The War of Words: Wikileaks vs Narendra Modi
by Sandhya Jain on 19 Mar 2014 10 Comments

A war of words has broken out in the media after a co-convener of the Maharashtra BJP communication cell tweeted an endorsement of Narendra Modi's incorruptibility by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The Congress challenged the claim and on Monday the whistleblower website called the endorsement a fake. Wikileaks has since then released a number of tweets on the subject, even alleging that the BJP was using the fake quotation to raise funds; leading English and Hindi newspapers have taken the controversy further into the public domain. None of this does any good to the BJP or its Prime Ministerial candidate and the party needs to seriously control such acts of misplaced enthusiasm that do more harm than good.


Congress activists were delighted and called the Gujarat leader a ‘liar’ (though he had nothing to do with the tweet). The BJP hardly improved matters by retorting, “We don’t need a certificate from Wikileaks or Assange on Modi ji”. The fact is that the tweet used Julian Assange’s image and alleged quote and was designed to appear like a tweet from Wikileaks. This is exactly the kind of gaffe that the BJP and Narendra Modi in particular have to guard against in the weeks leading up to the general election.


Rajkot Congress leader Manoharsinh Jadeja used the word ‘incorruptible’ for the Gujarat Chief Minister and this was contained in the text of the US cables revealed by Wikileaks in 2011; they contain a complex American assessment of Narendra Modi in the period in which they blacklisted him. A careful reading of the cables could have been used to counter the charges of non-development being levelled by Narendra Modi’s critics as Jadeja clearly states that his “accomplishments were undeniable”.


The US Consul General in Mumbai, Michael S Owen, met Narendra Modi and informed his Government about the Gujarat leader’s growing potential as a national leader. On November 2, 2006 (84043: confidential), he wrote, “we intend to continue our policy of interaction with the Chief Minister, whose B1/B2 visa we revoked in 2005. Such interaction allows us to deliver a clear message on human rights and religious freedom directly to the source. It will also shield us from accusations of opportunism from the BJP that would invariably arise if we ignored Modi now but sought a dialogue with him in the likely event that he makes it to the national stage”.


The Consul General reported that everyone he met during his recent trip to Ahmedabad was certain that the Chief Minister would win the state election of 2007 and then bid for the BJP national presidency. Owen reported, “Modi has successfully branded himself as a non-corrupt, effective administrator, as a facilitator of business in a state with a deep commercial culture, and as a no-nonsense, law-and-order politician who looks after the interests of the Hindu majority. Modi’s backers in the BJP now hope to convince the party leadership that he can use these positive traits to attract voters throughout India”.


Observing the mixed opinion within the BJP regarding Narendra Modi’s ability to transcend the 2002 baggage, the Consul General said, “Others say his arrogant and blunt leadership style will alienate the BJP hierarchy in New Delhi… or that Modi’s lower caste origins could become an obstacle at the national level”. He predicted that the Chief Minister would rise up the ladder.


Owen continued, “All our interlocutors acknowledge that Modi is a modest man who, unlike many elected officials in India, has not used his position to enrich himself or his family. Most contacts also say that he has purged the state administration of petty corruption at the mid- and lower levels of the bureaucracy”. However, he cited a journalist who alleged that business money went into the BJP’s party coffers and not to Modi or any individual. Owen stressed that the US officials were unable to verify the claim.


Regarding Narendra Modi’s caste background, the Consul General said the Gujarat Congress spokesman Himanshu Vyas told him that the Congress hoped to play the caste card in the 2007 elections to divide Modi’s support among Hindus, but no one else whom Owen met believed that caste issues could endanger a Modi victory at the polls. Some did feel that Modi’s lower caste status could create problems for him in national politics.


In a previous meeting with Narendra Modi in Gandhinagar on November 16, 2005, the first after the March 2005 revocation of his US visa, Owen reported that the Chief Minister was relaxed and gave “a glowing overview of his Government’s achievements in building infrastructure and promoting economic growth in Gujarat”. He spoke of extensive works that rendered water shortages “a thing of the past,” and had greatly boosted agricultural productivity; and achievements in power generation and transmission which were appreciated by President Abdul Kalam during his visit to Gujarat. The Consul General said that members of the Rajkot and Ahmedabad Chambers of Commerce endorsed the growth story of the economy.


Owen claimed that he specifically raised the issue of the Gujarat riots and a “visibly annoyed Modi responded at some considerable length”, with three essential points, namely, that the events of 2002 were an internal Gujarati matter and the US had no right to interfere; the US is itself guilty of horrific human rights violations (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and attacks on Sikhs in the US after September 11) and thus has no moral basis to speak on such matters, and; Muslims are demonstrably better off in Gujarat than in any other state in India, so what is everybody griping about?


Narendra Modi also reportedly told the US Consul General that the Indian National Human Rights Commission was biased and that the US relied far too much on “a few fringe NGOs” that don’t know the real picture and have an axe to grind. It may be pointed that it has since been established that when the NHRC moved the Supreme Court to transfer the riot cases outside Gujarat to Mumbai, the Zahira Sheikh affidavit on which it moved the Court was unsigned – in other words, it had no legal standing, a point still ignored by the national media. The Teesta Setalvad crusade against the Chief Minister is also falling apart.


When the US diplomat persisted that those complicit in the riots had not been punished (in 2005), the Chief Minister retorted that if officials were guilty of wrongdoing, it was for the courts to prosecute and punish them and the Chief Minister could not interfere with the judicial process.  Narendra Modi added that the culprits in the 1993 Mumbai bombings were only beginning to be sentenced, so there should not be any “unrealistic expectations.” Owen conceded this point.


Rajkot Congress leader Manoharsinh Jadeja informed the Consul General that the Congress would make little headway against the BJP in Gujarat as “Modi is extremely popular, and even Muslims are now supporting him to some extent because he is viewed as someone who is completely incorruptible and can deliver the goods”. When asked if Modi could become a national BJP leader, Jadeja said he hoped so because as long as he was the Chief Minister in Gujarat, the Congress would face a tough challenge.


The BJP needs to seriously upgrade its communication skills and do its homework more sincerely. At a minimum, its spokespersons must know that Julian Assange has not read or vetted, much less endorsed the millions of cables that he received and released via Wikileaks, and that a man fighting for his own life and liberty does not have the luxury to dabble in the politics of another country. In such a high stakes election, needlessly taking liberties with facts could prove counterproductive.










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