On 21 December 2016, Rahul Gandhi, addressing a rally at Mehsana in Gujarat, waved a bunch of papers and levelled an ‘allegation’ of ‘personal corruption’ against Narendra Modi - something he had been threatening to do for more than a week. There is absolutely nothing new about these allegations. As a matter of fact, these documents had been presented before the Supreme Court by a Supreme Court Advocate (I will not use the prefix ‘Senior’ as no High Court in the country has seen it fit to designate Prashant Bhushan as such as yet).
In a ‘special session’ of the Delhi Assembly convened at the behest of Arvind Kejriwal, an identical allegation was made by the Delhi Chief Minister. The core of the allegation against the Prime Minister is this. A document of doubtful veracity found on the premises of the Sahara and Birla groups in the course of a joint raid by the CBI and the Income Tax authorities mentions the words ‘Gujarat CM’ and ‘Modiji’ next to middling sums of money prefixed with the acronym ‘cash’. Interestingly, the entries also mention a certain Delhi CM. I am surprised why some journalists, who have already announced Rahul Gandhi’s umpteenth ‘coming of age’, have not sought fit to explore this aspect further. As Babban tells Khalujaan in Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya - ‘kyaa Khalujaan, tumhaara ishq ishq aur humaara ishq sex?’.
The Supreme Court has already berated Bhushan twice over the fact that the documents cited by him do not constitute valid proof of the allegations made. On the last date of hearing, the soon to be Chief Justice of India, Justice JS Khehar (by no means a fan of the ruling dispensation) read the riot act to Bhushan and very clearly informed him that if he wanted the Court to take cognisance of the issue, he would have to produce better evidence than what he had presented thus far.
As things stand, the matter has now been posted for 11 January for a hearing. It seems quite unlikely that Bhushan will be able to produce more than he already has, since he has been unable to do so despite being given multiple chances. On the other hand, Kejriwal has very cleverly chosen to make his allegations on the floor of the Delhi Assembly because he knows that statements made there cannot be made the subject matter of libel action. It seems that the strategy of Bhushan, Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi is to throw as much muck at the Prime Minister as possible without attracting serious consequences in the fond hope that at least some of the muck will stick. At the aforementioned rally in Mehsana, Rahul also expressed support for the Patidar agitation while stopping short of naming Hardik Patel.
The legal position in this regard has been settled by the Supreme Court in the case of Central Bureau of Investigation vs. VC Shukla in 1998. The aforementioned judgment very clearly lays down that mere diary entries found at the premises of an accused person detailing payments made to a third party do not constitute sufficient evidence for the framing of criminal charges against the aforementioned third party. (Remember that, as of now, there is still doubt over the fact that the aforementioned entries indeed refer to the Prime Minister of India. As a matter of fact, one of the officials questioned by the authorities has stated on oath that Guj CM refers to Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals) If this were not the case, the easiest thing to do in order to nail a political rival would be to fabricate a diary entry with his name detailing a suitably astronomical sum of money conveniently recorded as having been made in ‘cash’.
Given this background, the big question that we must need answer is whether this is indeed Rahul’s ‘Coming of Age’?
There can be little doubt that this time the Congress vice-president has made a sincere and painstaking effort to put the government on the mat, notwithstanding the fact that he has now exposed himself to attacks on the Agusta Westland helicopter deal as well. There can also be little doubt that his recent speeches are a vast improvement over his past efforts. I even noticed that he has been trying to recite some shers (albeit with the assistance of a piece of paper). However, to my mind, the important question that the Congress party needs to answer is whether it has the organisational heft in Uttar Pradesh - the most important state heading for assembly polls - to carry Rahul’s message to every nook and cranny of India’s biggest state. The problem with the Congress party is that despite all of Rahul’s pyrotechnics, the contents of his speech were not accorded prominent space in any of the major vernacular newspapers like Dainik Jagaran or Amar Ujala or Aaj. This might have had something to do with the fact that the allegations had already been aired by Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal. In these circumstances, the possibility of the ‘earthquake’ predicted by Rahul Gandhi is quite remote.
Indeed it would not be far from the truth to say that the only issue qua which the Uttar Pradesh election is a referendum is the success or failure of demonetisation. Reports emerging from the poll-bound state seem to suggest that banks and ATMs are relatively better stocked with money than they were a fortnight earlier and that the initial groundswell of support for demonetisation seems to be returning. As far as the question of whether the BJP will romp home or not is concerned, it is too early to predict. However, what is decidedly clear is that Rahul Gandhi and his ‘second coming’ shall have little to no impact on the result of the election. The Congress party shall surely be relegated to the last spot in the quadrangular race. His only hope is that the Samajwadi Party gives him some seats to fight in a “mahaganthbandhan”.
The Congress vice president should stop wasting his breath on Narendra Modi. The fact of the matter is that he is just one of the occupants of the opposition space for which regional satraps with a larger grassroots base than him are vying fiercely with each other. His energy would be better expended in trying to build a base for his party in Uttar Pradesh instead of managing headlines in, and on Delhi-based and Delhi-centred newspapers and news channels respectively.
Raghav Awasthi is a lawyer based in Delhi and a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
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