Pardon Me, Sir, But Your Halo Is Slipping

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Halos are tricky little buggers, especially if they are self acquired and not ordained by a higher force. For one, they don’t go well with 56 inch chests; two, they are like Chinese Diwali lights and don’t last very long; third, if not assiduously cared for they are likely to slip down that stiff neck and become a dog collar. Mr. Modi had assumed his high office sporting a number of halos- nationalism, decisiveness, strong leadership, incorruptibility, messiah of development. All of them have blacked out now, like the tens of millions of households his Power Minister claims to have provided electricity to. But one particular halo promises to turn into a crown of thorns in the days leading upto to the 2019 elections – the one which also has an audio sound track saying: “Na khaoonga, na khane doonga”.

It was always going to be difficult for someone who has traditionally been buddies with big capital, right since his Chief Minister days. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with wooing the money bags, provided it is done to better the lot of the less fortunate. This proviso was not, however, visible in Gujarat where the human development indices certainly did not justify Mr. Modi’s crony capitalism. His stint in Delhi has been more of the same. But the halo of incorruptibility, as assiduously crafted as the hubris inspired suit with his biodata on it, has been totally shattered over these last few months like the mirror of the Lady of Shallot. And without its benign glare he now stands exposed. It’s no longer about brushing under the carpet Mrs. Swaraj’s recommendation about travel documents for Lalit Modi, or Mrs. Vasundra Raje’s indiscretions, or going slow on the Panama papers, or clamming up on the Rafael deal. The raven is now perched on his own window sill.

The dimming of the halo began with the Jay Shah case, a whodunnit mystery Agatha Christie would no doubt have titled: “And then there were crores”! In the coming years the world may have to cast its net wide to find the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, but we need look no further for the reincarnation of King Midas – he’s right there in Mr. Amit Shah’s happy household! Defended in court by none other than the Attorney General, blurring the lines between government, party and the (second) family. Should there have been an inquiry at least ? We will never know – for the PM is an honourable man.

The second reported case involves – who else? – Mr. Adani. It was reported by the WIRE that three of his firms which had a contract for supplying equipments for the Maharashtra Eastern Grid Power Corporation imported machinery costing Rs.3580 crores but over invoiced it for Rs. 9048 crores. The difference of Rs. 5468 crores was allegedly siphoned off to a UAE firm. The DRI (Directorate of Revenue Intelligence) issued notice of penalty to the companies and also lodged a case with CBI. The CBI has refused to register a PE because they say the matter pertains to a state govt. contract and it has no jurisdiction! It conveniently ignores the fact that the Adani firms obtained the money from 6 nationalised banks, which are all PSUs. How then is this a state matter? There has been no reaction from the central govt. or the PM – for he is, after all, an honourable man.

Enter Mr. Piush Goel, an otherwise pleasant enough Union Minister, from the extreme right of the stage, in the company of another Prime Ministerial favourite – Mr. Piramal. It turns out that in 2014 when he was the Union Power Minister, Mr. Piush Goel sold his firm, Flashnet Info Solutions India Pvt. Ltd. to Mr. Piramal @ Rs. 9586 per share. The face value of each share, as reported in the press, was Rs. 10. The astute Mr. Piramal thus bought the shares at almost 1000 times their face value. You would obviously conclude from this that Mr. Goel’s firm must have been doing phenomenally well, perhaps in the same league as Apple or Amazon. Well….. not quite, because in March next the valuation of the firm was declared to be just one fourth of this valuation! Mr. Piramal has not responded to any query by the WIRE, which broke this story, but has predictably threatened to sue the news portal – more work for the Attorney General? You would think such an alleged windfall profit by a Union Minister should warrant an inquiry at least? You would be right, but the PM does not think so – he is, after all, an honourable man.

And here’s the latest smudge on the halo – Mr. Janardhan Reddy of Bellary, a mining-cum-robber baron who was indicted by the Lokayukta of Karnataka, Justice Santosh Hegde, for illegal export of iron ore worth Rs. 32000 crore. The case was handed over to the CBI which now says it does not have enough evidence against him to prosecute him – even though Justice Hegde has already done all the hard work and compiled massive documentary evidence on the case! Was it a coincidence that the CBI gave him the green chit just before the Karnataka elections? In which Mr. Reddy’s family has been given 8 tickets by the BJP, which has completely out-sourced these constituencies to Mr. Reddy? The BJP’s CM designate has openly declared that the Reddys have been chosen on their “winnability” quotient. Mr. Modi of course has maintained a stony, iron ore like silence – for is he not an honourable man ?

The complete hypocrisy of the gentleman is self-evident, as are his double standards and the yawning gulf between his words and his deeds. Cronyism is alive and kicking; it didn’t disappear with the Congress but has just become more selective, its beneficiaries limited to an elite circle of the faithful, protected by a wall of silence. The cases mentioned above may well be the tip of the iceberg, for it takes time for the skeletons to come clattering out of the cupboard. But Mr. Modi’s halos are short circuiting one by one and he must soon decide whether he wants to wear a crown or a halo – he cannot don both at the same time.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.....he has made them his home. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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