The Big Story: The Sahara-Birla capers

During the recently concluded winter session of Parliament, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi referred darkly to evidence of “personal corruption” involving Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was apparently “terrified” that it would come to light. Having set the stage for a grand revelation, Gandhi went silent. Days later, he was meeting the prime minister about loan waivers in Uttar Pradesh, in what appeared to be a conciliatory moment between the two rivals. Now, Gandhi has spelled out the charges, not in Parliament or a court of law but at a rally in Mehsana, Gujarat.

They appear to be a repeat of the allegations made by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at the Delhi assembly about a month ago, that Modi received vast sums of money from the Sahara and Aditya Birla Groups. Rahul Gandhi put a figure to it: Rs 40 crore from Sahara and Rs 12 crore from Birla. He added that he was “not allowed” to speak in Parliament. Gandhi’s dramatic denouement does nothing for the credibility of the allegations he makes. Instead of backing the Aam Aadmi Party when it levelled charges against the government, the Congress scion seemed to insist on claiming the centre stage with an apparent revelation, that too at a rally ahead of a major state election. But, political showboating aside, the charges against the prime minister need a cool, hard look.

The Sahara-Birla papers are a tranche of documents that contain evidence gathered after the Income Tax department and the Central Bureau of Investigation raided the offices of the corporate giants. Taken together, they contain entries for a raft of payments made to parties and leaders across the political spectrum, including to one “Gujarat-CM”. According to the Opposition, this refers to Modi, former chief minister of the state. The matter came up before the Supreme Court when lawyer Prashant Bhushan filed an application in a pending case, asking for a probe into the papers. According to Bhushan, the papers were also the subject of an institutional cover-up, involving a range of state institutions and agencies.

Doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the Sahara papers. And the Supreme Court recently ruled that there was insufficient evidence to make a case against the prime minister. Doubts were cast on this ruling, in turn, as Bhushan accused the judge hearing the case of a conflict of interest. It is now up for hearing again on January 11.

The flickering certainties of the Sahar-Birla papers have barely damaged the government so far. But, if proved true, they would have implications far beyond a personal attack on the prime minister. They would damning evidence, not only of collusion between corporations and politicians, but of widespread institutional complicity in covering up such wrongdoing. As a government that claims to be committed to cleansing the system, the Centre must ensure that an investigation is allowed to take place. There is too much at stake.

The Big Scroll: on the day’s big story

Ipsita Chakravarty writes that a government which claims to be committed to tackling corruption must take the Birla and Sahara papers seriously.

Political pickings

  1. Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh blames Naga groups for turmoil in the state and the Centre for not reining them in.
  2. “Jayalalithaa’s death has not created a political vacuum in Tamil Nadu,” says Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavan.
  3. Superseded Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi meets Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, amid speculation that he may resign from the army.


  1. In the Indian Express, Sandeep Dwivedi on how players like Virat Kohli, Karun Nair and Ravindra Jadeja redefine the “Tests versus T20” debate.
  2. In the Hindu, Happymon Jacob on the rising temperatures at the Line of Control and the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir.
  3. In the Economic Times, Rakesh Mohan Chaturvedi on why demonetistion may not have taken the wind out of the Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party’s sails ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections.


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James Q Whitman on why the Nazis studied American race laws for inspiration:

“They debated whether they should bring Jim Crow segregation to the Third Reich. They engaged in detailed discussion of the statutes from the 30 US states that criminalised racially mixed marriages. They reviewed how the various US states determined who counted as a “Negro” or a “Mongol”, and weighed whether they should adopt US techniques in their own approach to determining who counted as a Jew. Throughout the meeting the most ardent supporters of the US model were the most radical Nazis in the room.

The record of that meeting is only one piece of evidence in an unexamined history that is sure to make Americans cringe. Throughout the early 1930s, the years of the making of the Nuremberg Laws, Nazi policymakers looked to US law for inspiration. Hitler himself, in Mein Kampf (1925), described the US as “the one state” that had made progress toward the creation of a healthy racist society, and after the Nazis seized power in 1933 they continued to cite and ponder US models regularly.”