Congress fires fresh salvo at Modi after Satya Pal Malik’s Pulwama claims

Former J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik has claimed in a media interview that PM Modi had asked him to “keep quiet” about the government lapses that allegedly led to the Pulwama terror attack

Pulwama, former J&K Governor Satyapal Malik, PM Narendra Modi
Chairperson of Congress's social media wing, Supriya Shrinate, speaks as the party's communications department chief Jairam Ramesh looks on at a press meet on Saturday

Lapping up former J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik’s claim that in the immediate aftermath of the 2019 Pulwama terror attack, the Prime Minister had asked him to “keep quiet” about lapses on part of the government, the Congress has launched a fresh offensive against Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP.

The Congress has demanded that Prime Minister Modi “must answer serious questions” that arise out of Malik’s explosive “revelations” made during an interview to The Wire, instead of “responding with silence”.

“Modi’s intentions and even his patriotism seem to be ‘corrupt’. We are not saying this; Satya Pal Malik, who has been a Governor in four different states and on four different occasions and had joined the BJP in 2014 before holding a Constitutional post, has made these revelations… If you watch the complete interview of one hour and nine minutes, you will not only be shocked, but you will start wondering how morally corrupt this dispensation is,” the Congress said in a statement jointly released by the party’s communications department chief Jairam Ramesh and the chairpersons of the party’s media and social media wings, Pawan Khera and Supriya Shrinate, respectively.

Watch: Why Satya Pal Malik thinks BJP will find the going tough in 2024 election

“Govt incompetence and lapses”

In the interview, Malik claimed that he had informed the Prime Minister that the Pulwama attack, which claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel, was the “result of our (the government’s) incompetence and lapses” because a requisition by the CRPF for an aircraft to ferry its personnel on that fateful day was “refused by the Union Home Ministry”. Rajnath Singh, the current Defence Minister, was the Union Home Minister at the time.

Even more shocking was Malik’s revelation that when he telephonically informed Modi, who was busy shooting at the Jim Corbett National Park for Discovery Channel’s reality adventure show Man vs. Wild during and after the attack, that the lives of the martyred CRPF men could have been saved had it not been for the lapse on part of the government, the Prime Minister told him to “keep quiet”.

Malik said he had conveyed the same message to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, too, but was again told to not go public about the alleged refusal of aircraft for the CRPF men or the lapses in sanitising of the route taken by the convoy despite intelligence inputs of an imminent attack by Pakistani terror outfits. Malik further claims he “immediately realised” that the PM’s intention was to put the blame for the Pulwama attack on Pakistan and derive electoral benefits for the government and the BJP, as the incident happened months before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Also read: At rally in Punjab, Modi claims Congress belittles Pulwama sacrifice

More ammo for Cong

Malik was the last Governor of J&K before the Centre abrogated Article 370 and simultaneously bifurcated the erstwhile state into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. Given that the Pulwama terror attack, the politics that played out over it to the electoral advantage of the BJP, and ultimately the fulfilment of the BJP’s long-due poll promise of abrogating Article 370, had all happened during his gubernatorial stint in J&K from August 2018 till October 2019, Malik’s allegations — though being made after over four years and following his evident estrangement with the BJP’s central leadership — may be difficult for the BJP to wish away.

The Congress, which has in the past paid a heavy electoral price for raising questions over the Pulwama attack or the 2016 and 2019 surgical strikes against Pakistan by the Indian Army, as the BJP spun these around to question the Grand Old Party’s patriotism, seems to believe that the revelations by Malik, once a BJP insider and trusted aide of Modi, can be utilised to dent the Prime Minister’s self-professed image of India’s foremost patriot.

With the Lok Sabha polls just a year away and the Prime Minister already facing a united onslaught by the Opposition regarding the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) inquiry into allegations of corporate fraud, stock manipulation, and other charges against industrialist Gautam Adani, Malik’s claims have, arguably, given potent ammunition to the anti-BJP bloc for targeting Modi. That is more so, as the former Governor, who has, since the protracted peasant agitation of 2021 against the since-repealed farm laws, been on the warpath against the BJP, has also reiterated other damning allegations in his interview to The Wire about the Prime Minister turning a Nelson’s eye to corruption within BJP governments.

“In August 2020, Satya Pal Malik was removed from the post of Governor of Goa and sent to Meghalaya after he brought to the notice of the Prime Minister several cases of corruption that the government chose to ignore rather than tackle. He has now exposed that the people around the Prime Minister are involved in corruption and often use the name of the PMO. Malik said he had brought all this to the notice of Modi but the latter does not care about it. He said, ‘I can safely say that the Prime Minister does not hate corruption very much’,” the Congress said in its statement.

Also read: Rajasthan: As Pulwama widows continue to protest, Gehlot meets other war widows

Malik’s interview claims

It may be recalled that in recent weeks, Malik has given a slew of interviews to various media platforms, including The Federal, in which he has repeatedly alleged that during his time as Governor, he was “offered a Rs 300-crore bribe” on behalf of a corporate entity to clear certain projects. In one interview, he alleged that this offer had come through senior RSS functionary and BJP’s national general secretary Ram Madhav (who recently served a defamation notice to Malik). The former Governor has claimed that despite informing the Prime Minister about the offers of bribe, as well as the rampant corruption in BJP’s government in Goa back in 2021 (when Malik was serving as Governor of the coastal state), “no action” was taken while he was moved overnight from the Raj Bhavan of Goa to that of Meghalaya.

Ramesh told reporters on Saturday (April 14) that each allegation made by Malik are “extremely serious in nature” and there is none else than the PM who needs to “come clean on these. He also informed that Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who was already leading the party’s efforts to bring together various Opposition parties for a broad anti-BJP electoral alliance, “is speaking to leaders of various Opposition parties” to explore the ways in which they can “unitedly” take these issues before the public, as the allegations were “not a matter related to one political party but the nation’s security”.

Also read: Cong should apologise for talking about ‘conspiracy theory’ on Pulwama: Javadekar

Congress careful with words

A section of Congress leaders, however, feels that the party must exercise “extreme caution” in using Malik’s claims to build a political narrative against Modi given the PM’s unparalleled expertise in turning such attacks to his advantage by raising the bogey of hypernationalism and Hindutva. Expectedly, Ramesh and Khera were both careful to repeatedly assert that the allegations “are not being made by the Congress party” and that “we are merely reiterating what Satya Pal Malik, who continues to be a part of the BJP and was handpicked by Modi to be Governor of J&K at a time when Article 370 was being abrogated, has said in various interviews”.

Ramesh said that since Malik’s allegations were pointedly against Modi and not Rajnath Singh (Home Minister during the Pulwama attack) or current Home minister Amit Shah, “the answers must also come from the Prime Minister”. “Whenever there is serious question asked of the PM, he has only one answer — silence; silence on China, silence on Pulwama. This government’s motto is minimum governance, maximum chuppi (silence) but these are very serious issues and we will keep asking questions till we get an answer,” Ramesh said.

Shrinate also laid out pointed questions to the PM and said that he must answer these “in national interest because it is national security that is at stake”. “Why were the CRPF men not allowed to travel by air; why were intelligence inputs warning about a terrorist attack ignored; how did the militants procure and transport 300 kgs of RDX for the Pulwama attack despite J&K being a highly sensitive border state; who will fix the responsibilities of NSA Ajit Doval and the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh and, most importantly, why was the governor asked by the PM to ‘keep quiet’?” Shrinate demanded.