What better way for a government to complete its first full year in office than by ensuring clean and scam-free governance? That is exactly how the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre marked its first anniversary in May this year. Even as the rejoicing over the landmark occasion had barely subsided and the government rededicated itself to the service of the nation and welfare of the people, four of the party’s important female leaders came under scathing attack from the Opposition and the Main Stream Media (MSM) for their “alleged involvement” in cases of corruption, financial irregularities and impropriety.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was falsely blamed for helping Lalit Modi, former Commissioner of IPL, who had been erroneously accused by the Opposition and Media as “fugitive”, get his travel documents from UK by writing in her official capacity to a British Labour MP stating that grant of travel documents would not affect India-UK bilateral relations. Meanwhile, it was alleged that Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje was also involved in a scam relating to Lalit Modi. The media and the Opposition contended that she had supported the former IPL boss in migrating to the UK. It was also alleged that Lalit Modi was a business partner of her son and had invested in the latter’s company, resulting in financial impropriety on the part of Raje.
In the meantime, the Congress Party revived its long-forgotten complaint against HRD Minister Smriti Irani, which it had made some time last year immediately after her induction into the Narendra Modi Cabinet, regarding her alleged attempt to mislead the Election Commission by falsifying her educational qualifications. Then Pankaja Munde, young and upcoming BJP leader and key minister in the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition government in Maharashtra, was accused of clearing contracts worth Rs 206 crore on a single day for the purchase of a host of items under the Integrated Child Development Scheme, casting procurement procedures to the winds. Since ‘chikki’, a groundnut-based sweet highly popular in Maharashtra – is one of the major items in the said purchase list, some journalists have termed this scandal “Chikkigate”.
Media in the Fray
In a bid to be sensational and gain TRP ratings, the Media went gaga over the allegations and carried out a shrill and strident campaign, replete with a swelling number of “breaking news” and “exposes” seeking the scalps of the targeted ministers. Both the Opposition and the Media, which have been starved of scams and scandals during the past one year, gratefully seized the opportunity to make up for the lost time by working overtime on a long drawn out campaign against BJP in general and the four targeted ministers and Prime Minister Modi in particular.
Not a day passed without the Electronic Media coming up with a regular feed of updates on “Lalitgate” and “Chikkigate”. A large posse of news reporters was deployed exclusively for hunting vignettes of the scams-related developments. At least one news anchor flew all the way to Montenegro to interview Lalit Modi, the man in the eye of the storm. In their programs of high decibel noise power, which passed for panel discussions, visibly tired and harried anchors dutifully kept reminding BJP leaders that the nation wanted to know answers to their questions and how Prime Minister Modi’s silence in the matter would only hurt the party and the government.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), whose Law Minister in the Delhi Government, Jitender Singh Tomar, had recently been arrested and thrown in jail for obtaining and possessing two fake degree certificates, joined Congress in targeting Smriti Irani and sought a probe against her claim of higher educational qualifications than she actually possessed.
Congress and the Scams
Prima facie, the charges appeared serious enough to make the people of the nation sit up and wonder in amazement about the veracity of the allegations. Congress spokesmen who had gone into hibernation over sheer exhaustion, and who were desperately waiting in vain for a goofup, gaffe or faux pas by some BJP leader or the other, got a fresh lease of life and were seen waxing eloquent about the “duplicity” and “hypocrisy” of BJP vis-a-vis Congress party’s “high moral and ethical standards” and wondering why Prime Minister Modi had been a picture of silence with regard to his “errant” party colleagues.
They stooped to new lows by insinuating that Bada Modi (Narendra Modi) was trying to help Chhota Modi (Lalit Modi). All this without a shred of evidence to support their claim that there had been foul play or quid pro quo! They commiserated with the “people of the nation who had been conned into reposing faith” in a party which claimed moral high grounds by the day and committed acts of betrayal of people’s faith on the sly! The Congress Party cadres brought up the rear by carrying out protest rallies and demonstrations outside the residences of the ministers and party offices of BJP.
