Monday, 30th October 2017

E- paper

Hamara Bajaj is making ‘national interest’ quake

Rahul Bajaj had spoken out about an atmosphere of fear in India

By Anita Joshua in New Delhi
  • Published 2.12.19, 2:24 AM
  • Updated 2.12.19, 11:25 AM
  • 5 mins read
  •  
by focusing attention on Rahul Bajaj’s (in picture) past, the attackers lent more credibility to his outspoken comments as the country was reminded that Bajaj had been elected to the Rajya Sabha in June 2006 as the combined candidate of the BJP, NCP and the Shiv Sena. Telegraph file picture

“Hamara Bajaj”, the blockbuster tagline that captured the heartbeat of India decades ago, was back in vogue on Sunday, reading the pulse of two strands of opinion in the country.

One section was represented by the by-now-familiar troll machine, which kept itself busy digging deep into the life, business and pronouncements of veteran industrialist Rahul Bajaj who had on Saturday spoken out about an atmosphere of fear in the country.

The sharp response, including from Union ministers, only served to prove the point Bajaj had made while telling home minister Amit Shah at The Economic Times awards event in Mumbai: “We don’t have the confidence that if we criticise you, it will be appreciated.”

Worse, by focusing attention on Bajaj’s past, the attackers lent more credibility to his outspoken comments as the country was reminded that Bajaj had been elected to the Rajya Sabha in June 2006 as the combined candidate of the BJP, NCP and the Shiv Sena. The critics who claimed Bajaj fawns on the other Rahul, the Congress leader, conveniently forgot that the industrialist had defeated the Congress contender by over 50 votes then.

If the irony was lost on those who targeted Bajaj, what stood out was the degree of support he appeared to have received on social media. “Hamara Bajaj”, once a jingle and a commercial tagline that is credited with making India believe in its indigenous technology, took on a different edge but freighted with the same value — pride — that defined the advertisement.

By 8pm on Sunday, it was clear that the Modi government was feeling the heat, prompting it to roll out heavier artillery to fire from the shoulder of “national interest” and drop dark hints at societal “indiscipline”.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted a clip of Shah’s reply to Bajaj and added: “Home Minister @AmitShah answers on how issues raised by Shri Rahul Bajaj were addressed. Questions /criticisms are heard and answered/ addressed. Always a better way to seek an answer than spreading one’s own impressions which, on gaining traction, can hurt national interest.”

The repartee was merciless. “If you had national interest in mind, you would have resigned a while ago, Ms Sitharaman,” one Twitter user posted, possibly referring to the state of the economy under her watch.

With some ministers issuing what sounded like veiled warnings, a Twitter user recalled the following quote attributed to Idi Amin, counted among the most brutal despots of the 20th century: There is freedom of speech but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech
With some ministers issuing what sounded like veiled warnings, a Twitter user recalled the following quote attributed to Idi Amin, counted among the most brutal despots of the 20th century: There is freedom of speech but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech (Wikimedia Commons)

Another minister weighed in, unwittingly or otherwise borrowing from the Emergency-era lexicon.

“There are societies in the world which are governed by fear, but a society where citizens can weave fake narratives & hurl invectives at the govt cannot be classified as one governed by fear, it is a society characterised by fair dose of indiscipline,” Union minister Hardeep Puri tweeted.

“That Mr Rahul Bajaj could stand up to Sh @AmitShah Ji’s face, express himself freely & instigate others to join him clearly indicate that freedom of expression & democratic values are alive & flourishing in India. This is exactly what democracy is all about,” the minister added.

Pat came the reply. “The last time a government talked about indiscipline in the country, we had the declared emergency,” a Twitter user said.

Another tweeter roasted the mindset behind the minister’s tweet. “Very undisciplined society. Headmaster needs to come in, whip the boys and girls into shape. Amazing insight into what this government really thinks.…”

Until the ministers were deployed, the charge was led by Amit Malviya, “in-charge of BJP’s national Information & Technology” who shares his “personal views” on Twitter. Malviya seemed to have spent much of the day trawling the Internet to find links that would show Bajaj to be a Congress courtier.

Malviya fired away soon after Bajaj spoke out on Saturday evening. “The atmosphere of fear is so pervasive these days that media talking heads criticise the govt day in and out, write op-eds (articles on opinion pages) calling obnoxious names and wishing death for those in power and even now are hopping mad with joy that an industrialist asked a question…. Where is the fear?” he tweeted.

Malviya followed this up with another tweet: “Rahul Bajaj’s question to Home Minister Amit Shah, now being hailed as speaking truth to power, had an equally detailed response. Where is the fear if one can speak his mind?”

Then began the digital excavation. First came a video of Bajaj saying he was very impressed with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s interaction with the CII.

Picking on Bajaj telling Shah that “it is difficult for me to praise anyone”, Malviya chipped in: “except of course if it is Rahul Gandhi. Wear your political affiliation on your sleeve and don’t hide behind inanities like there is atmosphere of fear and all that.…”

He posted another link showing Bajaj commenting on Rahul Gandhi’s interaction and said: “If one had such fawning view of Rahul Gandhi, when he is an unmitigated disaster, then it is only natural to spin imaginary yarn and assume the worst for the current regime. Truth be told — industrialists who flourished in the license raj will always be beholden to the Congress.”

A path was thus paved for a no-holds-barred attack on the octogenarian industrialist with the Right-wing ecosystem even managing to find a disgruntled former employee to tweet the grudge he holds against the company. Forgotten was the BJP’s endorsement of Bajaj in the 2006 Rajya Sabha elections.

The Right wing’s massive footprint on social media notwithstanding, the war of words was not one-sided. Many added their voices to a chorus in support of Bajaj, singing the signature ad jingle “buland Bharat ki buland tasweer… Hamara Bajaj (A strong picture of a strong India... is Our Bajaj)”.

Kafeel Khan, the Gorakhpur-based paediatrician who remains suspended despite being exonerated by an inquiry into the hospital tragedy in which 30 children died because of oxygen shortage, tweeted: “Rahul Bajaj is clearly the ONLY major business/industry leader with courage to speak truth to power. It’s honestly surprising that there is even one! More power to you, Sir.”

Actor turned politician Urmila Matondkar tweeted: “Actors are often criticised mercilessly for not taking up stand on current social issues, what about Industrialists? We need more like Mr Rahul Bajaj who will stand up for the rest. Respect! Kudos!! Buland Bharat ki buland tasweer… Hamara Bajaj.”

One tweeter recalled what Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tweeted in 2017 — “You are free to criticise me. Constructive criticism makes our democracy stronger and is vital” — adding: “Rahul Bajaj is probably the only industrialist who read this tweet.”

Among industrialists, only Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who also does not mince words, seemed to have supported Bajaj in public till Sunday evening.

“Hope the government reaches out to India Inc for working out solutions to revive consumption n growth. So far, we are all pariahs and the government does not want to hear any criticism of our economy,” Mazumdar-Shaw tweeted.

Some dug out reports to show that Bajaj had been blunt with earlier governments, too.

In August 2013, Bajaj had asked then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when the government would start protecting India’s interests, pointing to the unfettered import of Chinese consumer goods.

On Sunday, the Congress tweeted: “It can be difficult to speak truth to power. Circumstances, however, have made doing so increasingly necessary. #RahulBajaj stands out for his courage & integrity & for calling a spade a spade.”

Later in the day, reacting to the attack on Bajaj, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera asked on Twitter: “Dear @PMOIndia & @AmitShah, do you agree with your IT Cell’s attack on #RahulBajaj?”