Levelling allegations is not just a political strategy but also an art of articulation. Without it, the prime mover can entangle themselves in idiocy and become an object of ‘clown sophistry’. Something similar has happened with Congress’ perpetual PM-in-the making Shri Rahul Gandhi. Who, in the hurry to prove his mettle as a full time politician, has used everything except reason to attack the ruling dispensation but with little success.
Congress on coming to terms with the fact that in 2019 it faces a serious existential battle, realised that its only chance of staying relevant and a viable option against PM Modi’s BJP is to besmirch its clean image in the corruption department and put a question mark on the spotless service record of PM Modi. This would level the playing field for the Congress which in the popular public memory has become synonymous with corruption and their PM candidate on whose already limited credentials, the shadow of National Herald Scam looms large and heavy. All this in addition to the Bofors taint on the Congress history and the Gandhi family that has refused to fade away even after years of active tampering of evidence and manipulation of facts.
Congress was confident that it had found the ‘Trojan horse’ in the form of the alleged Rafale Scam to penetrate the victory fort of increasingly unconquerable BJP. Perhaps that is why they chose Mr. Gandhi to be the face of this attack and directly pit him against Prime Minister Modi. At first when the Congress came out shouting “Scam! Scam!”, it managed to capture the attention and fancy of the nation for exactly 5 seconds. The major plank of the Congress argument was:
- NDA Govt. paid higher price than what UPA would have paid.
- The deal has served the interest of a private industrialist i.e. Anil Ambani.
Unfortunately for the Congress, in their excitement and hurry to bring down BJP they forgot to factor in that they were up against one of the sharpest political minds of 21st century India i.e. Amit Shah and a party full of people who had risen through the ranks courtesy their honed political acumen. Where the Congress had expected to challenge PM Modi on a battlefield chosen by them and on terms set to help their clown, oh sorry, Crown prince, the opposite quickly emerged to be true.
BJP had all the facts and figures; it knew there was nothing there that could be in a fair evaluation, be called a scam. But sensing Congress’ desperation and dedication to prove it as one, BJP did the exact opposite of what the Congress had expected. Instead of playing defensive and putting all the statistics in the public domain to be manipulated by Congress, BJP decided to play its cards close to the chest and has ever since seems to be working on the ethos of ‘control the information, control the narrative’.
It refuted the claims with the expected sense of outrage but minus the number citing the secrecy agreement signed by the Congress Govt. in 2008.
While painting the narrative, Congress’ facts changed with the podium, while that of the BJP remains succinct and unchanging which exposed the falsehood of the Congress’ claims and narrative. By withholding the numbers, BJP forced the Congress to manufacture some of its own and Rahul being Rahul failed to keep up with his own concocted figures. One day it was 21,000 crore rupees, the other day it was 30,000 crore rupees in terms of benefits awarded to Reliance. Similarly, with the price of the Aircrafts, one day they were being bought by Congress for 550 crores each, the other day at 675 crores each and so on. Maybe Mr. Gandhi was of the view that if he hurled the right amount of contradicting figures the nation would ultimately just give in and accept that there is indeed a scam, even if just to stop the onslaught of his nonsensical speeches.
Sensing that it had lost control over the narrative Congress made another attempt to revive the issue and pull it back in to the public discourse. The stage was set with a no-confidence motion against the government and a whole speech and script was prepared for Mr. Gandhi to enact in the parliament on the eve of voting. The Congress, in its infinite wisdom and with its now trademark callous attitude towards India’s allies and international repute, decided to blatantly lie in the name of an elected head of a friendly nation, when Mr. Rahul Gandhi contended that French President Emmanuel Macron had told him that no agreement signed by the two countries stopped India from disclosing the aircraft’s pricing, ending his speech with a hug to the PM and a curious wink.
The French Government was quick to rebut this claim and put out a statement that said there was a 2008 agreement on classified information “that could impact security and operational capabilities” of the defence equipment of India or France. “These provisions naturally apply to the IGA (inter-governmental agreement) concluded on 23 September 2016 on the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft and their weapons,” the French foreign ministry spokesperson added in a statement.
