Modi's Tryst With Alternative Facts

The prime minister has a complicated relationship with the truth, making outlandish claims and sometimes offering outright lies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally in Bhuj. Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had his Donald Trump moment as he virtually torpedoed the dignity of his office by making a bizarre allegation on Sunday. He said that former prime minister Manmohan Singh, former vice president Hamid Ansari, former army chief Deepak Kapoor and a host of former senior government officials, met with former Pakistan foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasturi, former Pakistan army director general Arshad Rafique (whom he described as a Pakistani army chief), and entered into a conspiracy to make Ahmed Patel, senior Congress leader, the chief minister of Gujarat. Modi said all the ‘conspirators’ met at suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence.

Modi’s tryst with alternative facts was called out by General Kapoor, who said on record that, “Only India and Pakistan relations were discussed”. The government would have been aware of the visit because a close eye is routinely kept on visiting dignitaries from Pakistan.

The more important question, however, is that before publicly accusing his predecessor of treason, along with a virtual who’s who of the Indian establishment, why did the Modi government not register a case of treason against the Indians he mentioned and expel the Pakistani high commissioner for meddling in India’s domestic affairs?

Modi’s desperation to twist a routine track II meeting organised by Aiyar – a former foreign service official who had served in Pakistan – is a measure of his nervousness in the Gujarat elections.

Modi is trying to consolidate Hindus against Muslims by raising the bogey of “Ahmed mian as chief minister” despite Patel having publicly ruled himself out. Modi is also trying to ensure that the voters think that Pakistan, Muslims and the Congress become interchangeable as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces huge anti-incumbency after an unbroken 22 years in power.

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Gujarat, the original Hindutva laboratory, seems to have split as this election is all about caste. With the three community leaders Alpesh Thakor, leading the OBC’s, who has joined the congress, Jignesh Mevani leading the disaffected Dalits post the ghastly Una public flogging, and Modi’s true nightmare, 24-year-old Hardik Patel, leading the Patidars – who were once the backbone of the BJP but now are implacably opposed to it. Patel is drawing huge crowds – in some meetings larger than Modi – and his charismatic, earthy persona is a hit despite the sex CDs circulated by BJP supporters. His digs, such as the one that the BJP was so busy making his sex CDs that they forgot to make a manifesto, are huge hits with the voters.

But even if we set aside his latest faux pas, the fact is that Modi has a complicated history with the truth. His record in the past few years shows him over egging the cake, making outlandish claims and sometimes offering outright lies.

Take the case of what the prime minister’s office (PMO) announced as the “historic Nagaland accord” signed with huge fanfare in front of television cameras with Modi and his National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in August 2015. Till date, the details of the agreement signed with the NSCN (IM) are not known. None of the chief ministers whose territory would be affected by the accord have any clue about it. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has brought this up in parliament only to be met with silence from the government. Union home minister Rajnath Singh has publicly disowned all knowledge of it, saying the details are known to the PMO.

Modi and his zeal to claim credit ensured that the Doklam stand off with China became an election issue. He thumped his chest as he took credit for ejecting China after a 73-day eyeball to eyeball confrontation which ended in August. Senior leaders of the BJP like Arun Jaitley and Nirmala Sithararam publicly congratulated Modi on making China blink. But a report in the Times of India on Monday has revealed that 1,600 to 1,800 Chinese troops have now virtually established a permanent presence in the Sikkim, Bhutan Tibet junction, constructed two helipads, upgraded roads, built shelters and stores. This is the first time China has done this in winter and it’s probably in it for the long haul. So why did Modi and his cabinet mislead the country and parliament when the standoff ended without revealing the exact nature of the de-escalation terms with China?

This is similar to his claims of “surgical strikes against Pakistan in the Uri sector” in September last year when the army hit mobile terrorist launch pads. He had claimed that was the first time India had retaliated, when in reality, similar exercises were carried out in the past but no government was publicity hungry enough to make it public.

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Modi has repeatedly claimed credit for schemes started by the UPA and while this is par for the course in politics a far more serious example is the vexed issue of his degrees. Modi has claimed to be a BA from Delhi University via a correspondence course and a masters from Gujarat University in political science. After Arvind Kejriwal made it a huge issue and filed RTI after RTI, the PMO first removed the claims from the PMO website and then Jaitley and Amit Shah produced a third division degree from DU for the BA which mentioned 1979 in his degree when he had claimed to have passed out a year earlier. The degree was made public in May 2016.

Another degree was provided by Gujarat University which said that Modi had a “masters in entire political science”. The degree remains an unresolved issue till date. Downplaying allegations of glaring discrepancies, DU registrar Tarun Das said the year was a “minor error“. AAP has alleged that the degrees are “forged”.

An Ahmedabad based RTI activist Roshan Shah who had filed the first RTI in 2013 had claimed to the Hindu that the mark sheet shared by the Gujarat University was totally “fabricated”. He said, “The university is recreating all the documents. It has a discrepancy on his name, his date of birth, and the subject “entire political science” post graduation is done in one subject with specialisation so there is nothing like entire political science as claimed by the university.”

The degree claim is similar to the billion dollar investment claims made during “vibrant Gujarat” summits organised with much fan fare by Modi when he was CM.

Audits done later reveal that most of the highly publicised memoranda of understanding (MoUs) remained on paper and the promised investment did not materialise. Which is perhaps the reason that Modi does not talk about the Gujarat model any more and is now openly back to communal basics to win what has turned in to a hotly contested Gujarat election. While Modi may still win the election, he has certainly lost the gravitas and the grace the office of the prime minister commands.

Swati Chaturvedi is a Delhi-based journalist.