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
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.