With friends like Jaitley and Shah, Modi needs no enemies

The controversy surrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s educational qualification highlights, for the nth time, the growing spite and flippancy in Indian politics. Everything about the row evokes revulsion.

There is a chief minister whose sole purpose in life is to create sensation, even if there is no stimulus to do so. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s allegations about Modi’s degrees are typical of the shoot-and-scoot style that he has perfected. Abuse, allege, calumniate, malign the opponent—and then move on. He called his predecessor Sheila Dikshit names, hurled all manner of charges at her, but is yet to do anything against her supposedly corrupt acts.

Modi’s woes, however, are not limited to the shenanigans of Kejriwal & Co.; those in his own camp are no less troublesome. For with friends like Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the Prime Minister needs no enemies.

A politician, they say, thinks of the next election while a statesman, about the next generation. Jaitley is bothered only about the next day’s headlines. Arun Shourie is right when he says that the guy confuses economic management with media manipulation. Apparently, Jaitley got worried about Kejriwal getting all the media space by his stunts. So, Jaitley and Shah, another overrated strategist, came up with the novel of holding a press conference to answer to the rambling diatribe of… well, of Ashutosh! Imagine Ashutosh of all people! Two of the three most powerful men in the country joined forces to counter the worst spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party.

Why did Shah and Jaitley hold a press conference to present Modi’s degree? Even if the duo was so keen on publicity, why didn’t they wait till the University of Delhi cleared the air? What took the University so long so as to come up with its position on the subject? University Registrar Tarun Das said, “We have checked our records and it has been authenticated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s degree is authentic. He cleared the examination in 1978 and was awarded the degree in 1979.”

But his statement came a few hours after an AAP delegation had visited the varsity seeking details of the degree, thus affording the party the media glare it longs for.

Das also explained the discrepancies that have been pointed out by the AAP in Modi’s mark-sheets and degree certificate, “The discrepancies in names in two mark-sheets exist in university records as well.” In fact, there is nothing odd in the discrepancies in names in official records. As Das said, “Similar errors are often pointed out by other students as well which are rectified when requested.”

The fact that an anti-Modi website, www.thewire.in, has supported the Prime Minister on this issue speaks volumes about the AAP’s machinations in this matter. According to a report in www.thewire.in:

“It is in this context that a short video clip, which shows Modi admitting to having passed ‘only high school,’ has found tremendous popularity among AAP supporters. The video is an edited version of an old interview Modi gave to journalist Rajeev Shukla for his show Ru-Ba-Ru back in 2001. Modi, at that point of time, was speaking as the BJP’s general secretary during the NDA-I government.

“In this clip, Modi tells Shukla on being asked about his interest in information technology, ‘I am not very educated. I left home at the age of 17 after high school,’ following which the video ends abruptly. This quote has been used by Modi baiters to raise further suspicions about Modi’s educational qualifications.

“However, the full video of the interview tells a different tale. Soon after he says that he left school, Shukla prods him further with a direct question about his educational qualifications. To this, Modi says, ‘…I like to learn new things. After that (my high school), a senior in the Sangh (RSS) pushed me to finish my graduation. So I did my graduation as an external student from Delhi University, and then also finished my post graduate as an external student. I stood first in the university but I haven’t seen the gates of a college.’

“Modi made this statement well before his name was considered as someone who could be involved in electoral politics…

“However, the selective editing of the video clearly exposes how politically motivated activists can use technology and the social media to spread half truths, and sometimes, lies.”

Kejriwal’s case was very weak, but Shah-Jaitley’s folly has ensured that the AAP got publicity. The degree issue also pushed the BJP on the back-foot at a time when it was regularly chafing and fretting the Congress. Such are the perils of managing headlines.