Kapil Sibal says 'pied piper' Modi's biggest failure is inability to govern, 'coalition of conspiracies' brought down UPA in 2014

Following the UPA government's defeat in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, a number of its leaders have taken to writing and come out with a spate of books. Former minister and senior politician Kapil Sibal recently released Shades of Truth-A Journey Derailed in which he minutely examined the claims the Narendra Modi government made during its 2014 election campaign and how it has failed to meet any of them. The book also looks at the gap between the promises and what he has delivered on the ground.

Sibal talks about the book and more in an interview. Edited excerpts:

Your latest book could well read like a Congress manifesto about the inability of the Modi government to keep its electoral promises...

This is not meant to be a Congress manifesto. The purpose of writing this book is two-fold. At a political level, there is a need to analyse the policies of this government while at an individual level it is an attempt to highlight what the prime minister (Modi) stands for, supported by data. This data can be used by the Congress party.

The book is an analysis of the missteps of both the prime minister and his government. I also want to show that I do not make allegations — as was done by Modi during the election campaign of 2014 — which are unsupported by facts.

File image of Kapil Sibal. AFP

File image of Kapil Sibal. AFP

But the fact is that your government had come to be labelled as the most corrupt government the country had ever seen...

It all started with CAG and the figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore (figure given by the then CAG chairman Vinod Rai about the presumptive loss caused to the treasury by the telecom scam). The figure was just lapped up by the media. No investigation was done by the media as to how he had arrived at this sum. We came up with our defence but no one was prepared to listen to us.

And then, of course, the courts entered the fray and gave a judgement which was unsupported by facts. We offered an explanation but no one was willing to listen.

But the media even today gives much more credence to the BJP point of view. What do you have to say about that?

The media no longer remains the only vehicle of perception. When a person driving a scooter goes to a petrol pump and buys petrol at Rs 90 per litre, the message need not be sent through the electronic media.

This is a government that cannot provide healthcare to the people. The Lancet study has shown that largest number of women suicides in the world is taking place in India. Young people are not getting jobs. Everyone remembers the two crore jobs per annum he (Modi) promised during his election campaign.

The electronic revolution was used by him to win the election. That same electronic revolution is going to prove to be his downfall in 2019.

You sound very confident but the fact is that the BJP continues to win one election after another. How does Congress plan to stop the BJP?

He succeeded in winning elections when the Opposition was not united. That is how he won Uttar Pradesh. In 2014, he would not have won if the Opposition had been united. Do not forget that he got only 31 percent of the vote. You saw how a united election (Opposition) won the Phulpur, Kirana and Gorakhpur bye-elections.

Yes, but the Congress has no presence in UP and a lot will depend on former chief minister Mayawati. In fact, she even issued a statement recently on this, didn't she?
Mayawati has not said anything on this. The Congress has now entered into an understanding with TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu for the forthcoming Telangana elections.

But Chandrababu Naidu can hardly be described as a popular leader in Telangana. What's Congress strategy?

There is anti-incumbency factor against K Chandrashekar Rao and Naidu does enjoys some support in Telangana. The impossible is going to become the possible. Everybody is sick of this regime. They are autocratic, intolerant and they persecute people. The Income Tax department, the ED, the CBI are being used to suit their own political ends. Their governors are partisan. Look at the functioning of the HRD Ministry and how the NCERT has gone about changing textbooks and introduced heroes who have never been heard of. Even the Statue of Unity is being built using Chinese steel. So much for their Made in India claims.

Look at the scams around them. The Birla Diaries, the Sahara Diaries, the Chattisgarh Diaries, the Vyapam scam — none of which have been investigated. They are using these investigative agencies to target others even as they protect themselves. Look at how the government formation took place in Goa and in the North East.

Nevertheless, in Madhya Pradesh, a recent pre-election survey shows that while the Congress will improve its tally substantially, the BJP is expected to win the state elections. How does Congress plan to tackle that?

The people of Madhya Pradesh are extremely unhappy with the present government. The members of the Congress party must come together to ensure that they convert this disgruntlement into votes. There are scams erupting every day in that state.

What do you think has been the biggest shortcoming of the Modi government?

Their inability to govern. They are simply not able to think far enough and take decisions that are in the country’s interest. Demonetisation has been the biggest policy blunder of the Modi government. It was taken to make a splash and he is going to drown in that. More than one hundred people died as a result of demonetisation. I want to ask in which other country in the world would the prime minister have survived this? A flawed GST without understanding realities on the ground is also a classic example of over-regulation. I have been told by many exporters that the present GST regime has so many hurdles in respect to exports which the government needs to sort out.

