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Deflating victim Narendra Modi
With the CBI chargesheet naming no political leaders in the Ishrat case, the carefully crafted Modi-versus-The Rest campaign has gone for a toss.
The BJP's lead actor for the 2014 polls, Narendra Modi, seemed to be all revved up to play the victim of an "evil" Congress plot when the wind was taken out of his sails. The CBI's first chargesheet in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case studiously refrained from mentioning him or his chief henchman, Amit Shah. It only named seven Gujarat police officers and claimed that the encounter was a murder plot hatched by them in cahoots with the Intelligence Bureau's Gujarat station.
Modi was stumped. His carefully crafted Modi-versus-The Rest campaign was threatening to go up in smoke. For two weeks, he had assiduously courted martyrdom with veiled suggestions that the Congress had set the CBI to trap him by falsely implicating him in the Ishrat case. He thundered, he threatened, he hit all the high emotional notes. "I warn all those who are trying to appease their political masters by becoming a potent tool in their hands. Modi is not afraid of the CBI which is nothing but the Congress Bureau of Investigation. Nobody is going to rule Delhi forever, " he stormed at a youth function in Gandhinagar on June 24. There was no missing the warning to the CBI.
A day later in Mumbai, he told a CII gathering, "The UPA has pitted the IB against the CBI. "And again at a book release function a few days later: "See the CBI and the level of misuse that can happen. Had I not experienced it myself, I would not even know. Those who cannot accept victory and defeat through democratic means are misusing the CBI."
He went on Twitter too. "Unfortunate that in its quest to target political opponents, Centre is undermining intelligence systems with CBI questioning IB officials," he tweeted. A day earlier, his cheerleaders had added to the chorus with Arun Jaitley lashing out at the Congress to say that the cost of its "Modi-phobia" would be paid by the IB in the Ishrat Jahan case.
There was so much hype in the buildup that the CBI's chargesheet came as an anti-climax. Although his loyalists are now claiming that the Congress got cold feet because of the campaign and stopped the agency from going after Modi and Shah, who was minister of state for home when Ishrat & Co were killed, there is no denying that the omission of political namPolitical pes has stopped the Modi juggernaut in its tracks. The chargesheet would have been the springboard for the kind of personality-driven, bruising campaign that Modi loves. He used the tactic effectively in 2002 and in 2007 as well. In fact, the 2007 polls are said to have turned decisively in his favour after Sonia Gandhi called him a "maut ka saudagar" (merchant of death). Modi went for the kill with that phrase. His spin doctors believed that the Ishrat Jahan case could have been used as effectively in the run up to 2014. Now, they will have to think of other tricks.
Many in the BJP are surprised by the manner in which Modi chose to go after the CBI. It seemed entirely unprovoked, given that the agency was unlikely to come up with clinching proof of political involvement in the encounter. His single-minded attack suggested a hidden anxiety in the Modi camp about the CBI's ongoing investigation. Significantly, the CBI is also investigating another fake encounter, the death of Sadiq Jamaal. He was killed in 2003 but the circumstances are eerily similar to the manner in which Ishrat and three others were gunned down a year later. Initial reports suggest that the same set of police officers is likely to be involved.
In the light of what has happened, it is becoming difficult to shake off the perception that there is a connection between the CBI's investigations and the hasty manner in which Modi was appointed as poll campaign committee chief. Many in the party now believe that the decision could have waited till there was a consensus on it. Instead, Modi got off to a false start because of party senior LK Advani's open revolt and the rumblings within, all of which reaffirmed the perception that the BJP is at war with itself.
Modi, it seems, was in a tearing hurry to seal the appointment at the BJP's Goa meet in early June because he knew the CBI chargesheet in the Ishrat Jahan case was coming on July 4. And he wanted to be in position as the BJP's 2014 face to counter it with a high-pitched campaign alleging political vendetta by a Modi-spooked Congress. That's been snatched away from him.
Yet, the sword of Damocles hangs over his head. By implicating the same set of officers in two different fake encounters and investigating their role in a third one, the CBI has raised serious questions about Modi's governance style. The Gujarat CM's main pitch as a vote catcher for the BJP is his "good governance" record. But if the CBI is to be believed, he and his home minister Amit Shah presided over a police force whose seniormost officers went rogue and indulged in a killing spree to bump off inconvenient persons.
The CBI's charges have yet to be proved but the fact is that those very same senior officers are in prison today on charges of killing Sohrabuddin. And they now face similar charges in the Ishrat Jahan case. The chickens could home to roost in the Sadiq Jamaal case as well.
Modi will have to answer for these. He may not be directly implicated but as CM with his closest aide, Amit Shah, as his home minister, he will find it difficult to evade questions about political and moral responsibility for a running a government that harboured rogue policemen. It hasn't happened quite the way Modi wanted but there is no question that the temperature of the 2014 campaign has got hotter with the CBI's charge sheet in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case.
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