It is unlikely that Narendra Modi‘s media advisor is secretly writing a book titled ‘The Prime Ministerial Accident“, because of course, the smart man has not made the stupid mistake that Manmohan Singh made: of hiring a “dubious” media advisor like Sanjaya Baru.
Notwithstanding that, the year of the lord, 2019, has already had its most exciting roadcrash.
On January 1, Modi gave an interview to ANI, in which the control-freak PM claimed strangely that the allegations in the Rafale deal were not about him but his government, and that the “Supreme Court had cleared the matter”.
On January 2, it was followed by the release of an audio by the Congress, purportedly carrying the voice of Viswajit P. Rane, Goa’s minister for health, women and child welfare, in conversation with a journalist.
It is a head-on collision; casualties can be expected.
The toll can be high.
Viswajit Rane, a longtime Congressman who joined the BJP in 2017 before the state elections. is heard saying in #RafaleAudioLeak that in the cabinet meeting presided over by Parrikar:
“Chief minister made one interesting statement that ‘I have all the information about #Rafale in my bedroom‘. You can crosscheck with somebody in the cabinet. That means he is holding them to ransom. He said it is in my bedroom, here only, each and every document of Rafale is with me. Now whether he wanted somebody to go and inform them in Delhi or what, I did not understand.”Transcript of SoundCloud audio uploaded by R.S. Surjewala
The conversation raises some questions and fans more than a few doubts:
The primary question is one of ethics: how appropriate is it for a cabinet minister (who has taken oath under the Constitution) to so openly talk to a journalist about what happened in a cabinet meeting, even if in confidence?
And how ethical is it for the journalist to record the conversation without the caller’s knowing and then leak it to a political party, instead of reporting it, if it was intended to be reported at all.
The identity or location of the journalist—or the veracity of the conversation—is not known. (The journalist offers to “come down”, which suggests he may not be based in Goa.)
In the Lok Sabha, the Congress president Rahul Gandhi declined to “authenticate” the tape’s transcript before reading from it, throwing a lifeline to North Korean TV channels.
That said, the questions that follow from the #RafaleAudioLeak, if genuine, are mostly political, especially when the Congress has gone to town with the slogan: “Chowkidar Chor Hai“.
The charitable view to take is that Parrikar was only saying he had a copy of the documents in the Rafale deal, nothing more, nothing less, and that he wasn’t hinting at hanky-panky.
There, too, the question arises whether a Union cabinet minister can make copies of deals and keep them at home long after he has remitted office.
Does the Official Secrets Act kick in only when journalists cite from documents they are not supposed to see?
When did the cabinet meeting where Parrikar make the claim take place? Was it yesterday in the Secretariat and was Vishwajit Rane present there?
News reports in the state’s two English papers, O Heraldo and The Navhind Times, do not give a clear view of how many of the state’s 10 ministers were present at yesterday’s meeting and if Rane was one of them.
Or is this purported conversation from an earlier cabinet meeting?
On the tape Rane is heard saying: “He said it is in my bedroom, here only, each and every document of Rafale”.
Is Rane extrapolating something that Parrikar said in private to him at home into yesterday’s cabinet meeting? Or is this conversation from an earlier cabinet meeting at home?
Did other ministers who were present at the cabinet meeting hear what Rane heard? And has any of them come forward to confirm or deny the contents of the conversation? If not, why not?
To be sure, Rane tweeted a picture of himself with Parrikar at his home on January 1. Parrikar by all accounts went to the Goa secretariat yesterday after five months and met his ministerial colleagues there.
More importantly, what the alleged conversation reveals ever so slightly are the swirling undercurrents in the BJP-RSS and the larger sangh parivar in an election year.
It comes barely days after a series of signals sent by Union minister Nitin Gadkari to the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo in the aftermath of the BJP’s defeat in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Like Gadkari, Parrikar is a favourite of the sangh parivar and was widely seen to be “in the running” till he was shifted to Goa as chief minister.
So, is this another signal that the RSS has now actively let loose its attack dogs against Modi?
If not, why would Parrikar, a loyal soldier of the sangh sworn to silence and naturally suspicious of everybody, make the claim that he has the #Rafale documents in his bedroom, in a cabinet meeting knowing fully well it would get out?
Is it possible, as the conversation suggests, that he deliberately wants the outside world to know that he has the documents? Could Modi (and Shah) be among them, presuming that they did not know that already?
Equally interesting is Rane’s claim in the conversation that “he [Parrikar] is holding them to ransom”.
The conventional wisdom so far has been that Modi & Co have not replaced Parrikar as chief minister, despite his precarious health, because they were wary that he might say something outside the script on Rafale in an election season.
Rane’s comment suggests that it is the other way round.
That it is Parrikar who is pushing them to retain him in office by using the Rafale documents as a bargaining chip.
In plain parlance, it is called political blackmail.
One view in Panjim is that Parrikar’s health has improved slightly and he has been emboldened to attend public functions (like inspecting a bridge) and go the secretariat, albeit with an oxygen pipe.
Denials notwithstanding, the most buzzing WhatsApp calls tonight will be between Panjim and Delhi—with possibly Nagpur in between.
If nothing else, #RafaleAudioLeak shows why Manohar Parrikar, as the nation’s defence minister, was inaugurating a fish stall in Panjim on April 11, 2015—when Modi was grandly signing the #RafaleDeal.
To play on a Hindi cliche: “Deal mein kuch kala hai.”