Politics

As Top Ministers Turn on Bajaj, It's Clear the Modi Government Doesn't Like Criticism

Top businessman who asked Amit Shah why his government resented criticism is now being accused of acting against the national interest.

New Delhi: What happens when you ask leaders in the Narendra Modi government why they resent criticism? You get publicly hauled over the coals – and told you “hurt national interest” – by a whole army of Bharatiya Janata Party ministers and senior leaders.

On Saturday, Bajaj Group chairman Rahul Bajaj asked a group of ministers – including Amit Shah, Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal – some tough questions on lynching, Pragya Thakur and the government’s ability to accept criticism.

So far, only one major industrialist – Kiran Mazumdar Shah of Biocon – has dared to openly echo Bajaj’s concerns – “Hope the govt reaches out to India inc for working out solutions to revive consumption n growth. So far we are all pariahs n govt does not want to hear any criticism of our economy”, she tweeted. And the reasons are not hard to fathom.

On Sunday evening, in what appeared to be a coordinated fusillade, top ministers unleashed a barrage of tweets aimed at Bajaj – scolding him for asking the questions he did. Others in the BJP resorted to more personal attacks about him and his business.

In publicly targeting Bajaj, ironically, the BJP’s leaders seem to have gone out of their way to prove the businessman’s point – that as far as the Modi government is concerned, criticism is indeed not welcome.

Bajaj accused of ‘indiscipline’, being abusive

One of the first senior leaders to jump on the bandwagon was Hardeep Singh Puri, Union minister for housing and urban affairs. The minister for urban development accused Bajaj of “indiscipline” by weaving “fake narratives” and “hurl(ing) invectives”:

It says a lot about India’s democracy, according to Puri, that the businessman could stand up in front of top ministers and express himself. But what does it say about our democracy when, instead a response, Bajaj is made the target of a social media campaign led by none other than top ministers who saw the civil, almost apologetic manner in which he raised his questions as insulting and abusive – the dictionary meaning of ‘invective’. Rather surprisingly, given his concern for “freedom of expression”, that question doesn’t seem to have struck Puri.

Bajaj the anti-national

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman suggested that concerns like Bajaj’s could “hurt national interest”. She said that just like Amit Shah responded to Bajaj, questions would always be addressed. But, she added, people should not spread their own impressions, and instead seek answers.

Digging up dirt on Bajaj

When a BJP social media campaign arrives, can Amit Malviya be far behind? The IT cell head decided that Bajaj’s remarks don’t matter because he was “beholden to the Congress”.

The video Malviya shared showed Bajaj praising Rahul Gandhi for one particular speech. In another tweet, he then accused the businessman of using “ministerial contacts to manipulate Scooters India”.

This means, Malviya argues, that Bajaj did not need to be taken seriously.

Bajaj on par with ‘tukde tukde gang’

BJP national spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao went on to call everyone who believed Bajaj’s intentions to be true, “stupid”. He then equated the businessman to “frustrated journalists in Lutyen’s Delhi”.

He even said that Bajaj was “selling himself” for a Rajya Sabha seat, as he would now be a “darling of the “sickular” lobby”.

Piyush Goyal, Union minister of railways and commerce and industry, did not resort to a personalised attack – he simply quoted Shah as saying that Bajaj’s question proved people were not afraid.

 

Rahul Bajaj. Photo: Reuters/Files

Bajaj family not always fans of the Congress

While sections of the BJP’s social media team, including Malviya, have sought to downplay Bajaj’s remarks by highlighting his family’s connections to the Congress party, the truth is that the senior industrialist has always spoken his mind frankly and that their connections with the grand old party have also been rocky.

The Bajaj family’s relationship with the Congress in fact came to an abrupt end in 1969 when Kamal Nayan Bajaj (Rahul’s father) refused to support Indira Gandhi during the party split. Swift retribution followed from the Indira’s government, which refused to give permission for the company to expand its manufacturing facilities.

“The lesson about standing up to the establishment was reinforced when my father Kamal Nayan Bajaj decided to join Congress (O) in 1969 taking a principled stance against Indira Gandhi’s policies such as the nationalisation of banks. We all knew both he and the company would incur the wrath of the Government. He offered to step down as the chairman and from the board to save the company from potential hardships,” Rahul Bajaj told Economic Times in a 2007 interview, when the UPA-I was in power.

“Then Ramakrishna Bajaj convinced him to stay on and said that if we suffer for our principles then so be it. Even during the emergency we suffered at the hands of the Government because I was its critic. Then Bajaj Auto wanted to go in for a major capacity expansion but the Industries Ministry rejected it. I was told by some of the key men in the Ministry that permission would be granted if I came out in support of the Emergency,” he added.

Later, in 1976, the Bajaj Group also incurred the wrath of Sanjay Gandhi who wanted to use ‘Viswa Yuvak Kendra’, a non-political youth training and developing centre, for political purposes. At the time, Kamal Nayan Bajaj was a director in the organisation, and he refused on the grounds that the kendra should only be used for charitable purposes.

The Congress government retaliated in May 1976, when more than 1,000 income tax officers raided nearly 114 Bajaj group establishments across the country.

According to Moneycontrol, 18 months later, Rahul Bajaj and his uncle Ramakrishna Bajaj aired their suspicions to the Shah Commission, a committee set up by the Janata government to examine the misuse of political power during the Emergency.

The Telegraph newspaper later reported that Ramkrishna Bajaj’s connections to industrialist Viren Shah, who became governor of Bengal when the NDA came to power later, had been held against the business family.