Modi’s foreign policy has also been a disaster. He’s literally a fly away (from the country) prime minister. There was peace and tranquillity with our neighbours in 2014 and look at what has happened now. After declining the joint military exercise with India, the Nepal army chief has gone a step further and declined Indian army chief’s invite to attend the BIMSTEC conclave and here we have our defence minister saying there is nothing to be worried about.

Or take our relations with China. I have highlighted in my book how the UPA government had been blamed for extending a hand of friendship to the Chinese especially when they were not willing to relent on issues regarding our border state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Swaying with President Xi (Jinping) in Gujarat may make for a good photo-op but has little relevance to the Chinese attitude towards us. In 2017, there were 273 transgressions by Chinese soldiers into Indian territory but one year later the number had gone up to 423. Or take the recent example of Dokalam in June 2017 when Chinese troops entered Dokalam (a disputed territory between China and Bhutan) to build a road.

Foreign minister (Sushma Swaraj) rightly told the Parliament that patience was the key to resolving the stand off. But the reality is that by January 2018, almost five months after India and China agreed to end their standoff, Beijing has taken control of the northern side of the disputed plateau.

The fact is that the prime minister and the PMO have been sidelining the defence minister as was also seen in the Rafale deal with France. In the same way, the PMO has sidelined both the defence minister and the finance minister. Can you run a country of 1.3 billion in this manner? This has really been his biggest failure.

And let me tell you that he talked about a policy paralysis but the same policy paralysis saw an 8.2 per cent increase in GDP. We now have a strong leader and our GDP is down to seven percent.

Your book highlights how Kashmir has also been a failure. What do you have to say about that?

Absolutely. He has recently changed the governor but the key players in Kashmir, both the National Conference and the PDP have announced they are boycotting the panchayat polls and have refused to collaborate with the government.

Your book also talks about the lack of institutional framework to reduce crimes against women. What made you say that?

The Nirbhaya (Jyoti Singh) case saw the UPA become the target of public wrath with candlelight marches being held against the mishandling of this case. But Modi has failed to put in place an institutional framework for reducing crimes against women. Look at the recent incidents of the brutal murder of a Dalit girl in Jind and the murder of an 11-year old girl in Panipat none of which evoked such reactions. Or, take the case of (UP chief minister) Yogi Adityanath’s MLA Kuldeep Sengar being booked for raping a minor girl. His government left no stone unturned in an attempt to shield the accused.

And now, we have the spectacle of Adityanath not granting sanction for his own prosecution. He also wants 131 cases against those accused in the 2013 communal riots to be withdrawn. How come the media is keeping silent about all this?

What would you describe as being the UPA government’s biggest failure?

You can criticise us for having a democratic impulse. There was a conspiracy, a coalition of conspiracies whose key aim was to bring down our government. We even set up a committee in the spirit of democracy but what has happened in the last four-and-a-half years? The BJP government has chosen to the put the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas Act 2013 on the backburner. Questions need to be asked about who was funding the people who gathered at the Ramlila Maidan, who was bringing them lunch and dinner, and who was paying for that media coverage?

The coal scam was said to be an even bigger scam than the 2G scam. What are your views on that?

The presumptive loss figure on the coal scam by CAG was put at Rs 1.86 lakh crore. The logic of the CAG was based on the government’s decision not to auction 194 coal blocks between 2004 and 2011 thereby suggesting that the country had lost a massive amount of revenue. The Supreme Court’s judgment in 2014 cancelling the entire chain of allocation of coal blocks from 1993-2012 has wreaked havoc on the economy. Deallocating coal mines has impacted the availability of coal. Worse, loans to the tune of Rs 2.5 lakh crore given by banks to companies that were allotted to coal mines have become NPAs apart from causing a loss of Rs 4.4 lakh crore in terms of royalty, cess, direct and indirect taxes and today we are importing coal at very high prices.

Look what has been the result of the cancellation of all telecom licenses in 2012 by the Supreme Court (122 licenses). Not only has it jeopardised consumer confidence but what was a booming sector has seen the cumulative debt of the five top telecom companies (Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Reliance Communications, and Jio) rise to Rs 4.59 lakh crore as of March 2017.

The special CBI judge (OP Saini) did not find a shred of evidence against the accused in the 2G scam. The trial court judgment should make us think of the dangers that present themselves when the Supreme Court entertains PILs in a surcharged atmosphere and seeks to render findings without a full-fledged trial. We have had to pay a huge economic cost for this judicial activism. I believe, in matters of economics, the court should stay their hand.

Has the Congress beefed up its media team and its organisational structure in the last four years?

There are a lot of new technologies which are going to be used. The reason why the government is pushing for the Aadhar card is so that it can target data for each individual. But none of this individual streaming of data is going to make an impact because no one is going to follow this piped piper in 2019.


Updated Date: Sep 15, 2018 15:40 PM

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