The day after Bajaj Group chairman Rahul Bajaj expressed concern over the lack of confidence among corporates to criticise the central government, several BJP ministers scrambled to respond to what one of them claimed were attempts to “weave fake narratives” over the remarks.
While Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that seeking an answer was better than “spreading one’s own impressions”, Urban Affairs and Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that the fact that Bajaj could “express himself & instigate others to join” was “what democracy is all about”.
Commerce and Rail Minister Piyush Goyal referred to Home Minister Amit Shah’s response to Bajaj’s remarks, that there was no need for any fear.
Bajaj’s remarks came Saturday in the presence of Shah, Sitharaman and Goyal at an event organised by The Economic Times in Mumbai, where the industrialist also expressed concern over the absence of effective action against lynchings, and the remark of Bhopal MP Pragya Singh Thakur praising Nathuram Godse in Parliament last week.
“Nobody from our industrialist friends will speak, I will say openly... An environment will have to be created... When UPA II was in power, we could criticise anyone... You (the government) are doing good work, but despite that we don’t have the confidence that you will appreciate if we criticise you openly,” Bajaj said.
Responding to Bajaj, Shah said that if he was saying there is a certain kind of atmosphere, then “we will have to make an effort to improve the atmosphere”.
On Sunday evening, Sitharaman posted on Twitter: “Home Minister @AmitShah answers on how issues raised by Shri. Rahul Bajaj were addressed. Questions/ criticisms are heard and answered/ addressed. Always a better way to seek an answer than spreading one’s own impressions which, on gaining traction, can hurt national interest.”
Sitharaman’s tweet came after a series of posts by Puri on Twitter where he suggested that Bajaj’s remarks and Shah’s response indicate that “democratic values” are “alive & flourishing”.
“There are societies in the world which are governed by fear, but a society where citizens can weave fake narratives & hurl invectives at the govt cannot be classified as one governed by fear, it is a society characterized by fair dose of indiscipline,” Puri posted.
“That Mr Rahul Bajaj could stand up to Sh @AmitShah Ji’s face, express himself freely & instigate others to join him clearly indicate that freedom of expression & democratic values are alive & flourishing in India. This is exactly what democracy is all about,” he posted.
Later, Goyal posted on his Twitter account: “See Home Minister @amitshah respond to Rahul Bajaj’s claim that people are afraid to express themselves. ‘After hearing your question I doubt anybody believes this claim that people are afraid’.”
While the Sunday posts by the Union ministers appeared to be an attempt by the ruling establishment to douse the fire after Bajaj’s remarks went viral on social media, the BJP IT cell sought to link Bajaj to the previous Congress-led UPA regime on Saturday itself.
BJP IT-cell in-charge Amit Malviya tweeted a couple of news videos that show him purportedly praising Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for interacting with industry bodies when the UPA was in power.
Tagging one video, Malviya posted: “‘It is difficult for me to praise anyone’, said Rahul Bajaj except of course if it is Rahul Gandhi. Wear your political affiliation on your sleeve and don’t hide behind inanities like there is atmosphere of fear and all that...”
Tagging another video, Malviya posted: “If one had such fawning view of Rahul Gandhi, when he is an unmitigated disaster, then it is only natural to spin imaginary yarn and assume the worst for the current regime. Truth be told - industrialists who flourished in the license raj will always be beholden to the Congress.”