Prime Minister Narendra Modi has serious chutzpah. His party’s #MainBhiChowkidar campaign comes at a time when the Supreme Court is examining whether new facts can be looked at in the Rafale deal case, overriding national security considerations. This apart, many serious cases of alleged corruption – the Rajan list of big loan defaulters, the 2G appeal and the Nirav Modi probe – are yet to catch the chowkidar’s fancy.
Modi’s spin masters are trying to buttress his image with a campaign that refers to him as a ‘watchman’. The reality of Modi’s anti-corruption credentials, however, can be gauged from his office and government’s obdurate refusal to act on big-ticket billionaires’ alleged criminal corruption.
Ignore the Modi hype, for a minute, and consider these facts.
Former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan sent the a list of the most high-profile alleged bank loan fraudsters to Modi’s office as early as eight months into the prime minister’s tenure. Rajan had sought a multi-agency, investigation into these cases, and wanted action to be taken so that it could act as a deterrent to others.
You would reckon that a chowkidar would have swooped in to order a probe and hold the corrupt accountable.
And you would be wrong. An RTI application filed by activist Saurav Das on whether the Prime Minister’s Office sent the list to the Central Board of Direct Taxes and ordered an investigation got the response said that the PMO had not ordered any action or shared the list.
The PMO has also refused to reveal the Rajan list and action taken against the alleged fraudsters to parliament, despite six written reminders from the parliamentary estimates committee chaired by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
Worse, after Rajan replied to the committee revealing the list as Joshi is finalising his report, BJP MPs in the committee have refused to attend recent meetings. This has ensure that the committee does not have the required quorum to adopt the report.
Senior Central Bureau of Information and Enforcement Directorate sources confirmed to this reporter that the PMO had not shared the Rajan list or asked for any action – so much for a “coordinated investigation”. Whatever spin or gloss Modi’s team may put on this, the truth is that the government is not taking action on billionaire fraud despite the former RBI’s governor’s explicit recommendations.
Modi rode to power on the high-profile 2G spectrum scam. But because of his government’s inexplicable tardiness and the shoddy, ham-handed probe, the case collapsed in court. Special Judge O.P. Saini acquitted all 17 accused, including former telecom minister A. Raja.
Left red-faced, the government’s spin doctors blamed the judge and the public prosecutor. Yet, after the CBI filing what can only be described as a pro-forma appeal in the high court, the case has yet to see one substantial hearing in the last year, with the government allowing adjournment after adjournment without protest.
A senior minister told this writer, “Once we managed the headlines, Modiji lost interest. After all, as some people in the Bofors case were dear to the Gandhi family, in 2G a particular individual is very dear to the prime minister. Show kiya, khatam ho gaya (We put up a show, now it’s over).”
In another case that echoed of the Rajan list, the Modi government sat on a request from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the UK to arrest Nirav Modi. When the jeweller fled India and took refuge in the UK, the British government offered to help arrest him as he had committed a “criminal fraud”. The SFO confirmed to the Indian authorities that Nirav Modi was in London in March last year, and offered to fly a team to India to put together the documents needed to arrest Modi.
The Indian government, inexplicably, simply sat on the request. Sources revealed to this reporter that the request was discussed in the PMO and then flagged to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Yet the Modi government took no action.
The Modi’s government’s concern over former CBI director Alok Verma ordering an investigation into the controversial Rafale deal led to his post-midnight sacking. Now, the Centre has wrecked the autonomy of the CBI and ED by allowing controversial officials to indulge in vendetta and extortion.
All of this makes on thing clear – while headline management by an army of obliging panna pramukhs is all very well, the reality is that Modi is complicit in not taking action against corruption.
Swati Chaturvedi is a Delhi-based journalist.