Straight talk: The unabashed Rajiv Bajaj
Days after the industrialist, Rajiv Bajaj, bluntly said that the government managed to flatten the wrong curve — the economic curve of the country, instead of the coronavirus infection curve — in a conversation with Rahul Gandhi, Congress leaders claimed that dozens of big businessmen called them to express happiness and endorse Bajaj’s point of view. Their main concern was the lack of substance in the Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package announced by the Centre, but what they were happy about was the reference to the fear factor. One former Union minister saw discontent brewing and hoped more industrialists would overcome the fear to speak up. He insisted that the level of anger in the business community right now is unprecedented. But the Shiv Sena, which operates in Mumbai and knows more about corporate culture than other parties, said that Bajaj mustered up the courage because of his clean business model and personal lineage which others may not have. In an editorial in its mouthpiece, Saamana, the Sena said, “Jo dar jaye woh Bajaj nahi”. The editorial recalled the Bajaj legacy that emanated from the freedom fighter, Jamnalal Bajaj, and said, “The family always thought of society and the country; they didn’t surrender to power to win contracts and hence the courage to speak the truth”.
One thing that the Union home minister, Amit Shah, really rejoices in is elections. Add to this the making and breaking of governments. With the biennial Rajya Sabha polls scheduled for this month and assembly elections looming over Bihar and West Bengal, the home minister has pressed the action button. The whispers in the corridors of power have it that the impact is already visible ahead of the upper House polls in Shah’s home state, Gujarat. So far, eight members of the legislative assembly from the Congress have resigned, dealing a blow to the Grand Old Party’s hopes of getting all its candidates from the state elected to the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP has an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha but lacks the same in the Rajya Sabha. The absence of a comfortable majority in the upper House has been an irritant for the Narendra Modi government, which is determined to push through controversial legislations. Coming to the case of Bihar and Bengal, where polls are scheduled at the end of this year and early next year respectively, Shah is scheduled to address rallies in the two neighbouring states. The Bihar rally is scheduled for today, and the one in Bengal is on Tuesday. Although the two rallies are part of the campaign to mark the first anniversary of the second Modi government, they are being viewed as events to sound the poll bugle. In these times of the coronavirus, a proper, physically-attended rally is not possible, so the BJP is going all out for a virtual rally through Facebook Live, YouTube and other digital platforms. Shah will air his aggression from the safety and comfort of his Lutyens’ bungalow.
The lockdown seems to have triggered strange reactions in individuals. While some people feel depressed, this time in isolation has also brought to the fore dormant talents in many. The former Union minister, Jairam Ramesh, known for his biting sarcasm and wit in Congress circles, has suddenly become active on Twitter to showcase his talent to the world. Although he joined Twitter in 2014 itself, he barely tweeted, doing so probably once every few weeks. But now his caustic tweets — there are several in a day — have attracted widespread attention. Senior politicians avoid being blunt on public platforms, but not Ramesh. A few days ago, he tweeted: “India has two WMDs at the very top. A Weapon of Mass Deception & A Weapon of Mass Disinformation This Jugalbandi has wreaked havoc on Indian society”. No prizes for guessing who he was referring to.
Confusion has spread through the ranks of the central armed paramilitary forces on what constitutes swadeshi and videshi products after the Union home minister’s announcement that all CAPF canteens will sell only swadeshi goods from June 1. The announcement came a day after the prime minister’s “vocal for local” call. Officials are at their wits’ end in the absence of any definition of swadeshi. Sources blamed Amit Shah’s ministry for not issuing a definition. Does it include only Indian brands or also foreign brands that have manufacturing units in the country?
In an embarrassing moment for the ministry, the Central Police Canteens issued an order delisting over 1,000 non-swadeshi products, but it was hurriedly withdrawn after several of the banned items were found to be products manufactured by Indian companies like Dabur and Usha. A fresh videshi list is being prepared. But “the exact definition of swadeshi is still awaited from the ministry”.
Not a single Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson was seen after Maneka Gandhi castigated Kerala’s Malappuram district over the death of a pregnant elephant that reportedly ate a cracker-laden fruit. While Maneka’s diatribe found immediate acceptance among the saffron troll army, there was no trace of local BJP leaders who otherwise rush to television studios. Clearly, even they found her stance indefensible before a discerning audience.
The powerful Vokkaliga leader, DK Shivakumar, who was appointed the Karnataka Congress chief a few days before the lockdown, wanted to take charge at a gala public event, but lockdown regulations prevented the necessary permissions. He has been functioning as the chief, but will now have to wait for the pandemic to ease. Still, he has made his presence felt with the offer to pay migrant workers’ travel fares, an idea picked up by Sonia Gandhi for nationwide implementation much to the disappointment of the Centre.