With Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and Railways and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal listening, Bajaj Group chairman Rahul Bajaj expressed concern on Saturday evening over the lack of confidence among corporates to criticise the central government, the absence of effective action against lynchings, and the remark of Bhopal MP Pragya Singh Thakur praising Nathuram Godse in Parliament this 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 (Aap achchha kaam kar rahe hain, uske baad bhi, hum aapko criticise openly karein, confidence nahin hai ki you will appreciate),” Bajaj said at an awards event organised by The Economic Times in Mumbai.
The ministers were on stage, and top industrialists including RIL CMD Mukesh Ambani, Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, and Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal were present at the gathering.
Bajaj expressed his concerns a day after former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke at the National Economy Conclave about “a palpable climate of fear” in society. “Many industrialists tell me they live in fear of harassment by government authorities… Entrepreneurs are hesitant to put up fresh projects, for fear of failure attributed to ulterior motives,” Singh said.
The Indian Express reported on Saturday on the telling silence from India Inc. after official figures announced on Friday showed India’s GDP growth slowed to 4.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2019-20, the lowest quarterly growth rate since the January-March quarter of 2012-13. The absence of reactions from industry contrasted sharply with the effusive reactions after the government cut the rate of corporate tax in September.
Responding to Bajaj, Amit Shah said that while there was no need for anyone to fear, if he was saying that there is a certain kind of atmosphere, then “we will have to make an effort to improve the atmosphere”.
Several newspapers and columnists have written, and continue to write, against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the NDA government, Shah said — in fact, the most stringent criticism had been directed against the present regime.
“Magar phir bhi aap jo keh rahe hain ki ek atmosphere banaa hai, hamein bhi atmosphere ko sudhaarne ka prayaas karna padega… but main itna zaroor kehna chaahta hoon ki kissi ko darne ki koi zaroorat nahi hai… Na koi daraana chaahta hai… Na kuchh aisa karaa hai jiske khilaaf koi bole to sarkar ko chinta hai… Most transparent way mein ye government chali hai, aur hamein kissi bhi prakaar ke virodh ka koi dar nahin hai, aur koi [virodh] karega bhi to uske merits dekh kar hum apne aap ko improve karne ka prayaas karenge (But even then, if you say that there is a certain kind of atmosphere, we will have to make efforts to improve the atmosphere. But I would like to say that there is no need for anybody to fear… No one wants to scare… and we have done nothing to be concerned about any criticism… The government has run in the most transparent way, and we have no fear of any kind of opposition, and if anyone does criticise, we will look at the merit of the same and make efforts to improve ourselves),” Shah said.
Bajaj also flagged the statement of Pragya Thakur in Parliament, and noted that she had made a member of a House Consultative Committee even after the Prime Minister had said it would be difficult for him to forgive her (after she had said something similar earlier).
Lynchings, Bajaj said, “creates a hawaa — intolerance ki hawaa hai — hum darte hain… kuchh cheezon ko hum bolna nahin chahte hain par dekhte hain ki koi convict hi nahin hua abhi tak (It creates an environment of intolerance and we are scared. We don’t want to say certain things but we see that until now no one has been convicted)”.
Shah responded that he and senior BJP leaders such as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had immediately condemned whatever Thakur had said. “Neither the BJP nor the government supports any such statement. We strongly condemn it,” Shah said. He noted that while there was some confusion over whether Thakur had meant Nathuram Godse or the revolutionary Udham Singh, she had apologised in Parliament.
On lynchings, Shah said: “Lynching pehle bhi hota tha, aaj bhi hota hai — shaayad aaj pehle se kam hi hota hai… Par ye bhi theek nahin hai ki kissi ka conviction nahin hua hai. Lynching waale bahut saare cases chale our samaapt bhi ho gaye, sazaa bhi hui hai, par media mein chhapte nahin hain… Vineet ji yahaan par hain, agar dhoondh ke chaapenge to hamare liye thoda achchha hoga (Lynchings happened earlier too, and probably more than now… But it is not correct that there have been no convictions. Several cases of lynchings have been concluded and there have been punishments but the media does not publish them. Vineet ji [Vineet Jain, MD of the Times Group] is here, if he looks for them and publishes them, it will be good for us).”