The silent Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has sprung a surprise on Wednesday by issuing a short, intriguing and explosive statement emphatically denying "reports appearing in a section of the media over the past several weeks, mentioning the Prime Minister, and referring to the conduct of some union ministers, and alleged misconduct of the home minister's son."
The PMO has used very strong, even harsh, language, saying, "The reports are plain lies, motivated and constitute a malicious contempt at character assassination and tarnishing the image of the Government." It warned, "Those indulging in such rumour-mongering are damaging the interest of the nation."
This is the first time that prime minister Narendra Modi's office has openly refuted and denied media reports, without mentioning the sources or the real story.
The PMO's refutation actually came in response to gossip items appearing in newspapers including The Indian Express and Punjab Kesari, linking the sons of two union ministers to collecting funds on behalf of their fathers. Though it cannot be verified, some gossip items suggested that home minister Rajnath Singh and Ram Vilas Paswan were admonished by the Prime Minister for the conduct of their sons.
What rattled Rajnath Singh was his surmise that the gossip item in Indian Express was planted by another senior minister who is known to be close to the Express gossip columnist. This is what set in motion a series of events which resulted in Rajnath Singh putting his foot down and according to unverifiable reports threatening to resign if his name was not cleared. This happened even though neither Rajnath Singh nor Paswan were mentioned by name in any reports.
When Rajnath Singh's son, Pankaj Singh, secretary of the BJP in UP, who is at the centre of this episode was not given a ticket for the by-elections in thte list announced on Monday, and instead given to Lalji Tandon's son, Rajnath Singh feared that he was on the way out. Hence he insisted on a statement from the PMO and a clearing of his name.
The PMO has been keeping a strict watch over its ministers and one of them was recently prevented from going to a lunch meeting with a top industrialist known to be close to the BJP and the PM.
Meanwhile, wild speculation continues, and some of the Modi supporters are trying to blame Rajnath Singh for leaking the story of attacks on him by vested interests in the party , and then forcing the PMO and BJP president to come out and defend him. It also seems probable that in this cloak-and-dagger drama in the BJP and in the government, Rajnath Singh's detractors want to harry out the home minister because he is seen as the only man who is still struggling to hold out against the domination of the powerful Modi-Amit Shah duo.
The PMO has been stand-offish towards the media, not interacting with the print and television journalists, and trying to build a leak proof impregnable fortress around the government. So it is only expected that gossip stories grow in number and facts are replaced by insinuations.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah has also issued a statement in Hindi, noting the rumours in the media about the ministers based on what he called "kaalpanik aadhaar (imagined sources)". Shah was eloquent in his defence of not just Rajnath Singh, but also his son Pankaj Singh, who is a secretary of the party in Uttar Pradesh. He recounted senior Singh's career which included serving thrice as party president apart from serving as UP chief minister. Shah has also referred to the PMO statement. Again, Shah did not refer to any particular media story about the home minister's son.
Rajnath Singh went public and said that he had assured Modi and Shah about these things and that they had dismissed the rumours. He offered to "quit politics" if there was any truth in the allegations against him or the family.
A party functionary said that the party was with Rajnath Singh, and that there was no truth to the stories about Rajnath Singh's son.
For quite some time now, there has been talk in the capital and elsewhere about how Modi has been disciplining his cabinet colleagues and their errant sons. These were unconfirmed stories. There have not been informal media interactions either with the PMO, Union ministers, and at the party office for the last three months.