Kapil Sibal: No thought process behind schemes Modi has announced
Lawyer, politician and former UPA minister, Kapil Sibal, is angry with the BJP government over the way it has usurped old UPA programmes and is palming them off as its own. Sibal, whose "zero loss" theory in the 2G scam became a butt of ridicule during a phase where UPA's credibility was abysmally low, blames poor communication for his party's debacle in the last 2014 polls. In this tough interview, Sibal, a good lawyer that he is, picks up holes in BJP government's tall claims during the one year that they have been in power. He fears that people's democratic rights are under threat under the BJP government. Excerpts...
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
How do you look at one year of the Narendra Modi led BJP government?
If you take any sector of the economy, any activity of the state you will find two significant trends, one is that he has taken the schemes of our government, renamed them, taken them forward and taken the credit for it. For example I can tell you about the telecom sector. Digital India is nothing but the National Optical Fibre Network scheme which I got a budgetary allocation of Rs 20,000 crore. Same thing with Jan Dhan Yojna.
What about his other schemes?
The second trend we see is that in schemes he has announced there seems to be no thought process behind it. Let’s take Niti Aayog. Even before the Lok Sabha Elections he announced that he will do away with the Planning Commission. He did that, but it took several months to set up the Niti Aayog which means that when he made that announcement, he had no idea that he was wanting to do, Even today we don’t know what Niti Aayog stands for. Arvind Panagriya has not been given the status of cabinet minister. He doesn’t know where he stands, what his work profile is. Nobody knows what Niti Aayog is meant to do and they have an allocation of Rs 20,000 crores. It’s chicken feed. So many of these announcements are thoughtless announcements like for example his visit to China, he said I’ll give e-visas to China, it is thoughtless, there is no reciprocity, we have given something to the Chinese on the platter without negotiating something in return.
The Chinese recently promised to invest $46 billion in Pakistan...
Yes, and they gave $46 billion to Pakistan. I don’t know whether [Modi's government] raised that issue or not. But even if they did nothing has come out of it, nothing will come out of it. There are stapled visas for Jammu & Kashmir and for the Northeast; that issue has not been resolved. The border issue has not been resolved, and we are announcing unilaterally when the foreign secretary just a few hours before said there is no such decision. Again this is an example of the thoughtless announcements for pleasing your host and trying to show that you have a great relationship. In diplomacy nobody says that I don’t like you. So if somebody has praised you, it can’t be a reason for patting yourself on the back and saying how great you are.
What do you make of Swach Bharat?
Now what is Swach Bharat? It is not cleaning the North Block with a broom. Swach Bharat means a community initiative where cleanliness is an ideology which must actually be a thought process in every household. People don’t have the wherewithal. People don’t get sanitation. How can you expect cleanliness? I will take you to places in my constituency which are worse than they were since the program was announced, yet he tom toms as if it is something revolutionary. Swach Bharat is wonderful as a concept and we all should believe in it and we should take it forward but Swach Bharat cannot be a national scheme.
And the Rafale deal with France. Your views...
Yes, that is another example. He goes to France and he says I’ll pick up 36 Rafale jets from the shelf. There are serious issues with Rafale which defence minister alluded to recently. And there is no dialogue with the defence ministry before the announcement is made.
The move also didn’t square with calls for Make in India...
What is make in India? How do you make things in India? Does he have an idea? Does the prime minister know how things are made in India? If there is some collaboration between a technology entrepreneur with DRDO that is at the high end of the technology. You might have a deal of making something in India, but make In India means that your everyday items should be made in India. Where is the workforce for that? Where are the skills for that? Where is the investment for that? Zero, there is no plan for it even. So the problem is, again the same thing, you make plans but there is no thought process behind it. And there is this other trend. You pick up an UPA scheme, rename it and then take credit for it. Take the skill development programme. It’s something we started long ago. I myself in the ministry of human resource development said that class nine onwards there should be a vocational training. This government is just taking it forward and then taking the credit for it.
So has there been a big gap in Congress’ communication strategy?
Congress definitely failed to communicate. Two things happened. One: we failed in our communication strategy. Two, which is even more problematic: A perception was created that this was a scam ridden government and we were not able to deal with that perception.
Did you not get a chance to defend yourselves? Was there a gag order?
