Poor Salman Khurshid. He was ‘kicked upstairs’ by the powers that mattered then, when lesser mortals would have been dismissed disgracefully without any face-saving. He added to the discomfiture of his party by making reckless irresponsible statements during the election campaign in Uttar Pradesh and received a well-deserved rap on his knuckles for offending the Election Commission. But not one to learn from past mistakes, he rushes in where proverbial angels fear to tread. He has been quick to comment on the latest instalment of ‘Snoopgate’—the bugging of Nitin Gadkari’s residence. He did hedge his bets while denying that this could have started under the UPA regime and even more scandalously as an effort to please the US whose infamous NSA was targeting the BJP. “Not really”, “not to my knowledge” were the words he used repeatedly, but he did enter a caveat of sorts that maybe there was some sort of intelligence sharing in national interest by agencies whose work remains—and must remain—outside pubic domain. The problem with our former external affairs minister is that he likes his voice too much. A plain denial wasn’t enough for him. He went on to talk of ‘meta data’ sharing as if this is the most innocuous thing in the world. Some broad patterns of communications may have been made available to strategic partners that invade nobody’s privacy. He added, for good measure, that he couldn’t understand why anyone in the US would be interested in spying on BJP. Haven’t they had the best of relations with them? (And, one had thought that after Doc Manmohan’s pappi-jhappi style of diplomacy unleashed at successive US presidents, poor Jaswant Singh’s exertions in the domain of ‘winning friends and influencing people’ were ancient history.) All this didn’t stop him from suggesting that the ‘government of the day’ that has in its hands all levers of power must order an investigation and come clean. Manish Tewari suggested the same course of action but more succinctly, if not more persuasively. Less time wasted on the likes of Rajiv Shukla the better.
The former Prime Minister, however, jumping into the affray was nothing less that an abortive strike to shock and awe. First things first. It should be a matter of satisfaction to some that Manmohan Singh seems to have found his tongue back after stepping down from office. He does talk! He was obviously trying to lend his weight to the campaign to embarrass the Modi government on this scoop. Unfortunately for him, public memory isn’t as short as the eminent economist and consummate political survivor thinks it is. There was considerable stink raised when it was discovered that the office of then finance minister Pranab Mukerjee was ‘bugged’ and the needle of suspicion gravitated towards another senior Cabinet colleague. Manmohan had remained dumb with his head buried in his favourite ‘Ostrich aasan’ so long that the person concerned had to throw a sulking tantrum to ensure that rank was pulled and his name was ‘cleared’. Our former Prime Minister certainly is suffering from a grave case of amnesia if he has forgotten this sordid episode. It was the UPA that was the ‘government of the day’ then and his hands were on ‘all the levers of power’. How one wishes that he recalled on occasions like this his own quip about ‘khamoshi’ that silences a thousand embarrassing questioners.
Before we conclude, one more thing needs to be sorted out. Some in the Congress have come out with snide remarks about how can one take a party seriously that spies on its own. May we remind these gentle folk that the US has been caught snooping on its own allies like Germany and hasn’t been able to explain the clandestine operation gone awfully wrong. All the clever wordplay about meta data—or alpha, beta, theta—can’t put this Humpty Dumpty together again.
It is obvious that the Congress in disarray licking its wounds is desperate to find an issue that can snowball to cause a major embarrassment for Modi and the BJP. Nothing has worked so far—neither the appointment of Supreme Court judges or the elevation of the ‘multiple tainted’ Amit Shah to the presidency of the BJP. There have been other diversions—rapes and outbursts of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh ruled by the fiercely secular SP. The FIFA final and interminable cricket matches contribute their bit to divert public attention from its discomfiture, but the respite is never long lasting. Voices against the charismatic or pragmatic leadership of Rahul Gandhi are becoming more strident by the day. This has constrained the loyalists to state, “It is our internal matter.” They may rejoice in the realisation that not many are interested in their internal maladies or their external symptoms. RIP.