Is Manmohan Singh's letter objecting to Narendra Modi's Karnataka rhetoric aimed at taking heat off P Chidambaram?

The timing of the letter written by Manmohan Singh and 13 other senior Congress leaders to President Ram Nath Kovind charging Prime Minister Narendra Modi of lowering dignity of his office, coming less than 24 hours after Nirmala Sitharaman said the Income Tax Department chargesheets against P Chidambaram was Congress’ “Nawaz Sharif moment”, is interesting.

File image of former prime minister Manmohan Singh. AFP

File image of former prime minister Manmohan Singh. AFP

One can argue that the two were separate incidents and the timing was purely incidental. But such coincidences, in politics, have its own implicit meaning. Incidentally, Chidambaram is one of the signatories in Manmohan's letter — written on All India Congress Committee stationery — to Kovind which said “honourable president may caution the prime minister from using such unwarranted, threatening and intimidating language against leaders of the Congress party… As it does not behoove the position of prime minister”.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia are not among signatories. But that’s not unusual in Congress’ style of functioning. They couldn’t possibly be seen to be co-signatories in a letter where Manmohan is leading the charge.

It should be noted that Manmohan and others in his party have chosen to find fault with Modi’s Hubli election speech after eight full days. Modi addressed a public rally with the crowd enthusiastically responding to his barbs against naamdaar (Rahul) on 6 May. It is rather intriguing as to why Congress didn’t respond to it during campaign and are making it an issue a day ahead of Karnataka poll results. The Congress leaders, particularly Rahul and Sonia, could have easily responded to Modi during their election rallies. But for reasons best known only to them, they chose to remain silent.

In their letter to Kovind, Congress leaders went on to quote entire text of oath of office taken by the prime minister before coming to the point: Two lines Modi spoke at Hubli rally: “Congress ke neta kaan khol kar sun lijiye agar simaon ko paar karoge toh ye Modi hai lene ke dene pad jayenge (Congress leaders should listen with ears wide open, if you cross limits, then this is Modi, things will boomerang on you).”

Consider what Modi said in that rally to assess why Congress chose to react after so many days. Modi began by taking a jibe at Rahul by referring to one Chandrakant — an ordinary resident of Hubli whom Modi helped tide over a crisis when he was Gujarat chief minister — to conclude that naamdaar don’t care for kaamdaar but a kaamdaar feels and works for a kaamdaar. Modi then went on to say loads of money was found in Congress ministers' bathrooms, bedrooms, mattresses and pillows. He added that the money rightfully belonged to people and he was going after such persons to get that money back. For such cleansing act, his government was termed vindictive.

Modi then went on to add that Congress leaders were crossing limits of public decorum in making allegations against him and his party leaders (Yedyurappa). Mother (Sonia) and son (Rahul) both were out on bail from a court in a corruption case. They (Sonia and Rahul) should tell people about that corruption case and how they got bail; instead they have audacity to ask questions from him and the BJP, Modi added. Only then did Modi say what has been quoted in Manmohan’s letter to Kovind. This is not the first time that Manmohan, someone otherwise known for limited words and eloquent silence, has spoken rather sharply against Modi.

In January 2014, when Manmohan was prime minister and Modi was making waves as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the former said: “Without discussing the merits of Modi, it would be disastrous for the country to have Narendra Modi as the next prime minister... If by a strong prime minister they mean you preside over the massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad, if that is the measure of strength, I do not believe that is the sort of strength this country needs, least of all from its prime minister". Manmohan then pitched for Rahul as his successor. "Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials… I do hope the party will take the right decision at the appropriate time".

In aftermath of Modi’s 8 November, 2016, decision to demonetise high denomination currency notes, Manmohan termed the move “organised loot and legalised plunder”. Chidambaram, as home and finance minister, was Manmohan's most trusted colleague during the 10-year UPA government. He'd been close to Gandhi family, and could have have held position of number two or three in Congress-led government at the Centre. His inputs, political and intellectual, were highly valued.

The Income Tax Department filing four chargesheets against Chidambaram’s wife, son and daughter-in-law “for possessing and operating several illegal assets and accounts in foreign countries, estimated to the tune of three billion dollars” hurts not just the former finance minister but entire Congress.

It should be noted Chidambaram’s wife Nalini, son Karti and daughter-in-law Srinidhi have been booked under black money Act enacted by Modi government. The question is whether Congress’ offensive against Modi is a result of top BJP leaders going to town on black money charge against Chidambaram and his family.

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Updated Date: May 14, 2018 20:48:55 IST

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