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Shashi Tharoor: I want a New India where Rahul Bajaj can invest & speak fearlessly to govt

Under the Modi government, dissent is seditious, protests are ‘anti-national’, activists are harassed, and free speech is censored through pressure on media owners.

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The recent statement by Rahul Bajaj, one of India’s senior industrialists and chairman of the Bajaj Group, has blown the lid off something that most of the establishment was prepared to talk about only in whispers. At the Economic Times Awards event on 30 November where three Union ministers, including the formidable Home Minister Amit Shah, were present, Bajaj spoke about an atmosphere of fear in India and questioned the willingness of the Narendra Modi government to accept any form of criticism.

“This atmosphere (of fear), this is definitely on our mind, but nobody will say it, none of my industrialist friends,” Rahul Bajaj said. “In UPA-II, we could give gaalis to anyone. (But) if we were to criticise you openly, we don’t have the confidence that you will appreciate that.”

Also read: Rahul Bajaj has actually done BJP a favour by bolstering its anti-business image

Sincere voices have raised concerns

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too, had voiced similar concerns regarding the “palpable climate of fear in our society today”, the “perilous state of fear, distrust and lack of confidence among citizens” and how it was adversely affecting business optimism and investor confidence.

As Manmohan Singh explained it, “The Modi government seems to view everything and everyone through a tainted prism of suspicion and distrust due to which every policy of previous governments are presumed to be of bad intent, every loan sanctioned considered undeserving and every new industrial project deemed to be crony in nature.”

“Many industrialists tell me that they live in fear of harassment by government authorities. Bankers are reluctant to make new loans, for fear of retribution. Entrepreneurs are hesitant to put up fresh projects, for fear of failure attributed to ulterior motives. Technology start-ups, an important new engine of economic growth and jobs, seem to live under a shadow of constant surveillance and deep suspicion. Policymakers in government and other institutions are scared to speak the truth or engage in intellectually honest policy discussions,” he said.

If this was the analysis of a respected economist and politician, Bajaj’s comments underscored them from within the business community.

Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw echoed Bajaj, tweeting that the government was treating the business community as pariahs – what Singh called “the Modi government’s ‘mala fide unless proven otherwise’ doctrine of governance”.

Businessmen tell you in hushed whispers of an atmosphere in which suspicion is rife and criticism is severely punished. The Modi government resorts to filing cases against critics, often involving trumped-up charges, ‘tax terrorism’ backed up by midnight raids by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and even jailing people without trial.

The media is similarly intimidated. Editors have been removed after a phone call to their proprietors, who often have other business interests that make  them vulnerable. Running afoul of the Modi government comes at a very high price financially, in lost jobs, stained reputations, personal stress and wasted time. Most people are cowed into silence.

Also read: If BJP leaders could speak like Rahul Bajaj, this is what they would tell Modi & Amit Shah

Fear is tangible in New India

I have written in my book The Paradoxical Prime Minister of the ugly distortion of the Indian idea that is rising, an India where narrow-minded majoritarianism prevails, an India where incidents of communal violence proliferate, driven by mob-lynching zealots and gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes).

In the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s New India, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Jai Shri Ram” have become rallying cries of bigotry and hatred rather than beautiful slogans calling Indians to higher ideals. Human beings have been assaulted and killed in the name of cow protection. Muslims and Dalits have been particularly victimised: the father of an Air Force officer (Mohammad Akhlaq), a 15-year-old boy returning from Eid shopping (Junaid Khan), a dairy farmer transporting cows with a permit (Pehlu Khan), Dalits doing their job of skinning a dead cow (Una flogging), have all been casualties of this New India. In fact, as the scholar Pratap Bhanu Mehta fittingly asked: “How did this fantasy of hope, painted in the colours of a nation marching to one tune and one purpose, completely blanket out the actual republic of fear?”

