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Capital Grapevine  

Virendra Kapoor

Fearing complete rout, Congress invents mythical strikes to erode Modi magic

Rahul Gandhi and the Chinese ambassador are good friends. Remember how at the time of the Doklam standoff the two had met secretly. When the word spread about this clandestine powwow it attracted a lot of adverse comment. What further caused suspicion about the nature of their talks was his failure to keep the Ministry of External Affairs in the loop. Again, Rahul defied protocol when he met senior Chinese ministers while ostensibly on the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.

Given the close ties, he might have wondered, couldn’t the Chinese have delayed giving the green signal for blacklisting Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by a couple of more weeks, having held it back by a decade anyway. The Chinese knew their dear friend was locked in a rather tough electoral battle, they knew that Modi would fully exploit the blacklisting of Masood on the stump. And yet, they go and drop their decade-long opposition to Azhar’s blacklisting in the midst of a do-or-die election for me? What sort of friends they are, these Chinese! Really, you can’t trust anyone these days, the Gandhi scion must have muttered to himself.

Despite trying very hard not to look peeved at the Chinese perfidy, the Congress leadership couldn’t conceal its anger at Modi scoring yet another surgical strike, this time of the diplomatic kind. It would certainly burnish all the more his image as a strong defender of national security and national honour and feed into the electoral narrative of surgical strikes and post-Pulwama Balakot reprisals. This may be why the Congress leadership behaved so churlishly, failing to appreciate the success, at long last, in blacklisting the chief conspirator behind the Mumbai terror attack, and, much later, Pulwama, and a few others in between.

Looking at the Azhar blacklisting purely from the electoral point, the backroom Congress managers came up with what they thought would be a good counter. Manmohan Singh was wheeled in. The 86-year-old wimp is always ready to do the bidding of his benefactors who had nominated him prime minister. He claimed in a hurriedly arranged interview to the capital’s Congress-friendly paper that his government too had carried out several surgical strikes. Really? Pray tell, when, where, by whom? Of course, he could not be bothered with such niggling details. His brief was limited to claim surgical strikes, the fluff would be supplied by another set of underlings.

No evidence, no time-frame was cited. It was a bald claim, lacking any credibility. And Singh knew he was being hugely economical with truth but nonetheless felt obliged to say what the puppet-masters at 10 Janpath wanted him to say. Importantly, what Singh claimed flew directly in the face of an official reply under the RTI which categorically stated that NO surgical strikes were carried out at any time before 2016. Period. The RTI response was under the seal and signatures of a senior Defence Ministry personnel. It was also authoritatively stated that at no time before the 2016 surgical strikes had the Indian armed forces ever crossed the Line of Control.

In fact, Manmohan Singh was a picture of masterly inactivity when Masood Azhar’s jihadis assaulted Mumbai, holding the metropolis to ransom for close to a week as a stunned nation watched on 24x7 television. A senior military official of the time is on record saying that at the height of the Mumbai attack the air force was ready to strike at strategic targets inside Pakistan but the signal they most earnestly and urgently wanted never came. The prime minister continued to sit on his hands all through the 26/11 national humiliation, hoping that better sense would prevail on the terrorists.

For such a play-safe man, who all through his unusually lucky and long career never quit a job whatever the humiliation unless an appointment letter for the next one was in hand, to take such a risky decision must have been unthinkable. Now, when a bold and courageous successor was ready to put his own job on the line but defend the national honor at all costs, the same do-nothing Singh seeks to flex his verbal muscles, claiming ownership of several surgical strikes which never took place.

It is relevant too that two of Manmohan Singh’s national security advisers who are still around have had the occasion to comment on Modi’s surgical strikes. But at no time has either one claimed that any such strikes were conducted by the UPA Government. Maybe the Congress poll strategists would like their favourite paper to interview Shiv Shankar Menon and M K Narayanan. And ask if they are ready to append their names to a lie that surgical strikes were carried out by UPA. They wouldn’t. Because unlike Singh, who feels obliged to return the favour to the Gandhis, they are, when all is said and done, professional civil servants. Mouthing a blatant lie does not come easily to them, though they too can be relied upon to embroider the truth. But here in the belated claim by Singh there was not even a shred of truth to fasten a whole myth of surgical strikes in the time of the Great Manmohan Singh.

Of course with the capital set to vote on May 12, you can be sure they would persist with the completely false propaganda, set in motion by the Singh interview. That would explain the attempt to embellish the lie with a follow-up lie, albeit still bigger, about the date and places where these imaginary surgical strikes were carried out. There is this old saying about being caught in a web of lies, once you utter one you need to tell many more to try proving it to be true. The Congress finds itself trapped. Voters are not political illiterates. They know who is strong on national security, who is capable of providing bold and courageous leadership. And who was a wimp on all matters internal and external. In sum, at 86, Singh should go back to being Mauni Baba instead of serving as a tool in the hands of those who are bent on writing the history of his government in golden colours ( while black was its defining hue.)

Meanwhile, let us not overdo this business of Manmohan Singh being a gentleman. In my book, gentlemen cannot be at ease with their conscience when someone else is penalized for actions taken at their behest and with their full consent. Former Coal Secretary H C Gupta, an officer of great integrity, has been financially and mentally wrecked by his conviction in the coal scam while the minister in-charge, Manmohan Singh, goes unscathed. Moral and administrative duty demanded that the gentleman Singh should come forward and own up the decision for which Gupta alone is given three years in jail. Being a gentleman often entails costs which careerists always find ways to wriggle out of paying.

PS: Now, don’t think I am being harsh on Manmohan. However, if stating cold facts is harsh, I plead guilty.

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Competing to cut margin of defeat

Here is tomorrow’s news today: Reports from the election front suggest that the loudmouth Shatrughan Sinha, the Congress candidate from Patna, and his wife, Poonam Sinha, she on the Samajwadi Party ticket from Lucknow , are competing with one other only to reduce the margin of their defeat. Wait till May 23rd to know who emerges the winner between Mrs and Mr Sinha.