After the Supreme Court snubbed Rahul Gandhi for the second time for attributing to it a figment of the Congress president’s imagination on 30 April, it is the misfortune of nobody but the political party that it believes Goebbelsian propaganda works at the hustings. After grudgingly expressing regret for the attribution inside the court, Gandhi’s lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the media with a smirk that their propaganda would continue unabated. Ill-advised that the allegations of corruption, which they believe were bereft of truth, had toppled their government at the Centre five years ago, the Congress hit upon the idea that harping upon the lie that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had deprived the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited of a lucrative contract to make Rafale fighter jets to benefit Anil Ambani would impress voters, gullible or otherwise.
The Congress and its president couldn’t see that, for all their effort, the mainstream media, which has no love lost for the prime minister or the BJP, was not taking their allegation forward. The motley bunch in the media that are impressed are a few leftist, antagonistic start-ups and an N Ram who appeared out of the woodwork to come up with a fraudulent report in The Hindu on PMO’s monitoring of the deal with France where a crucial part containing a note scribbled by the then (late) Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was cropped out. Parrikar had, through that note, assured the bureaucrat who had raised an objection that the French president was, with equal alacrity, overseeing the progress of the negotiations with India. Not only that, by then, defence ministry papers reported in the media had shown that the Rafale the NDA government was buying was cheaper than the version the UPA would have settled for despite the fact that the fighters the current government is procuring is advanced whereas the earlier version was basic. Media reports claiming NDA’s Rafale was cheaper was later endorsed by the CAG.
By then, the head of the HAL had rubbished Gandhi’s claim that his agency had been deprived. R Madhavan said this contract could have in no way come to the HAL as the PSU did not accept offsets; he said it worked only on deals of building entire squadrons under the licence of the original manufacturer. Also, while the current government of France, as well as Dassault Aviation, refused to endorse Congress’s allegations, even the former French President François Hollande retracted his statement saying he couldn’t recall ever being pressured by the Modi government to offer Ambani a deal. Then, even as some top officers of the IAF, including Air Force chief BS Dhanoa, said Rafale was a superb fighting machine and Ambani’s Reliance Defence was found to have got no contract other than making spare parts for Falcon planes — not Rafale — the Supreme Court, in its first judgment, found nothing amiss in the deal. The cases the apex court is hearing now is a fresh petition by activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan and an appeal by the government to revise a small part of the verdict that was allegedly a result of a typographic error or misreading of the government’s submission.
In their limitless wisdom, Congress must have presumed that an expression of regret or even a “sorry” whispered inside the court would not affect their standing amongst the people. Little do they realise that the part of India that consumes news is divided into two parts: one that is enlightened enough about the deal and the other that was always anti-BJP and anti-Modi, which wouldn’t need this propaganda to vote against the current dispensation. The rest of India would not vote on the basis of what Gandhi blabbers about Rafale, more so as he keeps forgetting what price for the planes he had quoted on the last occasion in every new public address where he raises the issue, and then comes up with an altogether new price that Modi has allegedly and hilariously “gifted” to an Anil Ambani who is so favoured by this government that some of his companies are staring at insolvency and bankruptcy!
In contrast, between 2010 and 2014, there was no section of the media that was shying away from exposing the corrupt nature of the Congress-led UPA government. If The Pioneer broke the story of the 2G spectrum scam, The Times of India revealed how coal block allocations were a scandal. If Times Now said the Commonwealth Games in Delhi were unnecessarily extravagant, the first press conference a fledgeling Arvind Kejriwal addressed, with Bhushan by his side, exposing Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra, was based on an Economic Times report. When the people could not bear with it anymore, they vented their frustration out with a media-celebrated anti-corruption movement in 2011-12. Where is that public anger today? Media is not driving Gandhi’s Rafale message home. Clearly, the Congress ploy has not worked.
The oldest party in the country refuses to take lessons even from its rival, the ruling BJP, whose negative campaign, replete with the insult of “weakest Prime Minister” heaped on a muted Manmohan Singh, bore no fruit in the 2009 election. The leader who was the face of that flawed poll strategy, LK Advani, is now as good as retired. If the Congress reckons its falsehood about Rafale won it Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2018, it is underestimating Vasundhara Raje’s attitude problem, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s over-confidence coupled with callous BJP ministers and MLAs and Raman Singh’s complacency. With the SP-BSP-RLD leaving no room for it in Uttar Pradesh, Lalu Prasad Yadav fighting demons in his family, partner in Andhra Pradesh N Chandrababu Naidu facing anti-incumbency, record of the BJP of mostly winning direct bouts with the Congress, and irrelevance of the party founded by AO Hume now in West Bengal, Northeast, Odisha and Telangana, the formerly largest political organisation in the country is fully assured only in Kerala.
If a few respectable names from the domain of economics shaped a part of the Congress manifesto, Gandhi is not stressing those points. When the poor do not believe Indian bureaucracy can detect real poverty and say they have been earning well beyond Rs 6,000 a month for years, a dole the party is promising under NYAY, Rafale is the last thing that should have crossed the minds of the Congress’s strategists to make the voter press the EVM button corresponding to the hand symbol. This, in an era of a prime minister from the BJP who can give any dyed-in-the-wool socialist a run for his money!