The Big Story: Half apology
During the acrimonious Gujarat election campaign early this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the popular phrase “all is fair in love and war” to its absolute extreme. To win the war of elections in his home State, the prime minister changed course from his “development agenda” to a highly divisive electioneering in the final few days.
The worst of his attempts was to try and give political colour to a dinner that took place in former Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house. The dinner in honour of visiting former Pakistan external affairs minister who happens to be an old friend of Aiyar, and was in Delhi to promote his book. The dinner was also attended by Pakistan’s envoy to India and several high-profile politicians and former diplomats from India who have dealt with Pakistan, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Vice President Hamid Ansari and former Army Chief Deepak Kapoor.
But during his election rally, the prime minister made it seem as if these leaders had congregated at Aiyar’s house to devise a grand conspiracy. “The meeting had run for three hours and the next day he called me ‘Neech’,” Modi remarked, referring to a comment made by Aiyar. The campaign also saw the BJP alleging interference from Pakistan in the poll process and attempts to make Congress leader Ahmed Patel the chief minister of the state.
In essence, Modi was accusing a former prime minister, a former vice president and a former army chief of treason. Though Manmohan Singh immediately clarified on the meeting and said Gujarat was not even mentioned, neither Modi nor BJP chose to apologise. The party remained adamant and sought to milk whatever benefit was possible from the allegations.
However, the impasse in Parliament over the last few days, with the Congress demanding an apology and stalling the House, forced the BJP to backtrack. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday said the prime minister in his speeches did not question, nor had meant to question, the commitment to this nation of either Manmohan Singh or Hamid Ansari. “Any such perception is erroneous, we hold these leaders in high esteem, as well as their commitment to India,” he added.
That the BJP chose to leave the issue burning all through the Gujarat campaign showed it was a purely political strategy to discredit the Congress and divide the electorate on religious lines. The invocation of the bogey of Pakistan during the election campaign was a clear attempt to play to the insecurities of Gujarat’s Hindus. The BJP employed the same strategy in the 2015 Bihar elections, when its president Amit Shah infamously said crackers would be burst in Pakistan if the Congress alliance won.
Making such extraordinary claims and half-truths that involve character assassination is unbecoming of the office of the prime minister. Worse, even on Wednesday, Modi chose to let Jaitley make the reluctant apology instead of doing it himself. A delayed apology might ease tensions, but the prime minister should realise that such ill-conceived statements for the sake of electoral advantage will only erode his authority in the eyes of the people and diminish trust in statements he makes in the future.
The Big Scroll
- By accusing Manmohan Singh of an anti-national act, Modi has redefined the Opposition as the enemy.
- The proposed Bill criminalising instant talaq has no legal basis, and is riddled with contradictions, argues Faizur Rahman in The Hindu.
- For both Pakistan and India, Kulbhushan Jadhav has become a pawn in a high-stakes game, says Nirupama Subramanian in Indian Express.
- While one can doubt the positives of voting with the US, none would have questioned the wisdom of abstention, states Abhijit Iyer-Mitra in the Mint on India’s decision to vote against the move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital.
Himachal paradox in eight charts: Women outvote men – but only four were elected to the Assembly.
“The Congress and BJP mainly determine who gets to be represented in the Assembly. Since 1967, only 201 women have contested state elections in Himachal, with 88 on Congress or BJP tickets. Only 38 got elected (out of 807 MLAs), with 35 on either Congress or BJP tickets. One MLA, Shyama Sharma, was elected three times on a Janata Party ticket, in Nahan, in the 1970s.”