Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Kapil Sibal, a Rajya Sabha MP and one of the country’s foremost legal brains, has in a new book Shades of Truth: A Journey Derailed given a sharp critique of the Narendra Modi government’s performance in its first four years. In an interview with Ashhar Khan, Mr Sibal highlights some of the key points he had flagged in the book. Excerpts:
What made you write this book?
There are two reasons for this book. Number 1, I thought that we must test the performance in the context of his promises that he made prior to the elections in 2014. Then, the inability to honour those promises. Now if one highlights these facts without substantive data, they just appear like allegations. So I thought that I will compile it as a book so that people have ample data backing what we are saying.
In the book you have mentioned the 2G spectrum allocation controversy and the coal block allocation issue. Your views.
We have to understand that there are several aspects to this. The CAG must be careful in giving out numbers that scandalise the nation without giving much thought to it. All this was caught up by civil society and the BJP took great advantage of it. Ultimately the Supreme Court also cancelled the licences. It was part of the movement that was taking place; the court was also persuaded by what it saw in the files and the affidavits that were filed in the Supreme Court. The result of all this was that it destroyed the story of the UPA. The CBI prosecuted various people but did not even make an issue of the alleged loss that the CAG made much of. And now we know there was no loss at all — that is what I have been saying. So I have said that the CAG should be functioning within the bounds of his responsibility.
The media, which took up the matter without listening to our explanations, should be a little more careful because it can destroy reputations, and the courts must also be far more careful. As in the process of rendering judgments and cancelling licences, it impacts the future of the economy and it has very serious consequences. This happened both in 2G and in coal. As far as coal was concerned, the consequences were far more serious.
In a prosperous sector like telecom, the consequence is that it is under a debt of Rs 5 lakh crores, but it is not an NPA as most people have gone out of business. In the coal issue, the licences were also cancelled as a result a power plant on which Rs 15,000-20,000 crores were invested and it could not get a captive coal mine, how was it going to pay its debts. If you have to import coal at very high prices, where is the viability of the power plant? The NPAs that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is talking about are the result of the agitations of the BJP.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi says that the NPAs have been inherited from the UPA and he is trying to get every penny back.
I don’t think that the Prime Minister reads his papers. If he was even reading the newspapers he would know that there is no question of getting money back. In the IBC proceedings that are going on under the Bankruptcy Code, the banks are taking an average haircut of 65 per cent. This means that on an average 65 per cent of the money is not coming back to the bank. So how does the Prime Minister say that he will get every penny back unless he has some other means of getting it back? Obviously, the Prime Minister should do a little more reading before he makes such statements.
With statements like these, do you feel that the Prime Minister is trying to shift focus from facts and play politics?
That has always been the case. Why doesn’t he ask his own ministers and banks that why do they continue to give loans to these people who have NPAs? He should also ask how many times those loans have been extended to those same entities.
Several surveys and polls have taken place. All of them suggest that the Prime Minister is the most popular leader.
Well, we saw this in 2004 also, when the India Shining campaign was at its peak. Often what happens is that all communication strategies fail; it’s only the delivery on the ground that matters. Unfortunately that is not visible in the tenure of the present government.
You talk about Modiji as a popular and great leader. Now this great leader gave us demonetisation, which ensured that we lost 1.5 per cent of our GDP. In any other country he would have had to resign immediately.
Look at the manner in which GST was implemented. He has a full majority in Parliament and this is what he has done in terms of economic growth and liberalisation.
He (Mr Modi) charged us with policy paralysis, but this brought the country 8.2 per cent GDP which has never happened in the history of this country. So I assume there is no policy paralysis today, where is the GDP?
It is often said that in front of Mr Modi the Congress does not have a leader who can take him on, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Well, politics is never about one man. We have seen the Prime Minister of the country but where has he taken this country, that’s the question we must ask. There is disruptive politics and disruptive economics. Politics is not about one man. Politics is about collectivity, politics is about ideology and politics is about conviction and passion.
Mr Gandhi is the president of the party. Wherever he goes, people throng. What happened in 2004? Atal Behari Vajpayee, a tall leader, was on one side and no one was named on the other side. What happened?
How do you see the performance of this government in the last four years and what do you foresee in the Lok Sabha elections?
If you read my book there is a poem in the beginning. I think that encapsulates everything that has gone on in the last four and a half years.
We have seen violence in the streets when dalits and minorities are attacked. We have seen institutions being destroyed, seen the media, especially the electronic media, collaborate with the government. We talked about the CBI as caged parrots. These are caged and singing parrots (to the government’s tune). We have seen distress in the agricultural sector and fear among people that we have not seen before. We have seen businessmen losing heart and small businesses being destroyed. We have seen the informal sector starved of credit.
This is nothing to do with anti-incumbency. It is something to do with the impact of this government’s policies on the lives of people. This is destroying the fabric of India. I don’t see the BJP securing enough numbers even to think of forming the government.