If this ‘republic of fear’ was emerging in the first term of the BJP, it has become a tangible reality in a few months of its second term, as the people of Jammu and Kashmir have experienced for over a hundred days now. How else does one categorise the experience of eight million of our fellow citizens, who overnight found their state under clampdown, their petrol pumps and kirana shops shut, their access to basic utilities like electricity, telecommunications and the Internet blocked, their political leaders incarcerated, and any chance of return to normalcy in the Valley almost certainly eviscerated by a single act of the present ruling dispensation? By doing what it has done, the Modi government has dismembered the historical freedoms that India that was born with on 15 August 1947 – the India that Jammu and Kashmir freely chose to join.

Under the Modi government, dissent is portrayed as seditious, protests are ‘anti-national’, activists are harassed, and free speech is censored through economic pressure on media owners and outright political intimidation — all of which are illustrations of the petty intolerance and chauvinism that passes as the majoritarian ideology in today’s times. The “republic of fear” cannot prosper: as former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh argued, “a toxic combination of deep distrust, pervasive fear and a sense of hopelessness in our society is stifling economic activity, and hence, economic growth”.

Also read: Development is now all about Modi coining new terms, not Indians’ well-being: Shashi Tharoor

Like most democrats, I want a New India too. It should be a New India where you won’t get lynched for the food you eat, marginalised for the faith you hold dear, criminalised for the person you love, mistrusted for the business you run or prosecuted and imprisoned for making use of fundamental rights guaranteed by your own Constitution. An India in which Rahul Bajaj and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw are free to invest, to succeed or to fail, and to speak fearlessly to the government while they do so. This was the India we had until 2014, and we must work to bring it back – lest Orwell’s 1984 become our new reality, starting thirty years after that date.

The author is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied History at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 18 books, both fiction and non-fiction; his most recent book is The Paradoxical Prime Minister. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor. Views are personal.

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  1. I am 80 year old highly educated retired tecnocrat , very happy , gifted with every thing which any sober man desires.
    I prayed for MODIG in 2014 sincerely as I prayed release of Wg.Cd. ABHINANDAN.
    Both in Congress & BJP , I have friends.
    Today my both CONGRESS and BJP friends sheepishly want MODI to go.
    Even my poor wife changes channel seeing MODIG……
    I do feel RAHUL BAJAJ expressed reality & my advise to MODIG & BJP or even to other popular leaders please give this country ●FREEDOM FROM FEARS●which GANDHIAN RAHUL BAJAJ boldly expressed, & even MUKESH AMBANI showed by sitting by side of UDHAV SIR.

  2. Shashi Tharoor is talking nonsense. So is Rahul Bajaj.
    Shashi Tharoor’s case Re. His wife should be on fast track court to give justice to Sunanda s death.
    Rahul Bajaj does not realize that Modi Government Has to be Cautious about people like him because his Industrialists to the Indian people for a ride.
    Manmohansingh a fine Human being but he got taken for a ride by Corrupt Sonia Gandhi and her corrupt Ministers and many of the industrialist.

  3. There are many times more Indians whose IDEA OF INDIA is significantly different from that of Shashi Tharoor. Congress was able to force a minorities Idea of India on the majority. Congressees continue to live in the past dreams and continue to believe that they can fool the majority forever. Congress type of secularism has been rejected by majority Hindus who now want to live a life of their choice.

  4. Just as Mr. Bajaj has every right to speak and question the government, so do the people. The first question being what happened to the ON-MONEY collected in cash for almost every Vespa/ Bajaj scooter sold which would not start without tilting for over 25 years( so much for their RnD). Why is he not asking the corruption cases to be expedited ? Is it because they are mostly against his friends.
    If all the great members of India-Inc are exempted from investigations, with rescheduled loans (NPAs) they will turn into Modi fans and suddenly there will be no tax terrorism in the country. Unfortunately the likes of Mr. Bajaj have so much clout in their circles that even clean genuinely good businesses dare not contradict him. In addition the the Throors, Gandhis and the rest of the BAIL BRIGADE is there to support him.

  5. Shashi Tharoor is a verbose persons. His words reach our eyes and ears but fail to make sense. Rahul Bajaj is in India, he has invested in India, and he has spoken fearlessly. He has been none the worse for it. What does Shashi Tharoor want? If he wants to know what fear is, he must recall Indira Gandhi’s emergency between June 1975 to March 1977 when opposition leaders were jailed, common people were jailed, press was censored, Bollywood sang peans for congress. As a sixty plus person, surely Shashi Tharoor can recall those days? Do we see such actions by government, or such fear amongst the public.

