BJP has faced considerable embarrassment because of bizarre comments made by its spokesperson Sambit Patra in TV debates in the recent months. The party was reportedly forced to sideline Patra after its electoral setbacks in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh last month. But, it seems Patra has now been replaced by Shahnawaz Hussain for providing comic value in live TV debates.
Hussain appeared on Aaj Tak channel recently to discuss the raging controversy over the poor financial health of government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited or HAL. The topic had gained momentum after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rejected Congress’ allegations of lying in the parliament. Sitharaman had said that the HAL had signed contracts worth Rs 26,570 crore since 2014 and orders worth Rs 73,000 crore were being processed.
But, this was immediately contradicted by HAL CMD R Madhavan, who painted a bleak picture of the company’s financial health. He told The Times of India. “Our cash in hand is in the negative, we’ve had to borrow close to Rs 1,000 crore as an overdraft (OD). By 31 March we’ll have minus of Rs 6,000 crore, which becomes unsustainable. We can borrow for day-to-day work but not for project purchases.”
When asked to react to the HAL CMD’s comments of the government-owned company having no cash in hand even to pay staff salaries, Hussain stunned everyone with his reply. He told Aaj Tak, “We are people of cashless economy.” Hussain’s response left even the Aaj Tak anchor stunned as he said, “Sir, we are having a serious discussion here.” But far from correcting his gaffe, Hussain continued, “Sir, it’s a serious discussion. What do you want? They (the HAL) should have cash in hand?”
A visibly shocked anchor sought to clarify further, “By cash in hand, the HAL CMD is talking about his inability to pay salaries to staff.” By this time, the Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera had held his head in utter disbelief.
An unfazed Hussain replied, “Even I understand this much of English. You don’t have cash in hand these days.”
As expected, Hussain’s gaffe became a topic of intense social media discussion as journalists and his political rivals began to lampoon the BJP spokesperson.
Anchor: HAL doesn’t have cash in hand
BJP National spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain: We are a cashless economy. Why should someone need cash in hand???
Nothing explains Modi Government’s economic sense better than this!??
— Ravi Nair (@t_d_h_nair) January 8, 2019
BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain says HAL did not have cash to pay staff salaries because we are now a cashless economy. I think Acche Din meant free stand-up comedy from the government.
— Madhavan Narayanan (@madversity) January 8, 2019
Dear Shahnawaz Hussain @ShahnawazBJP is that why BJP is trying to scam RBI of 3 lac 60000 crore? True, in cashless country like India why HAL would need any cash to pay salaries. Acvording to Shahnawaz brand economics – you don’t need any money in the bank to make digital payment https://t.co/X4r2ZdUFWQ
— JPC ON RAFALE (@Kanwal33) January 8, 2019
I don’t know why people are frothing in the mouth!
Have you EVER seen a party spokesperson stun a primetime anchor into silence so quickly?
This is beyond the capability of even @sambitswaraj Ji ? pic.twitter.com/txJ3iZDY9g
— Akash Banerjee (@akashbanerjee) January 7, 2019
— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) January 8, 2019
ख़बरदार जो कोई हँसा तो ???? https://t.co/YlVr5PvhTP
— Dr Kumar Vishvas (@DrKumarVishwas) January 7, 2019
The controversy over HAL assumes significance in light of the Congress’ allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was personally involved in the scam over the Rafale deal since he gave a contract worth Rs 58,000 crore to his friend Anil Ambani by ignoring the HAL, which has a pedigree of building aircrafts.