August 01, 2020
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Questions For Saheb

The Modi-Shah duo owe India an explanation. We must demand it.

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Questions For Saheb
Illustration by Sorit
Questions For Saheb

It is both funny and sobering to hear the transcripts of BJP general secretary Amit Shah ordering the pursuit of a young lady. At one level it seems a Peter Sellers/Inspector Clouseau type of operation.

There’s Shah, sounding much like the fictional character in the Pink Panther series: “Two things have to be arranged. A watch right unto the destination!” And then, rather breathlessly: “don’t let her escape”. My favourite bit from the transcripts is this exchange between Shah and G.L. Singhal, the IPS officer who recorded all the conversations:

Amit Shah: When was  the last time when that woman was seen by our men?
G.L. Singhal: She is at home only. Our staff is watching at the home only.
Shah: Did someone see her in the afternoon? She may have gone away in the morning?
Singhal: She had gone to the shopping complex for half an hour in the afternoon and returned.
Shah: At what time was she seen?
Singhal: About 1:30 pm.
Shah: Ok.
Singhal: She is in gym, got the location sir, one-and-half to two kilometres away.
Shah: Could you know the name of the gym?
Singhal: No sir, but went along with sister-in-law.
Shah: Is she still there now? Check with staff and let me know....

One may muffle a laugh at this ridiculous rigmarole, but it’s actually a very serious issue. Why was taxpayers’ money being used to set the Gujarat police to tail a woman who obviously had no criminal intent? And now that the scandal has already played out for a week, let us ask the more profound question: how can a PM candidate in the world’s largest democracy feel he need not answer such questions, or instruct his Man Friday Amit Shah to do so? Let us face the embarrassing truth the next time we start celebrating our electoral democracy. In this talkative nation, where there is a hyperactive fourth estate, top leaders never answer legitimate public questions. We can never presume to ask Sonia or Rahul Gandhi anything and now it seems that the Man-Who-Would-be PM can be even more imperious.

Modi’s supporters in the BJP have a manner of patiently stating that the Man is destined for great things and cannot be bothered to engage with every story from the “dirty tricks department” flung at him. Besides, they argue that every story has a shelf life and like the others, this too will die down. After all, all the enquiries and half the activists in the world could not tear Modi apart after the mass killings in Gujarat. So how on earth do you expect a story about stalking to damage him? But, just in case, there is also a softer  strategy of persuasion. So, it has been suggested that the tailing was sought for the girl’s protection, Modi was being avuncular. But this version does not add up when we hear Shah’s frantic instructions: “Chase her, tail her, don’t let her escape, who is she talking to, follow them.... Saheb wants to know.”

We may never know the back-story to this tale. But we do know that the BJP is avoiding an answer by a strategy of diversion and deflection. Throwing muck at the Congress, the CBI and the media, where a well-known anti-Modi editor has just quit after a scandal. But the moot point must remain very simple: Modi is the PM candidate who appears to be getting some political momentum. It is our duty to keep exercising our right to ask him questions about the misuse of institutions. At the very least, we must demand that Shah explain.

As it is, the manner in which Modi has persisted in making Shah the pivot of his campaign strategy shows a complete lack of regard for institutional propriety. Shah is a murder-accused out on bail who could not enter Gujarat till a year ago. His name crops up in all sorts of bloody cases, from the riots to the encounter killings of Gujarat, and now to this stalking case. It has always been said that he is the executioner par excellence for Modi and the keeper of all his secrets. Face to face, he has a more affable personality than Modi. But none of this is relevant to the larger argument as to why this particular murder-accused is so vital to every plan Modi has for himself, his party and, indeed, the country.

What is significant about the snooping/stalking case is that it actually moves out of the secular/communal paradigm within which all debates about Modi are conducted. This is about propriety and misuse of institutions. We must delink it from other the other issues involving Modi and see this story for the facts and distortions it reveals. He would want it to be part of the narrative of the “secularists’ attack”. It is not.

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