Before promising a great future or speculating on the past, the BJP Government must ensure it doesn’t lose its handle on the present

by Ajoy Kumar

The Bharatiya Janata Party has been on a mission to weave stories that they believe will help distract from the fact that this Government is struggling. It’s the classic look-there move that seems to be the most popular song on the BJP’s soundtrack. Every week we are either promised a great future that is too far to see or taught lessons about the past through the skewed lens of the BJP. In all of this looking to the future and speculating about the past, one hopes the Government has an eye on the present before losing a complete handle on it. I will attempt to examine pressing issues of the present as well as some of these tales of distraction.

Rafale Deal

The country has questions about the Rafale deal. To provide some background, the Prime Minister announced the Rafale deal in April 2015,when we were informed that the country will buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault (the French manufacturer of the fighter jets). We know this one fact about the deal but not much else — for example, how much India is required to pay for the jets and whether due procedure has been followed while agreeing to this commitment.The Opposition demanding answers to such questions appears to be a completely reasonable request.

It must be remembered that the Rafalejets wereactually picked in 2012 as part of the process of upgrading India’s fleet of aircrafts. As part of this 2012 deal, India was to purchase a total of 126 Rafalejets where Dassault would manufacture 18 jets and the remaining would be assembled in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. This deal was a decade in the making but was shelved by the BJP when it came to power on the grounds that the deal was extremely expensive. Instead, the BJP Government has decided to commit to this new deal. In relation to this commitment, the BJPGovernment has faced multipleinquiries that have been raised by not only the Congress but also the media and the public.

We have not been provided any answers, including in Parliament, and the reasons for this silence by a usually loud Government are not particularly clear. We have been informed that the price is protected by the “secrecy agreement” that is in place and we have also heard that the price is to be “protected” for reasons of “national security”. Therefore, once again, theGovernment has given us confusing and obscure answers to questions that on the face of it seems fairly straightforward. It is not clear why or how giving the lump sum value for each aircraft could jeopardize India’s national security however it is clear that this deal has raised some significant questions which the Government must answer. Since the original deal was scrapped due to it being too expensive, we should at least know the cost of the deal negotiated by the current regime so as to be satisfied that the best deal was negotiated for the benefit of the country. For example, in November of 2017, Qatar had purchased 12 Rafale fighter jets in $108.33 million per aircraft (Rs 694.80 crore). By knowing the total cost of the jets, we can have a fair idea of how the current deal compares with others. However, by adopting its typical non-transparent approach, the BJP has essentially prevented any such healthy debate and therefore discouraged transparency.

Instead, the Government does what it tends to do when on the back foot and pointed fingers at the Congress Party by stating that the Congress did not disclose such details in the past either and accused the Congress of threatening the security of India. Therefore, it appears that raising any questions against the Government apparently amounts to being an anti-national.The Congress party countered these claims by pointing to the deals in the past which were disclosed to Parliament. Therefore, where we stand currently is that these questions remain unaddressed and the public remains in the dark.

This is just another example of how the Government has kept the country in the dark and lends weight to the argument that the ruling regime is shrouded in secrecy and is inspiring mistrust amongst the people of the country.

Selling Pakodas

In truth, it is difficult to pick just one area where the Government has been less than transparent and kept the citizens in the dark but let us start by talking about black money and demonetization. The Government first promised us an additional Rs 15 lakh in all our accounts by bringing back all the black money from abroad and cleaning up our economy. However, after demonetization, one of the most poorly implemented and reckless policy decisions taken by any Government since Independence, the BJP has not given the public any answers regarding the benefits of demonetization and there is no trace of our promised riches.

The question raised again is fairly simple. Has the process of demonetization helped tackle the problem of black money? This is an important question to ask from both a policy standpoint to judge the effectiveness of such a sweeping move and also from a moral standpoint considering the lives that were lost and the inconvenience that we have suffered due to demonetization. The Government, however, is silent and this in a way speaks volumes. The fact is that demonetization was a total failure. According the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) annual report for 2016-17 out of the total currency that was in circulation as on November 8, 2016, 98.96 per cent was returned to the banking system! Therefore, the claims of the BJP that the “massive” black money problem in India would be rooted out through demonetization proved to be another false narrative that the BJP relentlessly pushed. Another question related to demonetization is the extent to which the policy decision has affected employment. Here too the BJP is silent because it has singularly failed to tackle the problem of jobs and has actually aggravated the problem through its poorly conceived and shoddily implemented policies.

Instead of explaining to the citizens of this country how employment has been created or even how employment is defined under the fanciful imagination of this Government, the BJP is obsessed with diverting attention and name-calling though all that we ask is to provide straight answers to straight questions.

As a modern democracy, it is imperative that the government encourages debate and discussion on important public issues. By attacking those individuals who raise legitimate questions as anti-nationals and by intentionally misleading the public or making an attempt to divert our attention from issues that are inextricably linked to India’s interest, this Government treats truth as an inconvenience rather than as a benchmark for progress. I therefore request the BJP and the Government to kindly stop playing their own deluded tune and to face the music, as unpleasant as it may sound.

The writer, Jharkhand PCC president, is a former MP, former IPS officer and Congress spokesperson. Views expressed are personal and entirely of the writer