Narendra Modi seems to have recovered much of his lost mojo after the Interim Budget.
The Budget struck the right chords without going overboard. Though some economists and journalists were mildly critical of the math not adding up, the Opposition did not have much to pick on, except to say it was an “election budget”. But then, what can you expect with elections just two months away other than an “election budget”?
However, since then, there has been a perceptible difference in Narendra Modi’s gait and the tenor of his voice.
But the real change has been noticeable in the investigating agencies upping the ante on multiple fronts.
While the two may not be connected, it is tempting to infer a correlation.
Without a doubt, getting back Deepak Talwar and Rajiv Saxena, the two alleged associates of Christian Michel in lobbying for the Agusta Westland helicopter deal, was a major turning point. Then, there was the arrest of the lawyer Gautam Khaitan accused of money laundering, also related to the chopper scam.
In other news, another alleged arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari was reportedly under the scanner on suspicions of holding “benami” properties apparently on behalf of Robert Vadra in the United Kingdom. Prior to that, the Enforcement Directorate had lodged a case for money laundering on another Vadra aide, Manoj Arora. To be safe rather than sorry, Robert Vadra obtained anticipatory bail from the court.
So, the dynasty detractors are legitimately gloating over three members of the extended Gandhi family being “out on bail”.
Prior to this, on the eve of Republic Day, the CBI carried out several raids in Haryana, including at the residence of the former Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Rohtak. Apparently, this was part of the ongoing investigations on allotment of plots in Panchkula.
Meanwhile, there was action in the capital of Uttar Pradesh too. The Enforcement Directorate swooped down on multiple locations in Lucknow, looking for clues on the “Memorial Scam” during Mayawati’s rule. Prior to that, there was similar action in connection with illegal mining during Akhilesh Yadav’s term.
But, if January was the season of raids, then the mother of all showdowns happened on Sunday in Kolkata.
The CBI’s attempt to interrogate the Police Commissioner of the city in relation to the infamous Saradha and Rose Valley Chit Fund case led to the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declaring virtual “war” on the Centre, accusing it of attacking the federal structure of the Constitution.
As one would have expected, sympathy poured in for Mamata Banerjee from Opposition leaders all over the country, pledging support in her battle against a “fascist” government at the Centre. The Mahagathbandhan stalwarts condemned the Narendra Modi government for apparently trying to destroy democratic institutions.
It is early days yet in what is likely to be a protracted battle of nerves, one in which either side is unlikely to blink in a hurry. So, political-watchers would be well advised to line up unending supplies of “jhal muri” as the drama unfolds.
In the midst of all this, tucked in the inside pages of the morning papers was the news of the CBI getting the government’s nod to prosecute P Chidambaram in the INX Media case.
The Opposition will cry foul over a “political witch hunt” and the government will take recourse to the standard disclaimers of investigating agencies acting without any interference from the powers that be. But, of course, that will be a rich narrative to sell in today’s cynical atmosphere.
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah understand the implications of these moves in a “post-truth” world better than others. Therefore, the question will arise on why they are stepping on the gas in this late hour.
The theories can be many — depending on one’s angle of vision. Opposition leaders will surely call it a sign of desperation. The favourite shloka of “Vinash Kal-e Viparit Buddhi” (Faced with disaster, our brains go haywire) will be chanted ad nauseam. Some will drop not-so-subtle hints about dire consequences when the government changes in a few months — we have already heard some spokespersons of the Congress warning CBI officers about the transient nature of political bosses.
There is also a school of thought that the ugly fall-out of the fratricide within the CBI forced the government’s hand. Now that it has cleared the mess and got a non-controversial chief with strong credentials, the agency has to redeem its reputation with some solid work.
Equally, BJP supporters will have a different view. Many of them have been venting frustration at the tardy progress on cases of scams that were a major rallying point for Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign — a wide section of Modi loyalists feels let down by lack of closure. They believe this has emboldened the Opposition, especially the Congress, to train its guns on Modi himself, attacking his “clean” image.
Rahul Gandhi has, in fact, gone on record to say, Modi can be personally prosecuted for corruption on the Rafale deal.
So, there was a demand and an expectation from the BJP’s core constituents for Modi to take strong steps. But has it come a bit too late in the day? Any strategy will come with risks attached. Indeed, these moves might impact the optics with a high chance of backfire. But Modi and Shah are obviously playing for big stakes.
Still, whatever might have been the reasons or provocation, clearly not acting was no longer an option for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Having opened multiple fronts, there is probably no going back now.
It has to be a fight to finish.
The coming weeks, therefore, promise to be a thriller full of suspense and surprises. Not meant for weak hearts. Keep those seat belts fastened.