Any dilution on the ‘incorruptible’ score will chip away much of the Modi magic.

Now that the northeast has been done and dusted, Lenin brought down to earth with a thud and Rahul Gandhi roasted for gaffes on his South East Asia sojourn, it is time to get back to the national pastime of discussing scams.

The economy could also have been a subject of conversation, especially since the Q3 GDP numbers up at 7.2 per cent brought some cheer. But, that got buried in the surround sound of Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and the elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. For the ruling BJP, that was a minor price to pay in the larger interest of political headline management.

The Punjab National Bank scam was undoubtedly too good an opportunity for the opposition. But, insinuating complicity by producing photographs and video clips of Nirav Modi and Choksi at functions with the Prime Minister, calling Nirav ‘chhota Modi’ and underscoring their Gujarat connect, the opposition may have inadvertently started a zero-sum game like proverbial occupants of glasshouses.

The Congress has been training its guns at the BJP primarily on three fronts: communal harmony, protection of minorities and backward classes (Dalits), and economy and jobs. Lately, corruption has been added to this list. After demonetisation and GST, corruption was aimed specifically at challenging Modi’s ‘chowkidar’ credentials.

Initially, it was the suit-boot jibes at Modi’s “na khaunga, na khaney dunga” claims. There were episodic noises about favours granted to Adani, the rise of Amit Shah’s son – who was nicknamed “chhota Shah”.

Close to the end of the fourth year of Modi’s rule, Congress fired its first shot at the Rafale aircraft deal, which landed close to Modi’s doorstep. But, with the PNB Pandora’s Box springing open suddenly, Rahul Gandhi’s aides thought they had hit the jackpot and decided to go for the jugular.

However, in upping the ante so early in the game, the Congress could be overplaying its hand. First, with its own chequered past, the Congress can never claim moral high ground on scams. It can, at best, say think twice before calling us tainted because you are not lily white either.

Any dilution on the ‘incorruptible’ score will chip away much of the Modi magic.

Therefore, no matter when the Lok Sabha elections are held, or the state assembly elections before that, Modi will have to go in with all guns blazing against corruption. To retrieve the narrative, one can safely assume Modi will start the clean up act in right earnest almost immediately.

Modi’s retaliation can be expected at three levels.

First, the government will have to quickly fix accountability and book the guilty on the PNB scandal. There will no doubt be some amount of trading blame, as we are already seeing. But, the bigger challenge would be to mitigate the risk of more such skeletons tumbling out of the bank lockers, which cannot be ruled out. The bank balance sheets, already fragile with the weight of accumulated non-performing assets, would not be able to take any more big blows. Hence, simultaneous fast tracking of the National Company Law Tribunal cases of bankrupt companies is absolutely imperative.

On the optics front, the government can scarcely afford more egg on its face, if other low-lying Nirav Modi clones fly the coop. Therefore, the first task would be to bolt the stables. Banks calling for passport details of large creditors is a step in that direction.

The best way for the government to reclaim its credibility would be to bring the absconding defaulters back home. Given how extradition treaties work, and if past experience is anything to go by, the straightforward legal route is unlikely to yield results in a hurry. Some have suggested building diplomatic pressure on the host countries to repatriate the truant tycoons. But even that would be wishful thinking.

Secondly, therefore, the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill appears to be the only practical step that can be taken immediately. Moving it in this session of Parliament would also put the opposition on the mat to prove its seriousness. If the government succeeds in attaching sizeable amounts of properties by using this route, it will give Modi a major talking point in election rallies.

Finally, if everything fails, Modi may use the ultimate “Brahmastra” of getting a big fish in the net, which he can proudly display as a “trophy” catch during the election campaign. This is always a risky double-edged game that can easily backfire. Therefore, much to the disappointment and frustration of his supporters, he has been going slow on his political adversaries. But, some recent developments indicate he may be losing his patience. His remark during his ‘victory speech’ after the northeast election results, “yeh vendetta nahin mandate-ta (sic) hai”, may have given a clue about what is playing on his mind. Only a consummate hunter-politician like Modi can take the fight to the finish.

Meanwhile, the economy must hold and the right-wing fringe should stay in control, to not give the opposition more ammunition in the run up to 2019.

Sandip Ghose is a marketing executive and popular blogger on current affairs. He tweets @SandipGhose

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3 COMMENTS

  1. It is amazing for the journalists like Sandip to keep themselves busy ballooning with what the government ‘should’ ‘could’ or ‘may’ do rather than what it ‘is’ doing. It signifying the bankruptcy of issues for them. This guesstimating and gossiping proves that they have nothing to do. Please send them to ‘rest and recuperation’ for some weeks rather than wasting our precious time and your valuable page-space.

  2. To repeat the magic of 2014 will require going beyond optics. Indian voters are too weary of politics as usual to buy into a synthetic narrative on fighting graft. Difficult to see what good work now initiated on the economy can reach fruit bearing stage within a year, but a sincere effort should be made. That could be built upon in the second term, if it materialises.

  3. Actually Shri Ghose is not a full time journalist. He is a part time marketing executive cum blogger cum journalist, which leaves you wondering where does he actually spend his time. The bigger worry is if this is the best that The Print can do, in passing off hobby writers as serious journalists, the its credibility would be in question.

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