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Why Modi is silent on the Congress 'deals'

July 22, 2014 14:04 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Parliament.'The Modi administration has access to so much evidence that it can rip apart the Congress, not just the Nehru-Gandhis, but almost the entire leadership structure of the party,' says T V R Shenoy.

'Who shall be the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha?' demand Sonia Gandhi and the 'Shahzada'.

Narendra Modi has a different question: 'Who should be the Opposition?'

Up until about 9:30 on the morning of May 16, 2014, the BJP knew exactly who the Opposition was, namely the Congress.

The senior leadership of the party -- notably unlike many in the media -- not distracted by claims that placed Arvind Kejriwal (and his Aam Aadmi Party) at par with Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi (the faces of their respective parties).

But the scale of the Congress's debacle took everyone by surprise. I was privy to various private surveys, discreetly conducted both by political parties and by corporate interests.

While all of them concluded that the Congress was about to register a historic loss, the lowest number that anyone predicted for that party was 72 Lok Sabha seats. The 44 seats that the voters actually gave the Congress was beyond anyone's wildest dreams. (Or nightmares.)

This situation offers a minor challenge to the prime minister.

I call it a 'minor' challenge because there are dozens of other, major, situations that he needs to confront. The current occupants of the Treasury benches in Parliament have inherited an empty treasury thanks to Dr Manmohan Singh's decade-long reign.

Although the 'economist prime minister' often quoted the adage that 'money doesn't grow on trees' he spent as if money grew like weeds in the gutter. His ministers taxed vindictively, borrowed imprudently, and left the bills -- particularly the Food Security Act -- to be paid by successor administrations.

As if the economy were not in poor shape there is the bugbear of foreign crises, over which the Government of India has little or no control. In an ideal world India would love to have decent relations with all the other major powers.

In actuality New Delhi must now choose between Israel and the Arab States thanks to the ongoing situation in Gaza, while simultaneously manoeuvring between Russia and the United States-cum-Europe over the Ukrainian crisis. Bear in mind that Russia and Israel are two of the largest weapons suppliers to India.

And who knows what might happen if Chinese ambitions run afoul of, say, Japan, or Australia, or the ASEAN group?

Compared to resuscitating the economy while juggling conflicting relations between competing powers the problem of deciding who should be the Opposition is relatively minor. It is also, however, one that will have a bearing on the future of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Let me explain. The Congress was so arrogant, so venal, and, frankly, so stupid in the past decade that it would be easy to smash the party beyond hope of reconstruction. There is enough evidence that nail not just those who hold the controlling interest in Congress Private Limited. but several of the minor shareholders in that firm.

Questions about Robert Vadra's dealings could not be squelched even in the days of the Congress regime. Now the needle of suspicion is pointing not at the son-in-law of the Congress but at his mother-in-law and at his brother-in-law.

Dr Subramanian Swamy's long pursuit of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi over the alleged land-grab in the National Herald case never made the headlines while the Congress was in power; everyone is talking about it today, and the president and the vice-president of the party have been summoned to court to explain their actions.

Bear in mind that the rot spread well beyond the First Family of the Congress.

On April 18 when the campaign was still on, but after internal surveys predicted a sweep in the first phases of polling, Narendra Modi addressed a rally in Akbarpur (near Kanpur) in Uttar Pradesh.

Referring to an ongoing investigation by the tax authorities into the affairs of Moin Qureshi -- a meat exporter -- the BJP's prime ministerial candidate asked, 'Shouldn't the truth come out?'

It would not be the last time in the campaign that Modi referred to Moin Qureshi. His reported links were so wide-ranging -- he was, among other things, president of the Doon School Old Boys' Society up until May -- that the tax authorities' survey that started with multiple, simultaneous raids on February 18 ended only on May 13.

According to reports, the investigators now possess over 500 hours of incriminating call recordings, which implicate a fistful of Dr Singh's ministers as well as others in the upper reaches of the Congress.

These -- the National Herald case and the Moin Qureshi affair -- are said to be the tiniest tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Modi administration has access to so much evidence that it can rip apart the Congress, not just the Nehru-Gandhis, but almost the entire leadership structure of the party.

Does it want to do so?

There is a theory in BJP circles that the Congress is the best Opposition that the BJP could have. It is too weak to give the Modi ministry any trouble, but too strong for anyone else to seize the space of the anti-BJP force.

I will refer readers to something that I had written back in May, two weeks before the results were counted: 'However, the BJP has decided to play the waiting game. It has concluded that it cannot build a national presence unless it takes on regional parties along with the Congress.'

For the BJP to become a true national party it has to weaken regional groups, day-after-tomorrow if not quite tomorrow. Even the Aam Aadmi Party, when you think about it, is a regional party confined to the Delhi-Haryana-Punjab belt, which collectively elects 31 Lok Sabha MPs, far fewer than a West Bengal or a Tamil Nadu. Of which the Aam Aadmi Party actually won just four in the general election.

Crushing the Congress today, before the BJP gains a firm footing everywhere, means that the traditional Congress votes shall go to non-BJP parties. According to a body of opinion within the BJP, it makes sense to maintain the illusion that the Congress is a viable Opposition.

It is, as stated above, a relatively minor dilemma for the Modi ministry. But answering the question of who the Opposition should be could have major implications on the BJP's future.

Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Parliament.

For more columns by Mr T V R Shenoy, please click here.

T V R Shenoy