Two major charges in quick succession – questions about the state of the economy followed by the revelation of the intriguing affairs of the mysterious company of Amit Shah’s son – have clearly given a big jolt to the Modi government. Gone is the arrogant silence of the earlier phase, the party has been forced to respond to the charges – even if still in semi-denial mode – and resort to some desperate damage-control exercises. This itself marks a striking contrast to the extended honeymoon period of the regime when Modi was believed to be setting the agenda with his lofty rhetoric against black money and corruption and mesmerising slogans from ‘Make in India’ and ‘Swachh Bharat’ to ‘Skill India’ and ‘Digital India’.
Nearly a year ago, demonetisation marked the first turning point when every ordinary Indian felt the shock but still gave him the benefit of doubt hoping that the shock would prove to be a limited temporary price for major lasting gains. But before the common people could feel any gain, they had to face another rude shock in the form of GST and hope has since given way to disillusionment. With jobs vanishing across the board and large sections of the people feeling the pinch of rising prices, declining income and falling production and sales, the ‘Gujarat model’ that Modi had promised to usher in for the whole country is fast becoming a metaphor for not rapid economic growth and development but uncertainty and decline. And now the dubious affair of Amit Shah’s son’s company seems just a copy paste replica of the kind of allegations that the Congress had to face in the case of the land deals of Robert Vadra.
From the agenda-setting height of the honeymoon era the Modi regime has now been brought down to the ground where it has to respond to the charges of failure and betrayal on issues pertaining to the economy, nepotism and crony capitalism. The response that we have got so far from the government has only gone to show how badly the regime has been rattled by these charges. First Arun Jaitley and others tried to discredit Yashwant Sinha for raising serious questions about the health of the economy, but that only gave Sinha a bigger audience. Then the other day we saw Modi try and defend his government’s economic performance while addressing a meeting of company secretaries. He accused the critics of spreading pessimism and despair, almost making it sound like the ‘anti-national’ allegation that his government habitually levels on all opponents and with mistaken references to the past he tried to suggest that the UPA government fared worse in matters of GDP growth.
Modi tried his best to trivialise the issue of decline in GDP growth for six consecutive quarters by making it look like just a one-off aberration, but the facts are simply too stubborn to be brushed aside. He cited FDI figures in mining and some other sectors as proof of the trust that foreign investors had in the Indian economy, but that can be little consolation for a farmer in deep distress, a small manufacturer or trader facing a slump and young people going jobless. While Modi talked in philosophical terms of not letting concerns for the present come in the way of his vision for the future, several reports are actually pointing to a gloomy trajectory on the employment front where falling employment seems to be the only thread that connects the present and the future. In fact, for the first time in the history of independent India, there has been an absolute decline in employment between 2013-14 and 2015-16. The only concrete damage-control attempt has been the GST Council’s announcement of some token relief for a few items, primarily in view of the forthcoming Gujarat elections. This has however only further exposed the arbitrary and anomalous framework of multiple GST slabs.
If Demonetisation and GST symbolised criminal mismanagement of the economy, the dubious business records of Jay Amitbhai Shah, son of BJP President Amit Shah, as investigated and documented by journalist Rohini Singh who had earlier exposed Robert Vadra’s land deals, have ripped off the BJP’s anti-corruption anti-nepotism mask. Here is a strange sounding company called Temple Enterprise which shows a negligible turnover till 2014-15 (after recording losses of Rs 6,230 and Rs 1,724 for 2012-13 and 2013-14, it posted a profit of Rs 18,728 on revenues of Rs 50,000 in 2014-15) before going on to record an astounding 16,000 times jump in turnover to cross Rs 80,00,00,000 in 2015-16! The turnover is attributed to sales of agricultural products and includes Rs 51 crore of foreign earnings. Despite such sizeable earnings, the company strangely has no assets or inventory. The company records also show an unsecured loan of Rs 15.78 crore from one KIFS Financial Services, an enterprise run by Mr Rajesh Khandwala, an in-law of BJP backed RS MP and top Reliance executive Mr Parimal Nathwani. The records of the latter company however do not mention this loan and its own revenue was ironically enough not more than Rs 7 crore! Records also show that in the same year (2015-16), Shah and Khandwala formed and dissolved another company named Sattva Tradelinks! What is most intriguing is that Temple Enterprise’s declaration to stop all business activities in October 2016, shortly before the November 8 announcement of demonetisation!
Mr Jay Amitbhai Shah’s business activities have however continued to expand in diverse fields. In July 2015 he launched another company called Kusum Finserve which apparently deals in stocks and according to the latest filings of the company, it too posted an income of Rs 24 crore. Surprisingly enough, this company which supposedly deals in stocks and shares and import-export activities got a contract in March 2016 to set up a 2.1 MW wind power plant in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh and a loan of more than Rs 10 crore from the public sector Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA)! The story of all these dubious business dealings of Jay Amitbhai Shah was published in The Wire on 8 October and instead of announcing a probe by competent agencies like the CBI or ED, the BJP fielded Railway Minister Piyush Goyal to address a press conference to defend Jay and announce a Rs 100 crore defamation suit against The Wire on his behalf! Incidentally, Mr Goyal was the energy minister under whose jurisdiction the IREDA loan was sanctioned for the Shah Junior in 2016!
The party which came to power promising a crusade against crony capitalism is now busy promoting crony capitalism and stopping disclosures with defamation suits. The party which had promised action against Robert Vadra’s dubious land deals has not only dropped the agenda, it is now involved in promoting and protecting its own Robert Vadra! The #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao campaign of the party seems to have given way to the suppression of daughters in BHU style on one hand and protection of sons like Vikas Barala and Jay Shah on the other. Only the other day, we saw Mr Amit Shah cut short his Kerala trip and rush back to Delhi for some emergency work. The nature of that emergency has now become quite crystal clear. In the past BJP Presidents like LK Advani and Bangaru Laxman have had to resign in the face of corruption charges like the Jain Hawala Diary and Tehelka Sting Operation. The bell now tolls for Mr Amit Shah. It is time now for Shah to follow his predecessors and his son to face a thorough probe for his dubious business records.