Bajaj holds up mirror to Modi-Shah

Industrialist Rahul Bajaj

Industrialist Rahul Bajaj’s public criticism of the Narendra Modi government, in the presence of the strongman of the Union cabinet, Amit Shah, and senior ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal, has been widely noted for the boldness and frankness with which it was made. The comments were made at an awards function in Mumbai on Saturday. The ability and courage to speak truth to power is rare, especially among industrialists and businessmen who have vested interests and have much to lose if they antagonise people in power. So it was remarkable that Bajaj pulled no punches and made an indictment of the present government, pointing out that there was a climate of fear in the country and that “none of my industrialist friends will speak…I will say openly…if we were to criticise your government, we don’t have the confidence that you will appreciate it…” 

There have been many cases of vindictive action by the government in recent months against opposition politicians and others who are not in its good books. But Bajaj made a wider sweep and talked of the culture of impunity around incidents like lynchings and the political support that even a terror undertrial like Pragya Thakur gets. These are all related and are relevant in a meeting of businessmen because economy and business cannot thrive in a climate of fear. In fact, the same views were expressed a day before Bajaj spoke by former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who spoke of a “profound fear and distrust among our various economic participants,” eroding public trust in independent institutions. He also spoke of the need to restore confidence if economic slide is to be arrested and it is to be brought back to health. No economy functions in a social and political vacuum, and this needs to be underlined again and again. 

Amit Shah replied to Bajaj that there was no need to fear and that all criticism will be viewed on merit. But the backlash to Bajaj’s remarks from government representatives and the BJP and its supporters on social media, where he is being extensively maligned, show the truth of what the 81-year-old industrialist spoke. It was also evident in the fact that there was only muted applause for Bajaj from the industrialists when he made his comments. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proved Bajaj’s point beyond doubt by insinuating that he had hurt the “national interest” by his comments. The question is also asked, how could he speak in such critical terms about the government if there is indeed a climate of fear in the country. That is a question answered by the silence of most others of his class. 

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