Friday 18 December 2015

Kejriwal goes after Arun Jaitley (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
Friday, December 18, 2015

Where the Indian media is concerned, the most popular individual in politics is far and away Union Minister for Finance and Information & Broadcasting Arun Jaitley. Much of this is due to the man’s natural charm and good nature. This columnist has had relatively few interactions with Jaitley, unlike most of the others active in the media, but on these infrequent occasions, has found the BJP’s most articulate voice to be charming and pleasant, always with a smile and a good turn of phrase. Small wonder that every day, journalists congregate and over meals (for Jaitley is a generous host) listen to the minister give insights into what has been happening in the political and other spheres. 

Arun Jaitley has friends across not only the media but in politics as well. He has been diligent in keeping contact even with those who lead anti-BJP parties, including the Congress Party. Even the RSS appears to have given him their stamp of approval, as otherwise he could not have so smoothly been appointed to the highly prestigious post of Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) of Parliament, edging out players of far more experience the same way as Sushma Swaraj, now India’s articulate and hardworking Minister of External Affairs, did in the Lower House (Lok Sabha). In this way, what is termed as the Lutyens Group (so named because of being resident and active within the former colonial areas of Delhi) established firm control over the BJP in Parliament. Those from the group have relationships cutting across political boundaries, and hence it was no secret that while Congress and BJP leaders may spar in public, in private they were close friends, with even their children being best friends of each other. The Lutyens Group is far and away the most powerful club in India, having run the country without interruption since the British left in 1947. 

However, in May 2014, an individual wholly outside the Lutyens Group was elected to the highest office in government, that of Prime Minister of India. Narendra Modi was outside the Lutyens Group, and for a while (between the time the BJP won the election on May 16 and he revealed his Council of Ministers on May 26), it was feared by the Lutyens Group that he may go against the small number of people who have wielded such immense influence over governance in India for so long. However, Modi was careful to ensure that prominent spots both in his ministerial as well as in his team of officials got filled with those who were a part of the Lutyens Group. 

Among the latter are the two top officials in his government. Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Nripendra Mishra (for whom the PM even passed a new law diluting earlier restrictions on a certain class of civil servants holding specific offices) and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Both Mishra and Doval have been long-time members of the administrative elite of the National Capital, and know their way around, which is presumably why they were chosen by the new PM for such key tasks.

Over the past few days, Arun Jaitley has been facing a barrage of attacks from a maverick party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by a feisty former Indian Revenue Service official named Arvind Kejriwal, who is now Chief Minister of Delhi. His somewhat emotional temperament gave hope to the many political foes of the AAP that his stint in power would be a disaster, but thus far Kejriwal has acquitted himself reasonably well, running a government seen by voters as relatively honest and delivering services, often in innovative ways. However, some days ago, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which has a dodgy reputation in the country for its propensity to inject a political or a commercial angle to many investigations organised a raid on the Delhi Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary. It would have been clear to the CBI and to those controlling the organisation that such a move could set off a firestorm, and this has happened. 

However, instead of going after the CBI, Arvind Kejriwal has chosen to go into attack mode against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, whom he is accusing of financial irregularities in the running of cricket in Delhi. The sport is a passion with Jaitley, of course in a non-playing way, and Jaitley is among other prominent politicians who are closely associated with cricketing bodies in the country, most of which are very well funded and have huge reserves of cash. His long-time association with Delhi cricket is now being used by Kejriwal to levy a barrage of allegations against Jaitley. Interestingly, despite the immense goodwill that he has built up in the Congress Party, his prominence in Team Modi has resulted in the Congress Party also going on the offensive against him. 

Soon after coming to power at the national level, BJP President Amit Shah decided that he would leverage the popularity of Prime Minister Modi to try and ensure that the BJP won control of all the states that were going to the polls subsequent to the 2014 national polls. He even spurned long-time ally Shiv Sena when that party insisted on retaining its primacy within the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. The consequence of Shah’s No Holds Barred strategy has been that most parties by now regard the BJP as an electoral threat and have coalesced against it, in the process also going on the offensive against key players such as Arun Jaitley, who together with Shah is regarded by the media as closest to Prime Minister Modi in the BJP, with a friendly magazine even featuring the three of them on the cover as “the triumvirate who runs India”. 

It is a fact that Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley are considered exceptionally close to the Prime Minister by reason of their long association with him. However, friends of Arun Jaitley in the media have banded together to defend an individual who has over the years become very close to several of the top names in Indian media, including many who are critics of Narendra Modi. It is part of the Jaitley charm that he manages to be friendly even with those who have for more than a decade attacked Narendra Modi repeatedly, accusing him of all sorts of misdeeds, none of which has been proved in any court of law. 

It must be said that thus far, even though the Modi government overall has been receiving a bad press, Arun Jaitley himself has been getting the same adulatory coverage that has been his gift for two decades, a tribute to the way in which he has kept contact with the media and shown them friendship and respect. Will the media backing for Jaitley be sufficient to enable him to overcome the attack by the AAP on his cricketing stint? Arun Jaitley’s numerous admirers in the media will fervently be wishing that the support they are so abundantly giving him will enable him to remain at the centre stage of both politics and policy in India.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

1 comment:

  1. DDCA not a BJP matter, PM Modi should tell me what my fault is: Suspended MP Kirti Azad