For Modi with love
The latest controversy involving Sushma Swaraj facilitating travel documents for Lalit Modi, who is facing charges of money laundering in India, has left none in doubt that this government is not as clean as it had claimed just three weeks ago
There are some names in Indian politics that have dismayed many a political observer. Janata , Hindi for people, has caused umpteen problems for political parties as well as the people. The erstwhile Janata Party was a conglomeration of various parties hurriedly packaged when Indira Gandhi suddenly lifted the Emergency and called for elections in 1977. Such was the peoples’ angst at their freedom of speech being curbed by her that the people voted the Janata Party to power.
The Janata Party, however, lasted less than three years and various disparate groups went on to form their own ideological platforms. Among the major ones that emerged were the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently ruling India, and the Janata Dal. But, the unique feature of the latter was best described by one of its leaders as having leaders who behaved like ‘crabs in a jar’. It meant that no crab would be allowed to climb out of the jar because the other would pull it down.
In the last few days, the ruling party has been re-confirming this consternation of some observers. At the end of the first year’s rule by the BJP government, one of the ministers who stood out for her performance and political sagacity was India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Her quick, quiet and firm handling of the problems faced by non-resident Indians (NRIs), caught in the battles being fought in Muslim countries, gained her a lot of respect. This respect went up several notches also because she had been sidelined on foreign policy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had also pushed her out of the race earlier to occupy his present post.
From all accounts, the latest controversy involving Swaraj reminds one of the ailment that has afflicted parties that carry the name of the ‘people’. She has admitted that it was humanitarian considerations that made her write to the Indian-origin vice president of the Labour Party in the UK, Keith Vaz, to facilitate travel documents for a man to be with his wife for her cancer treatment in Portugal. The man in question is not any ordinary person.
He is Lalit Modi (not related to the Prime Minister in any way), who revolutionised the dull and drab game of cricket with the Indian Premier League (IPL), and has been living in the United Kingdom, obviously, to avoid Indian law enforcement officers. Lalit Modi faces several charges of money laundering because of which the government had taken away his Indian passport as well until it was restored by a court last year. These legal issues should have been enough for any politician, more so somebody with the experience of Swaraj, to avoid Lalit Modi’s request.
But, then, Swaraj could not do that. She acceded to his telephonic request and wrote directly to Vaz to do the needful with two critical statements. One that it should be as per British rules and regulations and, two, it should not affect Indo-British bilateral relations. She, obviously, could not avoid Lalit Modi’s request also because he happened to be her husband’s client for two decades and, in recent times, their daughter was part of the legal team that defended Lalit Modi. Clearly, there was conflict of interest.
The second step where Swaraj faltered was in not following the protocol that governs such requests. The correct procedure would have been to ask the chief passport officer to seek the opinion of the Enforcement Directorate or ED before issuing a short duration passport. Her communication to Vaz was not even routed through the Indian High Commissioner in London. She, possibly, apprehended that following the procedure would bring her directly in conflict with her colleague who is a closer associate of the Prime Minister. The ED works under the Finance Ministry, headed by Arun Jaitely, who was chairman of the disciplinary committee in the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) that made Lalit Modi persona non grata in Indian cricket.
Such issues may appear to some as purely administrative matters that call for a certain political tact. But, this is easier said than done in most political situations of this kind. Political lines in such situations determine administrative actions. In this case, neither of the ministries thought it fit to even appeal against the High Court’s decision to restore the passport to Lalit Modi. Each of them are pointing fingers at the other for not taking the initiative. It is such differences between two important ministries that raise questions over the nature of governance and political leadership.
None doubts that Swaraj has failed on the testing points of conflict of interest and impropriety. But, they do not seem to be adequate grounds for the Prime Minister to get her to resign or sack her as demanded by the Opposition. Arguments that somebody was released two decades ago by the Congress party government appear banal in the face of the moral high ground that the BJP took during the election campaign which brought it to power. That it would not support crony capitalists. It is quite possible that the ED will, suddenly, get active and serve notices to Lalit Modi and, may be, even others. Politically, there could also be more cases of one crab pulling down another crab.
But, this episode has left none in doubt that this government is not as clean at the highest echelons of government as it had claimed on its first anniversary in power, three weeks ago. It today stands out as a government that has protected a man who is facing charges of money laundering.
At the speed of a bullet
The last few weeks have been rather strange. Every day has passed by with the credibility of one or the other being affected for omissions and commissions. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or the Common Man’s Party which rules Delhi has been facing the onslaught from the powers-that-be for not following a simple policy of due diligence. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s battle with Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung over posting of police officers at the anti-corruption bureau, has led to his party’s credibility being shaken. He has had to replace his law minister because his degrees were fake or of a non-existent university.
Soon after that the estranged wife of one of its controversial legislators has gone to town making several personal allegations against him. The incidents have disillusioned the admirers of the AAP for not being as clean as they appeared to be. But the political class has also come to the conclusion that times have changed so dramatically that rivals do not take a long time to hit back and hard at that. Earlier, rivals would wait for the right opportunity to do that. Clearly, times have changed to the point that the response is swift. But, the message is crystal clear to the AAP. It needs to focus on governance rather than keep fighting a federal government that may not be always fair.
This haste to communicate is not very different even when it comes to issues of the nation. The death of 18 soldiers in an ambush set by insurgents in the north eastern state of Manipur two weeks ago shocked everyone. In what is considered the quickest response, the government hit back. The army raided the camps of the insurgents close to the India-Myanmar border, as the army put it. But, the over-enthusiasm of the minister of state for information and broadcasting, Col Rajvardhan Rathore, made the government squirm. He embarrassed the nation by saying that the Indian commandoes operated inside Myanmar, forcing the evergreen friendly neighbour to react strongly. The Olympic medallist, perhaps, thought it was a shooting event when his immaturity got the better of him to warn other neighbours, too. Discretion was certainly not evident while briefing on such a sensitive subject concerning the nation.
The ban on Maggi noodles, on which a couple of generations grew up, because of excess lead and MSG has made many morose and many have come out with several jokes. Here is one:
The translation is: After getting separated from Maggi, the fork committed suicide last night!
[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]