June 21, 2015

Lalit Modi and BJP: Cosy Nexus

THE Modi government is faced with a major scandal concerning the Lalit Modi affair. What this episode reveals is serious impropriety on the part of a senior minister in the cabinet, the cosy nexus of crony capitalism and the typical response of a government which wants to deny and cover up the whole affair. The minister for external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, has accepted that she facilitated Lalit Modi getting travel documents from the British government. Lalit Modi had fled to London to get away from the investigation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) into his foreign exchange violations and money laundering when he was the IPL chief. In 2010, his passport was revoked by the ministry of external affairs. Lalit Modi has so far refused to return to India to be questioned by the ED for a number of foreign exchange violation cases and money laundering estimated at Rs 1700 crore. Earlier on the basis of the ED’s request, a Blue Corner notice had been issued by Interpol stating that Modi is required for questioning by the Indian authorities. The UPA government had sent a diplomatic note to the British government in 2012 cautioning against providing any travel document to Modi. Sushma Swaraj in her capacity as the external affairs minister had written to the British High Commissioner in India in July 2014 stating that the Government of India would have no objection to Lalit Modi being provided a travel document by the British government. It is on this basis that Lalit Modi was provided a travel document for two years and he has been using it to travel all around the world, not just to Portugal where his wife was to undergo medical treatment. It is clear now that when Lalit Modi spoke to Sushma Swaraj directly for help in getting a travel document, that she did not consult with the finance ministry under which the ED operates or even go through the normal MEA channels to process the request. It is also established that both the husband and daughter of the minister, who are lawyers, have been Modi’s legal representatives. Thus there is a clear conflict of interest involved. Lalit Modi’s links with the Modi government and the BJP leaders is also indicated by how the government has been handling his case. When the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court ordered the restoration of Modi’s passport in August 2014, the government significantly preferred not to appeal the decision even though earlier a single judge of the High Court had upheld the revocation of the passport. Modi has since been issued with an Indian passport. The revelation by Modi’s legal team that Vasundhara Raje Scindia, the chief minister of Rajasthan, had also provided a witness statement for Modi’s immigration when she was the leader of the opposition in the Rajasthan assembly, further confirms the nexus between Lalit Modi and the BJP leadership. Ever since the Sunday Times, London exposed the intervention of Sushma Swaraj in the matter, the BJP president and senior ministers of the Modi government have come out in defence of Sushma Swaraj stating that it was only a decision taken on humanitarian grounds. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not said anything whatsoever regarding the matter, but presumably the home minister and the finance minister are adopting the stand which has been endorsed by him. The shielding of Sushma Swaraj by the prime minister and the BJP exposes how many of the BJP leaders were involved in the IPL-cricket business. Narendra Modi himself was president of the Cricket Association of Gujarat when Lalit Modi was the IPL commissioner. One year after the Modi government, the BJP was loudly claming that there is no corruption or crony capitalism under Modi rule. However, the Lalit Modi affair has glaringly punctured that claim. Crony capitalism flourishes under the Modi government just as during the UPA government. As for getting back black money and cracking down on money laundering, Lalit Modi who is gallivanting around the world thanks to Sushma Swaraj, is having the last laugh. What happens to the multiple cases against Lalit Modi filed by the ED? Does Arun Jaitely, the finance minister, who is himself a big wig in the BCCI, have the appetite to bring Lalit Modi to justice? The Modi government and the BJP government cannot escape by denying the reality. It has become untenable for Sushma Swaraj to continue in office as a minister. There has to be a full investigation and if it is established that Vasundhara Raje had indeed provided a confidential witness certificate for Lalit Modi, then she will also have to step down. The finance minister, Arun Jaitely, will have to explain why the ED investigations are so slow and tardy. A time frame has to be set by which the process for extradition of Lalit Modi to India should begin. (June 17, 2015)