  6. Rahul Bajaj is an ardent congress supporter who has bankrolled Sonia sarkar for years, he his
    having a sour grape moment as the other Rahul has no chance of becoming even a CM in
    his lifetime. so he is worried about his ROI.

  7. In “New India” people will even get the right to kill their wife and roam freely if she keeps different opinion or if man gets bore with her and starts liking someone new as a regular practice like Mr. Tharoor. I pity on our judiciary system that how a man like Mr. tharoor is still not behind the bar and innocent people get lodged inside the jail. I am apolitical and respect the knowledge and wisdom of Mr. Tharoor but as a person he sucks because he killed his wife and doesn’t give it a damn. No other political party bothers because they all are same. Nobody cares for a woman’s life in India.

    • Now in new India you can pronounce someone as murderer without any proof or any judicial process and ask for instant justice. We are living in a dangerous country.

  8. I think that in India some groups are working to achieve their hidden targets by mobilizing media with their baseless statements

  9. Where are electric sccoter Mr Bajaj? Did Modi stop you from making one or Davos crowd pay you to delay them so that competition be damned and India remains a growing oil guzzling economy.

  10. Both Rahuls are talking their incoherent minds openly and even in presence of home minister. So new is here. Tharoor should take long vacation to recover his mental health.

  11. Congress should nationalise Bajaj auto. Should tax it 99%. Rahul Bajaj is greedy industrialist. Rahul Bajaj murdabad. Sonia mata and Rahul Baba zindabad.

    • Bajaj profited heavily from the licence permit raj — people had to wait for 10 years to buy a friggin scooter (Thanks, Nehru), eigb no foreign competitors. A seller’s market. Not only bikes, cars or scooters, peope had to make “bookings” for TVs and fridges.

      Modi has put the fear of god, thanks to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code enacted in 2016 — that corporates and businesses who borrow money from banks and do not repay — will have their companies snatched ftom their control and sold to the highest bidder.

      Bravo! Rahul Bajaj ask your friends the wilt Ruia brothers of Essar. What happened to their company?
      Or the owners of Bhushan Steel, Jaypee Cement, Binani cement — hundreds of defaulters have lost their companies to ghd banks or new owners.

      Under Modi = busineses can’t jyst loot snd scoot like in good old Congi times. Borrowing thousands of crores and not paying up, now no more!

      Ditto for corrupt bureaucrats — almost 100 have been removed from govt. These not lowly officials, but top of the heap = commissioner, joint secretary level.

      Finally, all freebooters, pirates, buccaneers, leeches, vultures — DALALS in ordinary language have been banished from the ministries and corridors of power.
      All are sulking along with their Congress patrons.

  12. Shashi Tharoor is so shameless that even after being accused for his wife’s murder, this guy gives moral lectures to Modi. As a frustrated Congressee he uses white lies to propagate anti Modi propaganda which except Congressees no other Indian believes in.

  13. Not sure what stops Rahul Bajaj from speaking out. India needs to become a country where the poorest of the poor can speak out without fear. But guess our politicians like Tharoor care only about the privileged rich like Bajaj.

  14. Yes I agree with Sashi Tharoor Government is really intolerant murdering your own wife is not allowed
    Shashi is harrassed afterall he murdered his own wife not anybody else

  15. Have Tharoor’s and Bajaj’s comments been censored? Have the print and electronic media been gagged so that what these two wise men say does not reach the public?
    It’s very obvious that all this is a political stunt. For all you know, ED could have found something obnoxious about the other one also. Hence, this attack on Modi is to preempt ED’s moves and then blame the Government that this is revengeful for having criticised the government! A La Chidambaram and other crooks.

    • You have begoted understanding of the current situation and ground reality… In fact you don’t have any accessibility to how this murky thing of crony governance is working, so your childish comment based on ur clueless idea is worthless.

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