Raga Gets Discordant Over NaMo’s Four Year Long Saga

As the five year term of Modi government draws to a close in 2019 which is preceded by crucial assembly elections in three BJP held states of Chattisgarh, Madhya  Pradesh and Rajasthan, the relative calm that prevailed in the initial years of his regime has been replaced by palpable disquiet with string of contentious issues coming to fore lately, undermining the governments closely guarded clean image and busting the myth that country’s state  of affairs is hunky-dory.

The dalliance over Rafael deal in a bid a to keep the cards close to the chest so that the smoke screen doesn’t dissipate giving a glimpse of the real intent in adopting circuitous ways in finalizing the contract, has dragged the government before an apex court for an inquisition against charges by the opposition party of an alleged scam. Now that Supreme Court is ceased of the matter, having received the pricing information in sealed cover along with requisite details pertaining to procedural norms complied with leading up to signing the agreement and has reserved judgement, the sequence of events that ensued in the acquisition of these fighter jets still remain cryptic, pointing towards crony capitalism.

The fact that Reliance Defence Limited was registered 12 days (March 28, 2015) prior to announcement of New Rafael deal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 10, 2015 gives an inkling about male fide designs in propping this company with no expertise in Defence manufacturing which eventually ends up being one of the chosen offset partners by Dassault. Interestingly, the government proceeded to cancel the original tender for purchase of 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft only on June 24, 2015. Thereafter, a memorandum of understanding on the purchase of Rafael jets was signed on January 26, 2016 when French President François Hollande visited India on the occasion of Republic Day and the deal for 36 Rafael jets for Euro 7.87 billion (approximately Rs 59,000 crores) was finally sealed on 23 September 2016. Subsequently, Anil Ambani’s RDL and Dassault Aviation announced a joint venture (Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd) in February 2017. Under the contract, Dassault was mandated to make compensation investments (offsets) in India worth 50% of the value of purchase. Another intriguing aspect is the amendment to offset guidelines made by Ministry of Defence in August 2015 that allowed the foreign vendor to give details of its offset partner at a date later than contract signing date, and this was being used a veil by Defence  Minister to feign ignorance about offset partners in the Rafael deal. But this excuse fell through as  “the Air Force headquarters confirmed in response to an RTI by Caravan that the inter-governmental deal and the offset contract between Dassault and the government of India were both signed on the same day — 23 September 2016” as per Caravan magazine’s cover story on the Rafael deal (September 2018).

The most recent transactional disclosure that Dassault Aviation had invested roughly 40 million Euros in Reliance Airport Developers Ltd resulting in Rs 284 Crore profit to the firm casts a shadow of serious financial impropriety and implicates Modi Government further in this murky deal. Another trivia being, this company is not the same one that Dassault had formed a joint venture with. Going back in time to gain a better perspective, Maharashtra Government in an Auction had leased 603 hectares of land for 70 years valued at Rs 63 crore to Reliance Airport Developers Ltd being highest bidders for development of five local Airports in 2009. For lack of progress in this project during next six years, the BJP led Government in Maharashtra in 2015 decided to take the assets back. Astonishingly, upon receipt of application for land allotment in July 2015, the same agency (Maharashtra Airport Development Council) allotted another parcel of land (289 acres allotted by Government, but the company took only 104 acres) at Special Economic Zone in Mihan, Nagpur in August 2015 to another group company of Anil Ambani named Reliance Aerostructre Ltd which is a partner with Dassault in the Joint Venture. Reliance Airport Developers Ltd had reported losses for financial year 2016 and 2017 and despite being in red, its parent company Reliance Infrastructure then sold its shares at a huge premium to Dassault. The rationale behind picking up 34.7% equity participation in a non-operational company defies all logic. The timeline in Rafael deal and inexplicable reason for Dassault to team up with Reliance Defence is reminiscent of a ploy that team Modi has bungled to make incontrovertible.

The subterfuge deployed by the current dispensation does not stay put with Rafael deal and has pervaded the revered democratic institutions, hampering the credibility of pillars of democracy. This was witnessed in an unprecedented move by four senior judges of the Supreme Court who in an uprising against Chief Justice Dipak Misra held a press conference to express their anguish about the problems afflicting the country’ highest court. Allocation of cases having sweeping consequences by the CJI, being a master of roster, to selective benches of preference led to mistrust between the CJI and other four senior-most judges. They pointed to the assignment of CBI judge Loya’s mysterious death case (who was hearing the sensitive Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case) to a three-judge bench led by CJI Dipak Misra himself. The chief justice was alleged to be clearly working under the government’s pressure.