Soon Dassault also came out with a statement providing details on offset partners. Highlighting that Reliance was only ‘one of the 70’ of other Indian Companies who were their offset partners and many others with whom negotiations were on.
Within a matter of few hours the triumphant whistleblower Mr. Rahul Gandhi had become an international embarrassment for the nation and BJP had silently and surgically proved to the nation that only lies formed the basis of each and every claim of the Congress and the utter incompetence of Mr. Gandhi was, once again on display, in its full glory.
Defence deals, by the virtue of their characteristics, are secretive, to an extent which is necessary. But the way BJP has been selectively putting out the details of the deal (which, ideally should have been in the public domain by default for example Reliance’s stake in the offset contract) points towards a clear pattern- let Congress cast false aspersions and then demolish the same with facts and details nullifying that claim or the exposé completely, delivering blow after blow to Congress’ credibility and with each counter the nation only asked one question – Has national security become a plaything for the Indian National Congress?
More recently after Mediapart’s report on Rafale, Dassault again released a statement clarifying the context in which it was made, rubbishing claims that it was ‘compelled’ to choose Reliance as an offset partner, with its CEO revealing that Reliance was only awarded 10% of the offset deal.
BJP has won this perception battle by not reacting hurriedly or impulsively on Congress’ provocations and not putting out any sensitive information in public domain, in doing so it has successfully proved its commitment to National security. While the Congress was seen to be willingly playing into the hands of Pakistani agencies, keen on exploiting political fault lines of Indian democracy to discern sensitive information related to this crucial defence deal. BJP, on the other hand, came across as actively trying to protect and maintain India’s credibility in the comity of nations as a trustworthy defence partner even at the cost of domestic backlash.
BJP kept engaging with Congress via press conferences not only to counter its false claims but also to draw a parallel between how the UPA government and the present BJP government dealt with issues of national security and their ability to provide support to and fulfil the needs of the country’s defence forces. Through its own admission the Congress led UPA had scrapped the crucial deal in 2012, much to the dismay of Indian Air Force, as it was unable to negotiate a deal it could pay for. On the other hand, there was PM Modi, calling the shots to do whatever was necessary in order to bolsters Indian defence forces, then be it getting the IAF its much needed 2 squadrons (36 aircrafts) to supply its dwindling number of fighter jets or signing the deal with the Russians to purchase S-400 in defiance of the American threat of sanctions.
So weak was Congress’ narrative that it could not even get its own allies to question PM Modi’s credibility once, let alone the people who gave him a thumping mandate. BJP quite masterfully converted the Trojan horse of Congress into a self goal. While the Congress could have been out raising serious issues that affected common man in day to day life it was out crying wolf, on a matter the details of which eluded common people, without any trace of paper or money trail. It ended up doing the exact opposite of what it had set out to do. Each time Congress approached CAG or the SC, the BJP wilfully agreed to provide details and data asked for thus helping it to establish that everything in the Rafael deal was done in a transparent manner and per due process, while the Congress ended up looking like it was deceitfully misleading the nation. Congress’ failure to provide any hard evidence for its claims further solidified Modi’s image of an uncompromising, incorruptible and fearless leader, while Mr. Rahul Gandhi was left looking like a sore loser shouting ‘Chor! Chor!’ to paid audiences at his rallies and even these paid audiences were caught chanting Modi! Modi! such is the extent of Congress’ miserable failure to counter PM Modi’s BJP.
In light of this shameless and criminal attempt of Congress we, as a nation, need to introspect that how long can we go on tolerating the act of jeopardising national security for sake of political gains, being fully aware of its cascading consequences? As a maturing democracy do we deserve to be gratified by sheer number of our political parties and leaders, no matter how much they infantilize our political discourse? It is time to seriously think that whether democratic discourse which is opportunistic, antagonistic, market-oriented, one-click adventurist is justified for a nation which is fighting for its survival as well as due space in the times of tectonic geo-political shifts and disparaging rat race to establish superiority among nations and organisations which claims to be supra-national in both appeal and reach.