Union ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders on Sunday responded to industrialist and Bajaj Group Chairperson Rahul Bajaj’s concerns about the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre. While Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said it was better for a person to seek an answer than spreading their own impressions, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri alleged there were fake narratives.

On Saturday, Bajaj directed questions to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Home Minister Amit Shah and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal at The Economic Times’ ET Awards 2019 event in Mumbai. “During UPA-II [second term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance], we could abuse anyone,” Bajaj said. “You are doing good work, but if we want to openly criticise you, [but] there is no confidence you will appreciate that. I may be wrong but everyone feels that.” Bajaj noted that no one else from the business community would raise this matter.

“Questions/criticisms are heard and answered/addressed,” Sitharaman said in a tweet on Sunday evening. “Always a better way to seek an answer than spreading one’s own impressions which, on gaining traction, can hurt national interest.”

Hardeep Singh Puri accepted that some societies in the world were governed by fear. “But a society where citizens can weave fake narratives [and] hurl invectives at the [government] cannot be classified as one governed by fear, it is a society characterized by fair dose of indiscipline,” Puri wrote in a tweet.

“That Mr Rahul Bajaj could stand up to Sh Amit Shah ji’s face, express himself freely [and] instigate others to join him clearly indicate that freedom of expression [and] democratic values are alive [and] flourishing in India,” he added. “This is exactly what democracy is all about.”

Minister of Railways and Commerce Piyush Goyal referred to Shah’s response to Bajaj’s remarks, adding that there was no need for fear.

BJP’s IT cell in charge Amit Malviya, however, was more openly critical of Bajaj. He began tweeting on Saturday itself, and shared old videos that purportedly show the industrialist praising Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

“The atmosphere of fear is so pervasive these days that media talking heads criticise the [government] day in and out, write opeds calling obnoxious names and wishing death for those in power and even now are hopping mad with joy that an industrialist asked a question,” Malviya said on Saturday. “Where is the fear?” He added that Shah had given a detailed response to Bajaj and asked: “Where is the fear if one can speak his mind?”

Bajaj’s allegations

Bajaj also highlighted the alleged remarks of BJP MP from Bhopal Pragya Singh Thakur in the Lok Sabha on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse, and said that she had been included in a defence panel despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that he would not be able to forgive her. He added that instances of mob lynchings in the country had created an intolerant environment. “We don’t want to say certain things but we see that until now no one has been convicted,” he said.

Shah said that there was no need for anyone to be afraid, and said that if such a situation existed then the administration would work towards improving it, The Print reported. The home minister added that the government was being run in a transparent manner and that it was not worried about opposition.

The minister said that senior BJP leaders had condemned Thakur’s statements and that neither the government nor the saffron party supported what the MP had said. Addressing the matter of lynchings, Shah said that they occurred in the past as well but had reduced now. He claimed that the media did not report on lynching cases where the punishment has been doled out to the accused.