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The BJP-led government worked overtime to keep journalists in the dark on Kashmir

While the media found they had been misled, the government patted itself on the back for being secretive

By The Telegraph

  • Published 11.08.19, 11:39 AM
  • Updated 11.08.19, 11:39 AM
Paramilitary personnel prepare to close off a street with barbwire in Srinagar on Saturday, August 10, 2019. Curfew was briefly eased on Friday for Muslim prayers in some parts of Srinagar, but thousands had to remain indoors with shops and most health clinics closed, and communications cut off
Paramilitary personnel prepare to close off a street with barbwire in Srinagar on Saturday, August 10, 2019. Curfew was briefly eased on Friday for Muslim prayers in some parts of Srinagar, but thousands had to remain indoors with shops and most health clinics closed, and communications cut off (AP Photo)

In the run-up to the bolt-from-the-blue move to amend Article 370, scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, both the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party machinery led by the Union home minister, Amit Shah, worked overtime to ensure that journalists didn’t get a whiff of the plan. Government officials and BJP media managers made it a point to mislead journalists when many smelt something big was cooking. “Are you mad?” was the reaction of a BJP leader close to Shah when one reporter asked about the redrawing of the boundaries in J&K. “This is total nonsense being spread by our opponents,” the leader added. Shah himself met journalists informally and kept insisting that the troop build-up in the Valley was a security decision and had nothing to do with politics. To make sure journos don’t get any hint, BJP media managers engaged in the rare move of calling them up and informing them that the party’s election strategy had been discussed at the emergency party meet over J&K. Party leaders confided that assembly polls would be held in the state in October. With both the government and the party speaking in one voice, most journos ruled out fears of J&K’s special status being scrapped.

When the decision was finally made public on August 5, while the scribes discovered that they had been taken for a ride, the government and BJP managers patted themselves on the back for their ability to maintain secrecy. “Ye hai Modi-Shah”, remarked one senior minister, acknowledging that he too had no inkling about the move.

Yashwant Sinha predicted in 2017 that the health of the economy was not good, and now he's back with an even more disturbing conclusion
Yashwant Sinha predicted in 2017 that the health of the economy was not good, and now he's back with an even more disturbing conclusion (UB Photos)

Crystal ball

When the former finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, predicted in 2017 that the health of the economy was not good, the then FM, Arun Jaitley, reacted angrily, seeing a job applicant in an 80-year-old critic. But the irrepressible Sinha is back again, asserting that every word of his has come true. He has reached an even more disturbing conclusion on this occasion. In an article, Sinha writes, “The problem is, and I am convinced of this now, that nobody in this Government understands economics. It is a case of the blind leading the blind. Winning elections is easy; delivering good governance to the people is quite another matter.” This blanket criticism of the Narendra Modi government and its set of advisers by one of the brightest minds in the BJP is going to create intolerable heartburn in the Establishment. Even though Sinha did not name the incumbent FM, Nirmala Sitharaman, a disgruntled BJP leader retorted, “This was not a critique of the finance minister who hasn’t shown any pretensions of knowing the economy. Sinha has commented on the incompetence of the Union cabinet.”

What is worse, and is sure to send out a wrong signal to the world, is that the former FM unambiguously pointed to data manipulation and said Sitharaman deliberately chose to misrepresent facts in the budget. He also described the economic crisis as “unprecedented”. Will he be proven right again? That could send a shiver down the BJP’s spine.

Different tune

Younger leaders of the Congress got unnerved by the BJP’s massive propaganda on its decision to abrogate segments of Article 370 and divide J&K. Even a veteran like Karan Singh, who has been such a key player in the history of the state, wavered. But it is also true that a number of veteran leaders of the party showed the courage to stick to their guns.

While Ghulam Nabi Azad and P Chidambaram took a strong public stand, Digvijaya Singh went a step further by suggesting a campaign to expose the BJP. Speaking at a book release function in Delhi recently, Singh said: “What would have Mahatma Gandhi done… in a situation that this bill had come and passed? I think he would have taken a march from Lal Qila to Lal Chowk to show solidarity with the Kashmiris. That’s what I would want them [the current leadership] to do.” Such a categorical assertion from Singh came at a time when the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Kamal Nath, avoided getting into the merit of the decision, only saying that time will tell whether the government was right or wrong. The other senior leader from the state, Jyotiraditya Scindia, supported the Narendra Modi government. Ironically, while Singh is not in the good books of the Nehru-Gandhi family anymore, Kamal Nath and Scindia enjoy their blessings.

Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa arrives during the Assembly Session to announce the new speaker at Vidhana Soudha, in Bengaluru, Wednesday, July 31, 2019.
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa arrives during the Assembly Session to announce the new speaker at Vidhana Soudha, in Bengaluru, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. PTI

Footnote

The BJP government in Karnataka is facing a case of too many aspirants for cabinet berths. BS Yediyurappa, the CM, prefers a cabinet of just 15 ministers with no deputy. But influential leaders from different communities want to be part of his cabinet. Some want to be deputy chief minister. With the by-polls for 17 assembly seats in the offing, the party has asked the state leaders to keep their voices low. Winning at least eight seats can ensure the longevity of Yedi’s government.