Op-Ed: Modi govt losing perception battle

The Narendra Modi government may like to believe that the resignation of Alok Verma brings ‘closure’ to the unsavoury saga in the CBI stretching over several months. But is it really a closure? I am afraid the answer to this question has to be a resounding ‘No’. Already fraying at the edges, the bitter and below-the-belt Verma-Asthana spat has dealt a body blow to the credibility of the premier investigating agency in the country. No matter who finally replaces Verma, the nation would never believe in the integrity of CBI in future.

The Modi government can keep shouting from the rooftops that there was ‘substance’ in at least six of the 10 charges of corruption and misconduct leveled against Verma till the cows come home. But after the emphatic assertion by Justice AK Patnaik, the highly respected retied Supreme Court appointed by the apex court to supervise the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) inquiry against Verma, that ultimately led to his exit, that there was ‘no evidence of corruption’ against the former CBI Director, no one except the diehard Modi fan and BJP supporter would believe the claim.

Justice Patnaik’s clarification, however, is not the only reason for this lack of trust. The government itself has done enough in the lead up to the dénouement on Friday to make its many acts of omission and commission suspect in the public eye. First, while sending Verma on leave on October 23 midnight, it could not have been unaware of the rule cited by the apex court to set aside Verma’s removal, which required the decision to be left to the high-powered three-member selection committee headed by the Prime Minister. Second, it was obvious that the Modi government was in a tearing hurry to pack Verma’ out of CBI when it shunted him out as Director General of Fire Services within 24 hours of the Supreme Court reinstating him. This in itself was enough to suspect that there was more to it than meets the eye. Third, more evidence of this undue haste came when the government convened the high-powered committee meeting, essentially called to ‘ratify’ a decision already taken, less than 48 hours after the SC verdict – and thrice within a span of 24 hours at that – even though the apex court had given a week’s time to it. The inference was loud and clear: the Modi government went after Verma with a vengeance because he had the ‘audacity’ to initiate a discreet inquiry into the Rafale deal worth billions of dollars.

Some pundits are saying Verma had no powers to initiate any such inquiry, ‘discreet’ or otherwise. But if past experience is anything to go by, ‘truth’ is often irrelevant in such cases. What really matters is perception. After all, no one has yet been found guilty of wrong-doing in the infamous Bofors case of 1987 after a seemingly endless probe that has already lasted over three decades. But does anyone in the country – except the diehard Gandhi family loyalist – seriously believe that everything was honky dory and no one was paid bribes to clinch the Rs. 64 crore deal? It is all about perception. And it is perception that is widely believed to have cost the Congress, which had won an unprecedented mandate under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi just five years before, defeat in the 1989 elections.

There is little doubt that the Rafale deal is fast turning out to be the Narendra Modi government’s ‘Bofors moment’ despite the clean chit given recently by the Supreme Court. If the government had thought that it had ‘weathered’ the storm well in time for the elections, l’ affaire Alok Verma has ensured that it will keep coming up to haunt it as it readies for the battle royale later this year. The court goes by evidence, people don’t.

The Modi government is clearly losing the battle of perception in the Rafale deal.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)