Modi’s meth­ods come un­der fire

In­dia’s prime min­is­ter is try­ing to as­sert con­trol with the help of of­fi­cials and top cops, but that ploy is not work­ing

Gulf News - - The Views - By Swati Chaturvedi

The Supreme Court read the riot act to the Naren­dra Modi govern­ment, which car­ried out a post-midnight coup, send­ing the Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (CBI) on “forced leave”. In the process, the three-judge bench, which in­cluded the Chief Jus­tice of In­dia, Ran­jan Go­goi, also up­held the most crit­i­cal fea­ture in a democ­racy — the rule of law.

In a sharp vote of no con­fi­dence in the shenani­gans that the Modi govern­ment had in­dulged in, the court en­sured that the Modi-ap­pointed in­terim CBI Di­rec­tor, M. Nageswar Rao, could not take any pol­icy de­ci­sions. All de­ci­sions taken by him would be un­der the court’s scan­ner.

And, spar­ing the Modi govern­ment no blushes, the apex court in­di­cated it did not trust the Modi-ap­pointed Chief Vig­i­lance Com­mis­sioner, K.V. Chowd­hary, to carry out a fair in­quiry and en­sured a time frame of two weeks and su­per­vi­sion by a re­tired Supreme Court judge.

So how did it come to this? The smok­ing gun is the con­tro­ver­sial Rafale deal, which is per­son­ally haunt­ing Modi like a slow mo­tion night­mare.

Alok Verma, who was ap­pointed CBI Di­rec­tor by a col­legium, had to pay the price for ask­ing the Min­istry of De­fence for “ver­i­fi­ca­tion” of the Rafale doc­u­ments given in a com­plaint made to him by for­mer Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politi­cians, Arun Shourie and Yash­want Sinha, and lawyer Prashant Bhushan. Modi and his com­rade-in-arms Amit Shah were an­gry that Verma even met the trio. The fi­nal straw was the reg­is­tra­tion of a bribery case against the duo’s blueeyed boy Rakesh Asthana, a Gu­jarat cadre po­lice of­fi­cial and his mas­ter’s voice in the CBI. In­ter­est­ingly, both Rao and Asthana os­ten­si­bly se­lected by Modi to clean up the Augean sta­bles that is the CBI have sev­eral cor­rup­tion cases against them.

Modi, who has never in his govern­ment ca­reer met an in­sti­tu­tion that he has not wanted to take a wreck­ing ball to, seems jit­tery and afraid as the Rafale charges land at his doorstep. Modi has main­tained his mute mode on the al­le­ga­tions re­peat­edly made by Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi, who has dis­cov­ered a crude but ef­fec­tive slo­gan Chowki­dar chor hai (the guard is a thief).

Modi, the self-pro­claimed guard, has fielded mul­ti­ple min­is­ters to de­fend his govern­ment on the deal per­son­ally ne­go­ti­ated and changed by him. And with the midnight coup, the charges have the ring of con­vic­tion.

A clear pat­tern has now emerged. Modi de­stroyed the Re­serve Bank of In­dia’s (RBI) 70-yearold rep­u­ta­tion of au­ton­omy and pru­dence with the Modi-made disas­ter of de­mon­eti­sa­tion. Then came the un­prece­dented press con­fer­ence by four judges of the Supreme Court, in­clud­ing the present chief jus­tice of In­dia, who bluntly said democ­racy is in dan­ger. The press con­fer­ence was a re­volt against Modi and his ways.

Now you have the coup against the CBI. The in­sti­tu­tional dam­age done by Modi is grave. Shah has prac­ti­cally emerged as an ex­tra con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity us­ing the CBI as a po­tent weapon to threaten ri­vals. The Modi and Shah Gu­jarat model was char­ac­terised by an iron grip on se­lected of­fi­cials who fol­lowed even ap­par­ently law­less or­ders such as the al­leged en­counter deaths un­leashed by Shah as Home Min­is­ter. While this could work in a mid-sized state trans­lat­ing it via trusted Gu­jarat cadre of­fi­cials has proved im­pos­si­ble.

Alok Verma tried to en­sure that the al­legedly cor­rupt Asthana did not ride roughshod over the rule of law to please the duo. The prospect of the Rafale in­ves­ti­ga­tion and Asthana’s sus­pen­sion rec­om­mended by Verma proved to be his neme­sis. Modi has now fi­nally made a se­ri­ous mis­step and seems to be los­ing the po­lit­i­cal plot. The big­gest take­away for him and Shah should be that In­dia is not Gu­jarat and can­not be run like an au­thor­i­tar­ian dic­ta­tor sans any checks and bal­ances. Rahul Gandhi who has been dogged in his pur­suit of Modi’s com­plic­ity in what he calls the “Rafale scam” seems to have fi­nally come in to his own. Cur­rently, he owns the po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive with the BJP go­ing all out to at­tack him.

Af­ter Modi’s mis­ad­ven­ture, it seems like the clown will have the last laugh.

■ Swati Chaturvedi is an award-win­ning print and broad­cast jour­nal­ist. Her book I am a Troll — In­side the BJP’s se­cret dig­i­tal army has re­ceived in­ter­na­tional ac­claim. Twit­ter: @Bain­jal.

In­dia’s Fi­nance Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley blamed the Re­serve Bank of In­dia yes­ter­day for fail­ing to stop a lend­ing spree be­tween 2008-2014 that left banks with huge bad debts, in­flam­ing a row that re­cently erupted be­tween the govern­ment and the cen­tral bank.

On Fri­day, RBI Deputy Gover­nor Vi­ral Acharya warned that un­der­min­ing a cen­tral bank’s in­de­pen­dence could be “po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic”, in an in­di­ca­tion that it is push­ing back hard against govern­ment pressure to re­lax its poli­cies and re­duce its pow­ers ahead of a gen­eral elec­tion due by next May.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials were very up­set by Acharya’s com­ments. They said the RBI should not air con­fi­den­tial mat­ters in pub­lic and ex­pressed fears it could tar­nish In­dia’s im­age among in­vestors. Yet Jait­ley was pub­licly crit­i­cal of the RBI yes­ter­day, say­ing the cen­tral bank’s lax poli­cies had contributed to banks’ cur­rent woes.

“Dur­ing 2008-14 af­ter the global eco­nomic cri­sis to keep the econ­omy ar­ti­fi­cially go­ing, banks were told to open their doors and lend in­dis­crim­i­nately,” he said in a speech at a con­fer­ence at­tended by heads of US com­pa­nies.

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