On the other hand, the premier investigating agency (CBI) is under a cloud for the long-running feud between the Central Bureau of Investigation top boss Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana, the special director. Alok Verma has accused Rakesh Asthana of accepting bribes and Asthana on his part had accused Verma of political favouritism and impeding the functioning of officers who are investigating corruption. The Central Bureau of Investigation had raided its own office in Delhi and the Centre stepped in to put the two warring officers on leave and appointed M Nageshwar Rao the interim director. This episode has raised serious questions about the integrity of CBI and could have damning diplomatic ramifications at a time when India is pressing for extradition of Vijay Mallaya, Norav Modi and Mehul Choksi.

Another disconcerting aspect of this regime that has kept the minorities on tenterhooks is an attempt to create a cultural divide by trying to promulgate the idea of Hindu Rashtra. Ever since the BJP took over power in 2014, there were a series of desecration of churches and attacks on Christian missionaries on the pretext of forced religious conversions to the effect that anti-conversion laws in the BJP ruled states have been enforced to target Christians which is against the very tenets of Indian constitution. Not to forget the very horrendous phenomena of lynching of Muslims by Hindutva forces, be it Mohammad Akhlaq-lynched for possessing cooked meat, Pehlu Khan or Rakbar Khan killed in Rajasthan, that passes under the guise of cow vigilantism, has led to a very toxic social environment in the country. Evidently, it is difficult to envisage such incidents without the support and protection from local politicians and the state.

As I write this piece, the Congress party has sprung a surprise with a mini resurgence of sorts by forming a Government in three states of Hindi Heartland. Will this victory translate into increasing a sizeable number of Lok Sabha seats for the party is the big question, as political analysts credit anti-incumbency, farmers distress and economic hardships faced by masses owing to demonetization and ill timed implementation of GST, for Congress’ triumph. Despite the jolt in assembly elections, the BJP is feeling buoyant about its prospects in 2019 as it is going to be direct face off between Modi and Rahul Gandhi much like in a presidential democracy where Modi’s popularity though on a marginal decline is still significantly high to catapult him to another five year term as Prime Minister.

The recent pronouncement by Supreme Court on the most harangued Rafael issue that opposition piled on Modi, stating there is no further investigation required in the matter and citing jurisdictional limitations over pricing of Rafael deal, has given a fresh lease of life to BJP. Extradition of Christian Michel in an attempt to implicate congress in Augusta Westland kickbacks and impending success in bringing back Mehul Choki and Vijay Mallya would give Modi enough arsenal to further mount a vociferous attack on Rahul Gandhi.

But it would be a fallacy to assume that Supreme Court judgement on Rafael with factual inaccuracies and no pertinent answers to the petitioner’s questions on procedural lapses (done post facto), pricing issue, selection of offset partners will deter the opposition from demanding a joint parliamentary committee probe to dig up the truth. BJP must take a cue from their recent reversals in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh that criticism of Rahul Gandhi, lack of transparency (in Rafael deal) and polarizing the electorate does not always cover up mediocre track record of governance and yield political dividends.

Arnab Goswami’s Partisan outlook, a Paradox on Republic TV

A lot has been written/spoken about Mr Arnab Goswami, the face of Republic TV and his style of journalism that hinges on garnering TRP’s through his prime time debates, where the catch phrase “Nation wants to know” also emanated from.

I happened to watch the debate on Republic TV, the other day when India test fired the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile and the key conspirator of 26/11 Hafiz Saeed was also let off by the Pakistani court from the so called House arrest for lack of evidence in proving charges. That aptly called for lunging into Pakistan bashing by the supreme nationalist Arnab, accompanied by an able supporting cast comprising of an army veteran, an ex-Raw official and a strategic/defense analyst in his flank, up in arms against a few known faces from across the border, who as usual cannot give up the denial charade. In his inimitable style, he kept repeating “what a beautiful sight it is” referring to the file shots of the missile launch with the intention of rubbing it in and insinuating that its time India fires one at the neighbour for not mending their ways. Indeed, this indigenously built missile is a matter of pride for all Indians, but why does one have to impose our achievements on others and mock them at their shortcomings. Arnab has smoke billowing out of his ears while speaking of Pakistan’s misdemeanors and goes ballistic to list the entire inventory of weapons available at India’s disposal including newly acquired Rafael jets, indigenous missiles, Submarines and so on that could decimate Pakistan. In the process he sounds so desperate and questions as to how a tiny nation can provoke India, without realizing that answer to his rhetoric does not rest with Pakistan, rather it is India that needs to show intent and be seen as potent force. Why doesn’t he question the government of the day as to what is hindering them to launch an assault? The verbal diarrhea just brings about a wry smile on the face of Pakistani panelists, who instead, accuse him of being a war mongerer.

Arnab’s show-time has a scripted pattern and it kick starts with a long monologue censuring the neighbouring country by ascribing labels like “failed state”, “a harbinger of terrorism” and a country begging for alms from USA in exchange of false promises to fight terror n the AF-PAK region.

