Air India divestment: Narendra Modi, BJP should not ignore Subramanian Swamy's Twitter salvo against Jayant Sinha

As it appears, Narendra Modi and BJP have enough problems to deal with ahead of 2019 parliamentary elections. The party can’t clearly think of 2019 as a cakewalk now -- an idea it used to have in the first half of this government’s term. If those problems, highlighted by the opposition parties, were not enough, there is friendly fire coming from BJP’s own camp. In a tweet, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has supported RSS’ Mohan Bhagwat’s demand to scrap Air India stake sale calling it losing the family silver and also asked Jayant Sinha to be ‘dropped’.

How damaging can Swamy’s latest salvo be to the Modi government? First, let’s look at Swamy’s target -- Jayant Sinha. Remember, the BJP’s maverick leader has been gearing up against Sinha for a while now. In June 2017, Swamy said Sinha should be kept out of the Air India stake sale process.

"I would like MoS (Minister of State) for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha to recuse himself from the process of Air India's disinvestment as there is a conflict of interest," BJP's Rajya Sabha MP and a known economist Swamy had told IANS last year. "He has in the past worked with foreign companies which might be hired to evaluate Air India's assets or other companies which might be interested in buying a stake in the airline. He should recuse himself from this situation," Swamy was quoted as saying.

Swamy indeed has a point here. Prior to his plunge into politics, Sinha had worked with a few foreign institutions in certain profiles that can be used by critics to raise charges of conflict of interest. Sinha has worked in the past as a management consultant and investment fund management professional.

On another occasion, Swamy cited Sinha’s wife’s official position at Infosys, to which the computer programming of GSTN was outsourced by the Modi government for Rs 600 crore, of which Rs 400 crore has already been paid to them. “Incidentally, the then Minister of State (MoS) for Finance Jayant Sinha’s wife was made a Director of Infosys just after the contract was signed,” Swamy said. Sinha is relatively a lightweight among Modi’s ministers but considered as one of the promising talents in the area of finance in particular. Unlike his father, Yashwant Sinha who is now spearheading the rebellion against Modi within BJP, Jayant has been a loyal figure to Modi and hence a direct attack against him cannot go unnoticed by the BJP top brass.

Swamy’s second salvo—on Air India stake sale—is even more damaging. A lot rides on the successful disinvestment of the ailing national carrier and this is a litmus test to understand this government’s resolve to carry forward the much-needed disinvestment agenda, where it hasn’t made any notable progress yet. When a senior leader, who is also a face of RSS’ hardline Hindutva ideology, joins the rebel group to challenge the government on critical issues ahead of an election year, that should send warning signals to the BJP top brass. Swamy has proved time and again why he isn’t someone who can be ignored. Arguably, he played a key role with his sustained attack on globally renowned economist and former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan that eventually led to Ranjan’s exit from the central bank after his first stint.

Will Jayant Sinha be another Rajan in Swamy’s scheme of things? The more important question is how severe the damage to BJP will be ahead of 2019. Already, there is a great deal of resentment and anti-incumbency fanning out against the Modi administration particularly with respect to unemployment, post demonetisation/GST economic chaos, government’s approach to deal with minorities and women issues and agrarian distress among others. Swamy will be doing greater damage to Modi and his team if he joins the rebel camp with a full-fledged attack on key policies such as Air India divestment. Modi would urgently need a plan to take friendly fire from the maverick Hinduvta face.

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Updated Date: Apr 17, 2018 16:53:31 IST

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