Date: 9/26/2003


Who is afraid of Sonia Gandhi?

Jaya Jaitly

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26th Sep 2003

Dear Soniaji - Recently you asked the Government a series of questions, using the instrument of the no-confidence motion. You seemed to have expected the Prime Minister alone to give you the answers, exactly as you wanted them. Your complaint is that the treasury benches gave you no answers. Subsequently, from a platform in Rajasthan, you also derisively accused the Government of being afraid of you. Millions must have watched the televised debate in Parliament. All those who do not understand English would not have understood your "charges" since they do not have the benefit of simultaneous translators as you did. They would, however, have understood the reply from those who spoke from the Government's side, particularly when it was in Hindi.

After four years in Parliament, five years in politics, and 33 years in India, we Indians would like to know if you can manage a 10-minute extempore speech or participate in a debate on any subject spontaneously among a panel of speakers. You still continue to seek permission from the Honourable Speaker of the Lok Sabha to read your speeches, whether they are written for you in English or in Hindi. Since your complaint about an unsatisfactory reply from the Government was made in Hindi, I hope you will allow me to present a response from the general public in a manner with which you are familiar.

Aapki shikayaten videsh neeti, suraksha neeti aur shiksha neeti par thi. Aap ne desh ko yeh bataya ki is sarkar ke kaaran Bharat duniya ki nazaron mein gir gaya hai. Iska jawab Shri Advani aur Smt Sushma Swaraj ne vistaar mein diya. Bahut se vaktaon ne gayi Congress sarkaron ki kamzoriyon aur galtiyon ko ginaya aur sarkar ki uplabdhiyon ko bhi ginaya. Uplabdhiyan to thi, kyonki jab aap ne uske shrey lene ki koshish ki, to Sushmaji ne sahi jawab diya ki NDA sarkar bhi aap hi ki den hai. Rajneetik sawal jawab, jisko angrezi mein "cut and thrust of a debate" kehte hain, aise hi hote hain. Shayad aap samjhi nahin.

Of course, English is not your mother tongue, either. You went to Cambridge, England, to learn English with a local family. However, you formally informed the Parliament Secretariat that you had your education at the Cambridge University. The town of Cambridge does not give degrees in English. If an Italian girl lives with an Indian family in Delhi to help with the housework and learn Hindi in return, she cannot later claim to have a degree in Hindi from the Delhi University, can she?

Misleading people on degrees and pedigrees may be unimportant. However, when you deliberately ignore published facts and evidence on matters concerning the defence establishment and security matters of India and impinge on the sentiments and morale of soldiers at the front, playing with the truth becomes unforgivable. Everyone heard you make accusations about Rs 3,000 crore worth of scams in defence purchases. Since the Raksha Mantri was allowed by the Opposition to be heard on that occasion after 22 months, the whole country listened to his reply carefully. In case you did not understand what was said, I repeat it here. Since there were no specific instances or evidence offered by you in the way of scams, no specific responses or clarifications could be given to such a wild and general accusation. So he said: "Mujhe khareedne wala admi abhi tak paida nahin hua hai." This means that there is no man born yet on earth who can purchase him, that is, shake his integrity. Rhetorical, maybe, but categorical in his rejection of your contention.

To finally nail the lie on the "coffin" matter, he did go into the fine details of its history, the total worth of the order for the reusable caskets and the sequence of events that has held up their use till today.

These facts have all been published, yet you still make it an issue. You prefer no one should know that: a) The caskets were first identified and proposed for purchase in 1995 when the Congress was in power and you were not in politics; b) They were ordered by the Army from the same supplier who gives them to the US Army at a higher cost; c) A typo or error of understanding caused the specifications to be written by the Army as 18 kg instead of 18 gauge, so when the caskets arrived weighing 55 kg they were promptly rejected. A foolish set of mistakes, if you ask me. But no one can see why Mr Fernandes has to be crucified for "drinking the blood of martyred soldiers", when he does not even come into the loop when orders are placed for amounts under Rs 5 crore in the Defence Ministry.

It is secondary that these caskets, which can be reused for 30 years, were not ordered against the backdrop of the Kargil war. There is nothing wrong in challenging the CAG's contentions publicly with a view to correct wrong impressions, especially if sentiments about blood and martyrs are being bandied about using his document. The Raksha Mantri challenged you in Parliament to furnish proof to support your accusations by 6 pm the next day or apologise to the nation. The nation saw you do neither. Shouting "Sharmnaak!" and misleading the public about the caskets for the martyrs affects India much more than misinformation about your educational history.

As for your belief that the ruling establishment is afraid of you, here is a story: Ek gilehri ne haathi ke upar chadh kar usko takleef pahunchane ke liye chhedkhani aur badmaashi kari. Haathi ko kuch nahin pata chala. Achanak haathi zor se cheekha, jaise veh kabhi kabhi karte hain. Gilehri ati prasann hui aur apni takat ka garv karte hue usne haathi se poochha: "Kya aapko zyaada dard to nahin ho raha hai?" If you ask your colleague Salman Khurshid, who made a public speech about ants and elephants in Uttar Pradesh politics, he might explain the meaning of this story to you.