Soon after his heroic speech, the supporting cast is introduced and then questions that are as elaborate as comprehension passages are put to the panelist and he farcically seeks a response to them, reiterating, “he wants an answer” several times, without even giving a chance to the panelist to make an opening statement. Within a few seconds into the reply, the anchor starts butting in while the panelist is still continuing with his response, nodding head in disagreement to make an objection or if a crisp answer is forthcoming, he either pits that panelist against an Indian expert or steers the debate into a different direction.

The interjections could still be accepted as long they are valid and not a deliberate effort to derail the speakers train of thought. Then, a pandemonium is unleashed when the entire panel starts voicing their opinion in tandem and the debate is reduced to a cacophonous outburst. The master strategist that Arnab is, then in order to restore some semblance of sanity yells at everyone to keep their mouths shut and listen to his solo rant. By that time, the fervour among the panel to put their points across reaches a crescendo and failing to restrain them, the anchor completely muzzles their voice by bring down the fader. In a flash, he then winds up the debate by passing on a verdict which he had premeditated.

The most disconcerting aspect of his debates featuring Pakistani guests is the use of derogatory language to ridicule them that could drive any self respecting person to develop a revulsion against the anchor and perhaps also fuel further acrimony among the citizenry of two nations. I don’t deny that the facts put out by Arnab vis-a-vis Pakistan’s transgressions and their indulgence in exporting terror as a state policy, is nothing but the truth. But, by taking cudgels with insignificant Pakistani representatives on the panel and assuming to have blown the war bugle or rather having won the battle of supremacy in your channels news room, is a fallacy.

To quote from a very interesting post written by Raghu Raman on May 24, 2017, Quartz India (fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a columnist, author, former CEO of NATGRID, speaker, ex-soldier & UN Peacekeeper), “War waging is not about bombastic threats, surgical strikes, cross-border firing or clamorous bellowing on TV channels. That is called letting off steam. There is an old couplet by Ramdhari Dinkar which suggests that forgiveness befits a snake which has venom in its bite—not one which is weak, toothless, and harmless. To be taken seriously, India needs to build that strength first rather than spewing ineffectual rhetoric.” Arnab, you ought to read this post titled “For all the chest-thumping, India cannot win a war against Pakistan” before locking horns with the neighbours on Newshour debates for mere theatrics.

Remember, the moment when you addressed the coterie of trusted journalists while exiting Times Now where you famously said “The game has just the begun” and your statement “The hegemony of the western media has to end as it has ruined the balance of power that is required not just in politics, society but in media as well” in context of following cross border news, while participating in a debate with journalists from the West prior to the launch of Republic TV. You further went on to say that “Americans being most insular have complete dominance over the Global narrative in terms of news and your premonition that “India shall be the next media capital of the world to challenge that hegemony”.

Your insightful thoughts on foreign media, lofty promises of “providing a serious counter to BBC and CNN by creating a global media environment that is not located in Washington, New York or London”, certainly gave hope to your ardent followers that you would work towards redressing these issues after launching your channel “Republic TV” and set it apart from other Indian channels by catering to more of international coverage. But, what a let-down you have been. Rather than taking a global leap, the channel from the very inception got cocooned in digging up scams of hackneyed politician like Lalu, investigating the mysterious death of Shashi Tharoor’s wife which led to getting rebuked by the High court, land deals of Robert Vadra for being the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi and so on. The common thread here being, the only people you train your eyes on are all from opposition camps whilst turning a blind eye to the functioning of ruling regime, which is totally against the essence of conscientious media.

There is a blatant tilt towards the current dispensation at the centre in the tone, tenor and stance you take on your debates. A lot has transpired in the run up to the Gujrat assembly election 2017 that your media house could have dissected and brought to the fore. Issues like polarization of masses on the grounds of cultural identity, irresponsible allegations of Pakistan’s meddling in the elections, casting aspersions on the integrity of ex-prime minister, and other distinguished individuals including the Vice-President along with other high ranking Ex-Defence personnel, despicable language used and barbs made by Mr Modi during election rallies, to name a few could have been red-flagged and critiqued. But, you chose to only pick on Rahul Gandhi and the dwindling political fortune of Congress party.

Why do the temple visits by an opposition leader make the headlines on your channel rather than the crude personal attacks on opponents by none other than our premier or for that matter complete silence on the developmental agenda during the Gujarat campaign trail? Forget the media, even the election commission seems to have a soft corner for Mr Modi as far as flouting of election norms are concerned (remember the road show after the PM cast his vote).

Arnab, it was encouraging to hear you speak about the need to strike a balance of power by challenging the hegemony of the western media. But before embarking on that arduous journey, it would augur well to restore sense of neutrality on issues and adopt a centrist approach on your channel, to woo back your disenchanted followers. That would not only lend more credibility to Republic TV but also take the TRP’s through the roof.