Pendulam is Swinging?

Raman Swamy

Ever since Rahul Gandhi's "you-can't-look-me-in-the-eye" challenge during the no-confidence debate in parliament, there has been a flurry of backroom consultations to counter the charge.

Narendra Modi himself has invoked Mahatma Gandhi's proximity to industrialists as a justification.

Some captains of industry have issued unusual statements calling for a more business friendly bias in government policies.

Various politicians like Amar Singh have been fielded to "expose" the nexus between business and politics during earlier regimes.

In a televised interview, Amar Singh reeled off a long list of names of leaders of the past and present who are known to have hobnodded with industrialists—including his former mentor Mulayam Singh and even former President Pranab Mukherjee.

The Prime Minister's contention was that unlike "some people" he was "not afraid of" publicly standing beside industrialists and business magnates. He claimed that his intentions were "noble"—industrialists contribute to nation building and it was not right to label all of them as "chorsaurlutteras". Those among then who do something wrong, he said, will have to face the consequences—either flee the country or live in jail.

Taking the cue, industry lobbies were quick to issue statements urging the Prime Minister not to "accept any ill-treatment to the industrialist just because a few of them have indulged in illegal activities" but to continue his closer involvement of entrepreneurs in the task of nation building.

Chamber president Rashesh Shah issued a press release that "The strong message that industrialists adopting illegal means to harm the economy will not be spared, will certainly help in removing any negative opinion in the pubic against industry in general".

According to him, the government's "encouragement to industry has indeed helped in the revival of animal spirits in the economy already". He also warned that without reviving the industry's confidence to invest, it will be difficult to attain 8 percent growth in the coming years in a sustained manner.

Inside parliament, opposition leaders have made repeated references to the Mehul Choksi-Nirav Modi scandal and questioned why the lucrative offset contracts that came with the Rafale purchase from France were taken away from the public sector HAL and given to one tycoon Anil Ambani, who did not even have requisite defence manufacturing experience.

The cat is among the pigeons—the outcome of the current flapping of wings and squawking is yet to be seen. But it does look like the charge of favouring big businessmen does get under the skin of the Prime Minister and nothing nettles him more than Rahul Gandhi's jibe that he is running a "suit-boot-ki-sarkar".

Indeed, back in 2015 when Gandhi raised tie slogan at a Ramlila Maidan rally and then brought the accusation to the floor of Parliament—the 'suit-boot" phrase had multiple connotations including Modi's monogrammed suit.

During a debate on the agrarian crisis, the Congress leader who had not yet been installed as party chief, alleged the Modi government had frozen minimum support price for crops and squeezed agricultural credit flow and was instead projecting a pro-corporate bias.

Gandhi said: "I want to suggest to the PM that yours is a government of the rich, but 60 percent of Indians are farmers and labourers. You will gain politically if you change sides. But if you renege on the promises you made to corporates, then you will lose politically".

As it turned out, the jibe did find its mark and there was indeed a distinct and sudden shift in the government's policy emphasis—pro-poor rhetoric seemingly intensified. For all its talk about privatisation, the government seemed to have got cold feet ever since the Opposition accused it of being a suit-boot-ki-sarkar.

Now, after the Rafale deal, the pendulum appears to have swung back to where it was in Modi's first year in power. Sensing this, the Opposition is closing ranks to revive the suit-boot slogan. As expected, this is vexing the Prime Minister to such an extent that he is seeking to draw a parallel between the Gandhiji-Birla relationship with his own camaraderie with Adani, Ambani and Choksi.


Vol. 51, No.8, Aug 26 - Sep 1, 2018