We are only a blog away from Jaitley claiming that the stated goal of demonetisation was to curb global warming.
A friend sent me a video on WhatsApp recently, and urged me to watch it. Given the volume of fake news and propaganda from the Right-wing, I was wary. It turned out to be a recent video of journalist Rajdeep Sardesai interviewing finance minister Arun Jaitley at a major event in front of a large audience.
At one point, Rajdeep accuses Jaitley of weakening the Reserve Bank of India by appointing political activists to the Central Board. To which Jaitley responds, “The Congress appointed a sitting member of the Rajya Sabha and in-charge of one of its cells to the Central Board.” I was startled by this blatant lie.
Jaitley was obviously referring to me. The UPA government had appointed me to the Central Board of the RBI when I was the chairperson of the Centre for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. I served till the day I was declared elected to the Rajya Sabha. At that moment, weeks before I was formally sworn in, RBI officials informed me that as per the RBI Act, I could not be a Member of Parliament and a board member at the same time, and so my involvement with the RBI ended immediately.
My term in the Rajya Sabha started exactly a month after Narendra Modi was sworn in as the Prime Minister. Jaitley was already the finance minister. Given that he has played a key role in filling Board vacancies over the years, he would have known that I had not served as a Board member when I was in the Rajya Sabha. But he chose to lie publicly on this issue as a way of deflecting criticism for appointing people with dubious economic views, such as S. Gurumurthy, to the Board. Commentators have criticised such appointments as being aimed at weakening the independence of the RBI as well as bullying the Governor and his team into parting with the RBI’s reserves to fund the Narendra Modi government’s fiscal profligacy.
The way present and past was conflated in his remarks makes me wonder whether Jaitley is the author of the government’s submission, in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court, on the Rafale deal. This note purportedly stated that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India had examined the procurement procedures and pricing details of Modi’s maverick Rafale shopping expedition to Paris, that this report had been approved by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament, and a redacted (select summary) version of this had been placed before Parliament.
It is on the basis of this statement that the Supreme Court has concluded that no violations had taken place in the procurement procedures and that the best price had been negotiated. Given that PM Modi took a unilateral decision to purchase 36 Rafale jets allegedly without approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security and in violation of defence procurement procedures, the CAG, which is the competent body to examine this aspect, would have pointed out the blatant violations.
It is alleged that PM Modi paid three times the price negotiated by the UPA for each jet; sacrificed offset contracts intended for HAL, which got diverted to Anil Ambani’s newly formed defence production company; dropped the technology transfer conditionality, crippling a potential defence Make in India initiative; dispensed with France’s sovereign guarantee; among other violations. Given this sordid evidence, the CAG will be duty bound to come down heavily on PM Modi for wasting India’s money and compromising our national security interests.
But it turns out that the Supreme Court may have been taken in for a ride by the Modi Sarkar.
There is no CAG report on the Rafale scam. No such report was ever approved by the PAC, of which I am a member. No such report has been placed before Parliament.
When the government was caught and exposed on this crucial issue, it submitted a clarification to the Supreme Court, which is yet to examine it. It essentially says that there was a grammatical error. It was only pointing out the procedure that would be followed after the CAG produces its report on the Rafale scam. What was projected as past tense is actually future tense. What was projected as fait accompli will reveal the Modi government caught in flagrante delicto. This aspect of the case awaits the CAG’s report and nothing discussed in the Lok Sabha during the recent Rafale debate clarifies this issue. We await the Supreme Court’s response.
Given how Jaitley mixed up present tense with past tense in my case, I would not be surprised if the accomplished lawyer authored the strategy of fooling the Supreme Court, without any concern for what damage that does to the institution just as he cares two hoots about how Modi Sarkar has damaged the institution of the RBI. This strategy reminds me of Yudhisthira telling Drona that Ashwatthama (the elephant) is dead, except that the eldest Pandava was fighting for Dharma while Jaitley is trying to cover up a scam.
As soon as one starts examining Jaitley’s statements forensically, we are faced with a deluge of deceit. Social media is abuzz with a video that purportedly shows how practically every statement of his during the Lok Sabha discussion on Rafale twists facts, hides or evades.
Recently, Jaitley finally made the sensible statement that the government would push for one GST rate of somewhere between 12 and 18 per cent. However, when Congress president Rahul Gandhi had pushed for the same thing, the Modi government twisted it into saying that Rahul Gandhi wanted milk and Mercedes to be taxed at the same rate, knowing fully well that he neither said that nor intended that there be no luxury penalty or necessity subsidy.
We have been urging for such a rate not only to simplify GST and lessen its burden on the economy but, as I said in my speech on GST in the Rajya Sabha, because it has been recommended as the Revenue Neutral Rate by the Arvind Subramanian Committee. If only Jaitley had listened to our constructive suggestions instead of attempting to twist our statements, the country would have been spared much economic damage. Maybe that is too much to expect from the Modi-Jaitley team that unleashed demonetisation and choked our economy. And it is here we must take note of the constant shifting of goalposts by the minister. We are only a blog away from Jaitley claiming that the stated goal of demonetisation was to curb global warming.
Just like people, including my team, do a constant fact check of PM Modi’s lies and factless fantasies, it would be a good idea to start a similar exercise for our ‘falsehood-favouring’ finance minister. Here’s one more, to start this off:
When Parliament passed a constitutional amendment to swap enclaves with Bangladesh, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj pointed out that the text was exactly the same as that under the UPA. Only Salman Khurshid’s name had been replaced by Sushma Swaraj’s. Then, why did the BJP oppose this tooth and nail, with then-chief minister Modi calling it a betrayal of India? More interestingly, it turns out that Jaitley had argued that the borders of India are part of the basic structure of the Constitution and cannot be changed (even though there are court verdicts that allow swaps).
People believed the learned lawyer then. Now, his own government passed the same law that contradicts what he had said earlier. Clearly, Jaitley will happily deceive you if it proves politically advantageous to him and his party, even at the cost of the nation.
As the leader of the opposition, Jaitley claimed how petrol should cost less than Rs 50. As the finance minister, he presided over an unprecedented increase in excise rates and squeezed the common person of his last paisa.
Mark Twain, in his autobiography, had quoted 19th century British PM, Benjamin Disraeli, when he said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”. In today’s India, it would be, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and anything Jaitley says”. Therefore, the next time you hear Jaitley make any statement or write a blog, take it with a bucket of salt. It will help improve your blood pressure. You would have believed the previous line if Jaitley had said it, right? Hopefully, never again.
Professor Rajeev Gowda is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and heads the AICC research department.
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