Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pinstripe politics and the deadly design: How "fixed match" was played to sell Modi suit

By RK Misra*
Celebrities can raise stakes to sell suits but a feather-light fabric often betrays a deadly design. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pacesetter pinstripe suit may have fetched palpitation-inducing Rs 4.31crore – and it might help cleanse the sinfully polluted River Ganges, as is projected. But those who watched the exercise undertaken to the drumbeats and cymbal sounds over three days in Surat -- the commercial capital of Gujarat -- know for sure it was a fixed match. The suit that cost the BJP the Delhi gaddi, and Modi his sheen, was put under the hammer in a desperate bid to reclaim the remnants of a tattered ego.
Put up along with 400 other gifts received by Modi after taking over as PM, the suit remained the focal point of attraction for the rich and the famous as well as the poor and the bunched. In the fray were textile magnates and diamond merchants and even a school teacher. Was it a mere coincidence that many of these who went around with cheque in hand had figured in income-tax raids and records? “I have been absolved,” said one under media questioning, while the other claimed no misdemeanor was proven.
Nursery school teacher Rajesh Maheshwari, who offered Rs 1.25 crore, claimed to have stitched the bid through a collection of Rs 50,000 from 250 people! The coming events were casting their shadows ahead on media persons’ Whatsapp groups in Gujarat much in advance. That a Rs 5 crore target had been fixed in deference to instructions ‘from above’ was known on Day-2. Gujarati daily Divya Bhaskar carried a pictorial report by its Surat correspondent showing undated, but signed, cheques with amounts filled in, collected in advance by district administration officials.
Correspondents covering the event spoke of CR Patil, Surat-based BJP MP from Navsari, lurking in the background. A once penalised policeman, Patil had worked his way first to a known Modi baiter, late Union textiles minister Kashiram Rana, and then into the good books of Modi. His are the unseen hands that move mountains in Surat, the diamond capital of India where limited year postings in the constabulary go for over Rs 25 lakh and ‘white' is a distant laggard against ‘black money’ racers.

Nitish-Modi tussle had origins in Surat

Interestingly, the last straw that broke the camel’s back in the tussle between Narendra Modi and the then Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar also has its genesis in Surat and the venerable worthy playing a role in it. In June 2010, during the BJP national executive meet in Patna, big advertisements had appeared in Bihar newspapers in praise of the then Gujarat chief minister and his efforts to aid Bihar during the Kosi floods. This led to Kumar cancelling the official dinner being given in honour of the delegates and returning the Rs 5 crore flood aid cheque back to Gujarat. Subsequently, the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) parted company in view of the irreconcilable differences between Modi and Kumar. Ahmedabad-based advertisement representatives of Bihar newspapers had to lengthen their chase to Surat to bag a bit of the revenue largesse.
If the suit auction in Surat formed the core of an image salvage operation, the spanner in the works came from an officer of the Coast Guard picked up by the press in the same city. The officer claimed to have ordered that a Pakistani fishing vessel be blown up in the sea, debunking a government claim that it was a terror mission gone awry, whose target was the Gujarat coast on the eve of the Pravasiya Bhartiya Diwas and Vibrant Gujarat Global Investor Summit held in Gandhinagar.
Perception management is a key component of any brand building exercise. The truth of the fishing vessel explosion notwithstanding, old ghosts continue to haunt politics and politicos. The bulk of the alleged fake encounters in Gujarat took place to neutralize fidayeen terror outfits attempting to assassinate the then Gujarat chief minister. Almost all of them took place around the time Modi was facing a political challenge or crisis of sorts. The pattern persists even in the vessel affair. As a crisis erupted in Bihar and the BJP moved to fish in troubled waters, another distracting development unfolded in Delhi. It was the Modi government’s action against high profile corporate espionage. Another perception management operation at work? Likely.
The correctives have become necessary after the Delhi debacle. This one is seen by some as an attempt at neutralizing the overly corporate-friendly image the Modi government has vis-a-vis the Ambanis, the Adanis and the like. The two action-packed events had media attention riveted, taking the spotlight away from Bihar. In any case, Chief Minister Manjhi threw in the towel before the trial of strength, leaving little space for the BJP to get involved. Those who have watched the vintage Modi-Shah duo at work can easily predict what will follow. After all, in politics, foxes are the ones who have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.
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*Senior journalist. First published in http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.in/

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