Charges Fail to Stick
Notwithstanding all the rolling up of sleeves and flexing of muscles by the Opposition and a high octane presentation by the Media of the terrible “assault” on democracy by the “errant” ministers, the concerned BJP ministers stoutly defended their own integrity. With the support they received from their party leadership and failure of the allegations to stick in the absence of substantial evidence or proof on legal or technical grounds, it became increasingly evident that the charges did not add up to merit either the gusto and aggression with which these were pushed forward by Congress or the sensation whipped up by the Media to tarnish the images of the accused leaders and their party.
Support by Party Leadership
On its part, the BJP leadership announced that none of its leaders was tainted and that in the case of Vasundhara Raje, the documents produced against her had not been verified. Sushma Swaraj had acted in good faith and had extended help on humanitarian grounds. Smriti Irani’s position had already been cleared in 2014 itself, when she dared her detractors to move the court of law regarding the complaint against her. Pankaja Munde had, on her part, stated that “Chikkigate” was a scam of words; she had done no wrong and was, in any case, ready for a probe. In view of the above, the party asserted there was no question of any of the ministers resigning. Furthermore, the whole scenario of the ministers being axed was imaginary, it elaborated.
The unflinching solidarity of the BJP with its ministers under attack foiled the efforts of the Congress Party, which had been feeling a bit too pleased with the work of its Dirty Tricks Department in coming up with what it considered was invaluable information pertaining to the ‘indiscretions’ and ‘impropriety’ of the BJP ministers. With the attempts of the Opposition to besmirch the images of the ministers coming to naught in spite of the many unruly protests and rallies by its cadres and huge ruckus raised by the Media, Congress Party nearly ran out of steam and started desperately shooting arrows in the dark with the aim of further discrediting BJP.
It went about flagrantly bullying BJP with its plans to stall the proceedings of the forthcoming monsoon session of Parliament. When BJP did not acquiesce to the demands of the Congress on pain of a washed-out Parliament, the latter adopted yet another tactic of its by wooing BJP with an interesting proposal – it would not block the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill despite its strong reservations, if it got the scalps of Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje.
The proposal was, however, stonewalled by BJP by taking the principled stand of not yielding to strong-arm tactics of the Congress. The decision of the BJP to stand by its flock and call the bluff of Congress flummoxed the latter, which had been looking for an opportunity to make a mark for itself ever since it was trounced in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Why Women Leaders
That all the targets of the vilification campaign are women is the lowest common denominator in the calculations of the Congress that has been trying hard to besmirch the image of BJP, which has provided corruption-free governance at the Centre during the last one year. Is it a coincidence or is there a design to this interesting commonality?
One would be a bit too naive to believe that it is a sheer coincidence that all the ministers who are sought to be discredited are women or that they constituted the low hanging fruits for a Congress on the offensive. It is interesting to note that all the four ministers are known for their high profile approach to politics. They are outspoken, hard hitting and harsh critics of the Congress Party. They have bolstered the glory of their party by their individual track records and fiercely defended the party against attacks by their rivals.
Their role in the landslide victory of BJP at the Centre and the States of Rajasthan and Maharashtra were inestimable. Their oratorical skill, eloquence and ability to systematically demolish the arguments and cases of their detractors, are highly commendable qualities and are indicative of the shaping up of the next generation of party leaders in the making. Sushma Swaraj had been applauded for the exemplary handling of the External Affairs portfolio, when the news of the scam broke out.
She was profusely praised for the manner in which she had managed to steer the Indo-Bangla land boundary agreement through the Parliament earlier this year. Furthermore, the unstinting support that these women ministers received from their own party leadership as well as from the RSS in the face of the intimidatory tactics of their arch rival and political tormentor, amply demonstrates their importance quotient in their party’s strategic quest for a Congress-mukht Bharat.
How Rahul Gandhi prattled about his faith in women power on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls of 2014 and kept harping about how he planned to empower women when the Congress Party is returned to power at the Centre, provided comic relief and sounded a pathetic ruse or ploy that it was, on the part of a political greenhorn who dreamt of being catapulted to the highest office of the land (barring that of Honourable President) by default.
