) hurt it immensely. The rest is history. But the people of India who took to the streets on corruption have been taken for a big ride.

Nirav Modi and Mehul “Bhai” Choksi are right now perhaps sipping champagne in a tony Caribbean sea-facing spa, courtesy a government that willfully allowed them a red carpet send-off.  Why? As Punjab National Bank is reduced to a hobble and a wobble, we need to ask, could this monumental scam have happened without political chaperoning? Your guess is as good as mine.

Modi

As we come to the business end of Modi’s innings, it is obvious that BJP ’s repeated onslaught against the Congress by blaming legacy problems for their sub-par performance appears lame-duck. Scapegoating can get exhausting especially if it is founded on a brittle base. Yet the BJP lives in a fool’s paradise believing that the blame-game and whataboutery will work with predictable certitude. Perhaps this confidence oozes out of its inexorable control of certain mainstream media TV channels that literally outshine Doordarshan in genuflection. Salaam Delhi!

India deserves to know what the PM did with the huge majority mandate of 2014.  At the moment all we do know is that he travelled to 52 countries and spent Rs 5000 crores on self-promotion. That is no reason to re-elect the party or the man. It is a wasted 5 years. That is why 2019  is important. That’s why India needs a new Prime Minister to address the nation from the Red Fort.

 Sanjay Jha is National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party. The views are his own. He can be followed on Twitter at @JhaSanjay . 

 

 

Sanjay Jha

Rafale scam: The mystery deepens

Sanjay Jha

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defence

By now, most Indian households are as familiar with French company Dassault Aviation’s Rafale jets as they are with popular heartthrob with ripping muscles, Salman Khan.  A circuitous defence deal worth Rs 59,000 crores is centrifugal to the controversy. The Congress party led by a resolute Congress President Rahul Gandhi has relentlessly questioned the government on what appears to be a palpable case of crony capitalism gone horribly rogue. Mr Gandhi has held several press conferences on the alleged humongous corruption in the Rafale jet purchase, tweeted frequently and even brought up the matter in a much televised Lok Sabha address which culminated in the now celebrated hug of a flabbergasted Prime Minister Modi.

defence

Strangely, Modi has not uttered a single word in his defence; for a man otherwise known to have a fragile ego and never short of making virulent counterattacks, it has flummoxed many. The strategy of sending a smorgasbord of cabinet ministers ranging from an ill-prepared Defense Minister, a Finance Minister indulging in extravagant verbosity in his sketchy blogs, to would you believe it, Agriculture and Sports ministers has completely backfired.  The government is in a tangled mess of its own contradictory lies.

defence

 

Former BJP senior leaders Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, now having openly rebelled against their party leadership have called it “the biggest defence scam in India’s history”. But Modi refuses to budge even as damning revelations have sporadically surfaced which corroborate Gandhi’s accusations; especially after former French President Francois Hollande stated that Reliance Defense was part of a “ new formula”, a fait accompli as an offsets partner recommended on a no-choice basis by PM Modi during his visit to Paris in April 2015. Subsequently, it has been leaked that Deputy CEO, Dassault told his staff that the Reliance contract was a “ trade-off”, “ compensation” for bagging the 36 aircraft deal. Modi ’s stubborn defiance of the call to order a JPC inquiry is therefore intriguing.  The government is now in a deep quicksand.

defence

While there are several doubtful inferences and coincidences that have already been raised, it is pertinent to point out five inconsistencies that have been cursorily overlooked.

  • Prime Minister Modi unilaterally overrode the recommendations of previous Indian Air Force chiefs who felt that India needed 7 squadrons; this after nearly eight long years of inspections, trials and negotiations with several competitive bidders. How did Modi arbitrarily decide on squadron size most apposite for national security during war-time, in the process dumbing down the opinions of air force veterans? From 126 to 36 is a significant downsizing of 72%; this was a major policy decision. Why was the transaction redacted? Is there a written document suggesting the altered position of the government with compelling reasons approved prior to Modi’s decision? Does Modi have the core competence to make this strategic call or was it another decision borne out of political authoritarianism, like the infamous GSPC investment that went kaput costing India Rs 20,000 crores?
  • The government says that this was a government-to-government transaction, but therein lies a catch. The total budget size is Rs 59,000 crore for 36 jets, but the offsets contract at 50% is a staggering Rs 30,000 crore, with a life-cycle business valued at Rs 1,30,000 crores. So is Modi government telling us that for a respectable volume of offsets business it was nonchalant about who got the deal? Really? And that too when Dassault Aviation and Hindustan Aeronautics, the original contender had already a work-share agreement that was 95% in place and was awaiting a formal sign-off announced publicly by the CEO Eric Trappier himself to IAF and HAL officers?
  • The explanation given that the purchased Rafale aircraft has more advanced weaponry systems etc appears specious, disingenuous to justify the 300 % price escalation ( from Rs 526 cr per aircraft to Rs 1670 cr ). Is the Modi government insinuating that the former Air Chiefs were buying a bare-skeletal body without the sophisticated equipment and accessories mandatory for a victorious air-combat? It is a bizarre charge, an outrageous twist with no commercial rationale. In fact, “ the same configuration” featured in the joint statement of Modi-Hollande in Paris; what was it referring to?  It insults the collective intelligence of the Air Force chiefs who scrupulously scrutinized the selection project. India is one of the largest defence importers and thus should normally have stronger negotiating clout. So why the dramatic surrender; no transfer of technology, a 300 % price hike, and the “ emergency purchase” concluding 7 years later in 2022 !!!!!! It is a conundrum and does not add up.
  • HAL is a profit-making public sector defence manufacturing company. It has declared a dividend of Rs 7940 crore over the last 10 years, a proof of its operating resilience and manufacturing capabilities. Why would the government shoot itself in its own feet by forsaking potential earnings when the life-cycle costs would have been Rs 130,000 crores? Besides, by giving the contract to Reliance, a tyro in defence offsets industry, wasn’t national security being compromised?
  • The purpose of offsets contract is to give the buyer-country the advantage of the local business, a creation of new logistics, reinvestment of profits, and help from a supply chain infrastructure. But surprisingly, the Reliance-Dassault joint venture was 51: 49, meaning Dassault would yet get a substantive 49% of the equity/earnings.  Does that not conflict with the very principle of offsets policy?

There are several questions, but all we have heard so far is convoluted spins. A biopsy of the deal is in the interest of the nation. One thing appears clear though; the Rafale jet is riding a gravy train.

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