<b>Subir Roy:</b> Is Modi Sarkar fully in control?

Take the case of the Invest in India Week, which ended last Thursday at which the prime minister said "we will not resort to retrospective taxation" and for emphasis added, "I repeat this commitment."


Subir Roy
There seems to be something unreal about some of the major events that have engulfed the country in the last few weeks. Can there be a design behind them? Are things unfolding according to the script or have things gone a bit awry? If it be the latter then the question arises: Is the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi fully in control?

Take the case of the Invest in India Week, which ended last Thursday at which the prime minister said "we will not resort to retrospective taxation" and for emphasis added, "I repeat this commitment." Then on the penultimate day of the event Vodafone announced that it had received a renewed tax demand for Rs 14,200 crore, failure to pay which could lead to seizure of property.

This prompted Vodafone to remind observers it had happened "in a week when Prime Minister Modi is promoting a tax friendly environment for foreign investors - this seems a complete disconnect between the government and the tax department." The letter to Vodafone, which went out on February 4, and the prime minister's speech were probably being drafted at around the same time.

The one possibility which can be ruled out is there being a disconnect between Mr Modi and his finance minister, Arun Jaitley, a lawyer and not an economist. A Rajya Sabha member from Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat without a personal political base, he is widely seen as being there so that Mr Modi's writ runs fully. And Mr Jaitley has had to pay a price for this. Arun Shourie, an economist and one time Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister, has been severely critical of the government's functioning, leaving none in doubt as to what he thinks of the expertise at play at the finance ministry. There seems an unintentional disconnect somewhere, or to put it differently - are things fully under control?

Now let us shift to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the happenings there leading to the arrest of the president of its students' union, Kanhaiya Kumar, who was present at a meeting on the campus protesting against the hanging of Afzal Guru for the attack on Parliament. On the basis of a video recording of the meeting aired by Zee News, purportedly showing Mr Kumar raising anti-India slogans, he was charged by the police for sedition and kept in custody to "probe his links to terrorist groups".

Thereafter two developments took place. Home Minister Rajnath Singh asked Indians to "understand the reality" that the protest by students at JNU had the backing of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of Lahore-based Lashkar-e-Taiba who had apparently expressed his solidarity through a tweet.

Referring to the tweet, the police issued an alert asking people not to get carried away by such seditious anti-national rhetoric. Thereafter it became clear that the tweet did not come from Hafiz Saeed but sought to impersonate him. The last word was had by Hafiz Saeed himself who tweeted, "Reality of all Indian allegations including 26/11 is evident from the fake twitter account. Indeed a new low for Indian gov #JNU."

The second development was that another video which showed Mr Kumar shouting anti-Indian slogans was examined by two TV channels, India Today and ABP News, and found to be doctored. What is more, the Aam Aadmi Party complained to the Delhi police about the same footage (which got Mr Kumar arrested) and submitted two video clips they said showed members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad - the students' wing of the BJP - shouting "Pakistan Zindabad". AAP argued the clips showed "the real culprits behind the unrest in JNU."

When Mr Kumar was to be produced in court, several of his fellow students and journalists were beaten up by lawyers and a BJP MLA from Delhi. Thereafter, several student leaders of JNU, who had been present at the JNU meeting, went into hiding and the police went looking for them all over. A few days later they resurfaced in JNU and said they had gone into hiding not to avoid the police but for fear of being lynched, considering what had happened to Mr Kumar in full view of not just the cops but also the media.

In sum, two arms of the government, the prime minister and the tax department, seem to be working at cross purposes. Additionally, an impersonating tweet (established) and doctored videos (suspected) seem to have done great damage. Even as the government seeks the Opposition's cooperation for the Budget session, disinformation seems to wreak havoc.

As a footnote, look at the human beings behind all this and what they had to say. Mr Kumar said in a speech in JNU, "Who are these people (Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru) who have reached a point that they are willing to blow themselves up? If this question is not raised in a university then I don't think there is any point in having a university." Umar Khalid, one of the students who went underground told his JNU audience on returning, "A university which does not allow dissent is a prison." As for the Delhi police chief, B S Bassi, who is in the eye of the storm, this is what he has to say about the students who had gone underground: "If they say they are innocent, they should produce evidence they are innocent." This in a country which goes by the Anglo-Saxon system of jurisprudence which assumes a person to be innocent until proved guilty.

Disclaimer: These are personal views of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of www.business-standard.com or the Business Standard newspaper

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First Published: Feb 23 2016 | 9:49 PM IST

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