In a curious turn of events, the Congress was decimated not only at the Centre but also in the states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, which had been in its stranglehold for quite some time. Five years of life without power at the Centre and the crucial states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra are both unthinkable and unbearable for the Congress, which had never reconciled in the past to the idea of joining the Opposition ranks.
Walking the corridors of power came naturally to the dynastic family. Life was a breeze, when all one had to do was to call the shots from behind the scene without being answerable to anybody or accountable for one’s actions, walk briskly enough to convince the onlookers that one had not a moment to lose, wave vigorously at the multitudes of crowds waiting out in the open for hours on end to have a glimpse of the so-called “beloved leader”, parrot some soulless written-down speeches authored by people who do it for a living, do a brisk pirouette and make the most of photo-ops with visiting foreign dignitaries, and, in general, keep the mystique and sheen of democracy’s answer to a monarchy’s royal family on.
The misery of being lost in the political wilderness, that too for five long years, is indeed painful! The ignominy of not being able to secure the status of Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha is really unbearable! Congress had to figure out a raison d’être. And all that the grey eminences in the oldest political party of the nation could think was to discredit the ruling party and thereby score some brownie points. This would be an easy way out for the party desperately on the lookout for a breath of fresh life rather than having to reinvent itself, which would involve a long-drawn and monotonous exercise! Woman power being a matter of pride for the BJP, why not deride the women leaders and expose the chinks in the armour?
On the one hand, the Congress Vice President waxes eloquent about empowerment of women, and on the other, his party loses no opportunity to put women politicians doing good work down! What a paradox! Besides, there were old political scores to be settled. In Congress, there is a clear red line that is not to be crossed by anyone, whatever the circumstances. The Nehru-Gandhi family is the holy cow, beyond reproach both by the members of the party and its rivals. Nor are its members to be contested against in elections. They have to be extended the courtesy of being returned to the Parliament, totally unopposed.
History is full of wistful moments which beg answer to the question “If only…?” For instance, if only late Raj Narain had not trounced former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1977 polls at Rae Bareli, would India’s history have remained the same? In 1999, Sushma Swaraj had contested from Bellary constituency, where she had styled herself as the “Beti” of the people against the foreign-born “Bahu” Sonia Gandhi. Despite a spirited performance, she had lost by a 7% margin.
To make matters worse, she had publicly declared in 2004 that she would shave her head if Sonia Gandhi became India’s Prime Minister – a statement that did not go down too well within the Congress circles. Fifteen years down the line, history repeated itself when Smriti Irani was locked in a head-on battle with Rahul Gandhi at Amethi, the pocket borough of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Although she lost the battle, she had put up a very valiant fight, which drew tremendous accolade for her spirited performance.
She was also rewarded with a berth in the Narendra Modi Cabinet. At 38, she is currently the youngest among all the women ministers in the NDA government. Her post-poll visits to Amethi, despite her defeat in the election, during which she exposed Rahul Gandhi’s hollow claims of “revenge politics” by the Modi government have won her high praise from the party leadership, much to the chagrin of the Congress Party.
Sushma Swaraj’s and Smriti Irani’s performances causing a halt in the Nehru-Gandhi family’s hitherto cosy sojourn in politics, constituted not mere breaches of the red line but major blitzkrieg, in acts both inadmissible and unacceptable, having much in common with late Raj Narain’s derring-do! For the Congress Party, it was time for a repeat of the infamous state of Emergency – which it was lamentably in no position to impose this time around!
Having waited long enough in the cases of Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani since 1999 and 2014 respectively, it was time for revenge – a dish best served cold! Desperate times for the Congress, which called for desperate measures! Add to the unpardonable acts of indiscretion against the First Family, the trouncing of the party’s impregnable bastions of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, for a good measure. Hey, presto! You got the perfect plan for the so-called scams of the four formidable female leaders of the BJP!