No, it’s not that. What happened was that when the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the media got together and the courts came out with those judgements, it seemed as if they had the imprimatur of court. Then the media played it so much that it went into the hearts and minds of people that we have done a monumental wrong where in fact we had not. All we had done was to follow the policy of the previous government, and in any case no Congress minister was accused of any wrongdoing. Today they are saying, look at one year, it’s a corruption free government. In 2004 we came in power, was there any corruption in 2005? For five years there was not a whiff of corruption.
But former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been summoned by the court in the coal scam...
I am saying there are no allegations. Corruption is something you take a decision to allot a mine to somebody. You may attribute mala fides to that decision. But nobody said that there was any quid pro quo, that anybody took any benefit. The allegation is that you may have given the benefit. That allegation is still an allegation. In any case there was no allegation against any Congress minister for any quid pro quo. Secondly, on the issue of corruption free government, if you do not allow the Central Information Commission to function, and you have 13000 applications pending before the CIC, If people don’t get information, then how will they assess whether you are corruption free government or not? He has blocked all the information. No information flows, no minister meets anybody, and you are not allowed to meet ministers. Ministers won’t talk. We were an open government, and we used to talk openly. If you are a closed system and you won’t allow information to leak, it will take time for those scandals to come out. They should wait and see. At the end of five years, I hope they last that long, we will see what happens.
You have served as Minister, Human Resource and Development. How do you assess the present HRD Ministry under Smriti Irani?
I am concerned about it. It’s in the news for the wrong reasons. The IIT Delhi Director Shevgaonkar complained he was insulted then nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar’s criticism of the way IIT Directors are being appointed, or the appointment of Dina Nath Batra as the head of ICHR. Moreover, there are several vacancies which have not been filled up. CBSE is headless, Kendriya Vidyalaya is vacant. The ministry is in the news for conflict whereas human resource is about collaboration. So, if conflict comes to the fore and collaboration at the background then the department cannot work.
It’s the 40th anniversary of the imposition of internal emergency. Prime Minister Modi is facing criticism for centralising power around himself. Do you feel that there is a danger of those days coming back?
Yes, 100 per cent and I am very worried. See what is he doing? He is following a very well planned strategy – let those who talk of Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, Ramzadas and Haramzadas, let them say what they have to say and ‘I will keep quiet’ and at some stage I will make some statement that this should not be said while saying that has fulfilled its objective. So, he will allow that to happen and he will give the impression that he does not want that to happen. He wants to win the battle at both ends and that’s his policy. There have been 600 incidents of communal violence in the country. Almost 43 people have died. Arun Jaitley also reached out to the Christian community. They will make all the right noises before the media and what have they done when it comes to actual working with all the communities. The ugly head of communalism is rising again.
But there has been no wide scale violence...
Wide scale violence means what? If in Gujarat, those who are the victims of violence remain in ghettos then that is continuing violence. If in Muzzaffarnagar people are living in inhuman state that’s continuing violence. Also, this is the first time in the history of the Indian politics that a party’s president (Amit Shah) is accused of murder.
What do you make of the way cases of encounters and violence in Gujarat are being dealt with?
There are two things – people who were prosecuted for serious offences like murder, police officers like PP Pandey and Gita Johri, no sanction is given. They cannot be prosecuted. And, for those who have been convicted, now they are suddenly getting judgments that are acquitting them. And they are being reinstated while the process of appeals is still pending. These people are being reinstated and that too on important positions.
Why is the Congress not raising this issue?
They should. I am surprised why this issue is not being raised.
Also, if you look at what is happening in the CBI, which also happens to be investigating a lot of such cases, has it not taken the sheen out of the agency?
Remember, when I was opposing the Lok Pal Bill, people were accusing me that they (Congress) don’t want accountability. Now see what has happened to CBI. See what murk has come out. If your agencies are not accountable to anybody and this is the state of the agency as it has been revealed in the recent events then the danger to country is very serious if you allow them complete power.
Do you also feel that there is an attempt to demoralize the CBI by the current government?
BJP is known for infiltrating into all institutions. They did it in their last avatar and they will do it now. One of the reasons why their priority is on the National Judicial Appointments Commission is only this. They want to have their own men in the judiciary. And they are doing it in the educational institutions any way and they will continue to do so. And in the bureaucracy. That is a given, when the BJP comes to power they will do it.