It's stupid to call Lalit Modi a 'bhagoda': He wasn't one and still is not one

The cases against Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje make no sense unless it is established that Lalit Modi was a fugitive from justice. There is no evidence whatsoever to prove that he was, or even is, a 'bhagoda'

R Jagannathan June 27, 2015 17:32:56 IST
It's stupid to call Lalit Modi a 'bhagoda': He wasn't one and still is not one

There has been such a media cacophony in the Lalit Modi affair, which threatens to politically singe the BJP at the centre and in Rajasthan, that not much is making sense anymore. The Congress-led political slug-fest, the media’s extreme shrillness and rush to judgment, and Lalit Modi’s own efforts to toss all kinds of names into the controversial pot through Twitter one-liners suggest that we will soon be chasing our own tails if we do not stop to think. Among others, we have seen the President’s office and the Gandhi family being mentioned in Lalit Modi's tweets. Regardless of the truth of his statements, the chances are we will soon be overwhelmed by distractions posing as evidence.

Its stupid to call Lalit Modi a bhagoda He wasnt one and still is not one

Lalit Modi in a file photo. Getty Images

Even the BJP isn't thinking straight on this one, with one worthy who should know better choosing to call Lalit Modi a "bhagoda". Lalit Modi is a "bhagoda" only in the sense that powerful people seek the protection of another jurisdiction in order to escape the Indian political-legal-justice system's dysfunctionalities. No one in India expects the system to deliver justice once it has turned against you, and the powerful certainly are not obliged to stay and suffer in silence.

Consider just three things that stick out a mile in l'affaire Lalit.

First, there has been a strenuous effort to paint the former boss of the IPL as some kind of dangerous criminal, helping whom is tantamount to anti-national activity. This is bull***t. Lalit Modi may be an aggressive businessman who may have run the IPL and his other capers whimsically, possibly by contravening the letter of the law, but this is how all businesses are run in the corrupt Indian ecosystem. He is no elevated criminal who needs to be treated like a pariah or desh drohi. This is not to condone any of his illegalities - or the ones his friends in the BJP or other parties may have indulged in - but Lalit Modi’s transgressions are not some exceptionally vile acts.

Second, the media has tended to gloss over the real trigger behind his decision to scoot to the UK: the toxic rivalry within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Everyone knows that Lalit Modi made IPL a moneyspinner and this made him a future threat to the dominance of other powerful vested interests in BCCI. As an analogy, see how trends in national politics mirror what may have happened in the BCCI. The rise of Narendra Modi has forced rivals and allies to cut him down to size; similarly, the rise of Lalit Modi created a short-term convergence of interests in the BCCI which led to his ouster from IPL. If you are not convinced, consider how N Srinivasan, whose power waxed after Lalit Modi’s ouster, was himself cut down to size when he became very powerful.

So, the chances are the rest of the BCCI ganged up against Lalit Modi to oust him from the IPL, and the UPA government was happy to oblige the cricketing powers by going after him. After some interim changes, the IPL is firmly in the BCCI's grip, and was, till mid-2013, run by Congressman Rajiv Shukla. He resigned in the wake of the spot-fixing scandal that rocked IPL.

And let's not forget, Lalit Modi’s most famous run-in with the UPA happened when he cocked a snook at P Chidambaram, who as home minister refused to provide security for IPL in 2009 due to the overlapping timelines of the Lok Sabha elections and the tournament. Lalit Modi overnight shifted his league to South Africa. Chidambaram does not forgive anyone who shows him up easily - and it suited the Congress and the BCCI to keep a BJP-linked businessman out of the country. After returning as finance minister in 2012, Chidambaram reportedly asked the UK government to send him back since his Indian passport had been revoked, but the fact is his government did not do anything to formally seek his extradition. This is for a simple reason: you can’t seek to extradite anybody purely by issuing him show cause notices.

So one must ask Chidambaram and the Congress party: if Lalit Modi’s crimes were of such import, why did they not really go after him? Is it possible that they merely wanted him to stay out and not return home to cause further trouble, this time for many more powers in the BCCI? No one probably wanted him back in the country where he could implicate many more people - as he has been doing in recent tweets. NCP boss Sharad Pawar, Lalit's old guardian angel, has gone one step further by admitting that he met Lalit Modi in London and advised him to return, promising to get him a fair hearing. This is not the language one uses with a so-called fugitive.

As Surjit Bhalla argues in The Indian Express today (27 June), Lalit cannot be called a fugitive at all. The “two prerequisites to being a fugitive are, one, being charged with committing a criminal offence, and, two, being unlawfully at large in order to avoid prosecution (or arrest or imprisonment)” but both are missing in Lalit’s case (even today, after all this fuss).

Bhalla goes further and suggests that there was no reason for either Vasundhara Raje or Sushma Swaraj to resign because the three things he had been accused of – illegal money transactions, investing in Vasundhara Raje’s son’s company, and cheating (in a complaint filed by N Srinivasan, his rival in the BCCI – have not even resulted in him being charged for these crimes. Says Bhalla: “Future events might “prove” that Lalit Modi did commit these or other crimes — even if that does happen, it does not mean that either Swaraj or Raje did anything wrong, because at the time of their “friendship” acts, Lalit Modi had not been charged with any crime.”

Not only that, it now transpires that the UPA’s decision to revoke Lalit Modi’s passport was itself wrong. The Delhi high court has returned his passport, and three former Supreme Court judges had backed Lalit in his fight to get his passport back. And the Interpol’s former chief, Ronald Noble, made it clear that the Indian media is on the wrong track.

Asked by Ritu Sarin of The Indian Express about Lalit Modi’s fugitive status, Noble blasts the India media for being ill-informed. He said: “The Indian media consistently states that he is ‘wanted by the Enforcement Directorate’. Is this the same Enforcement Directorate that falsely claims there is something called an Interpol light blue notice? There is no such thing as a light blue notice. The Enforcement Directorate never gave Interpol any information about Lalit Modi. Therefore why does the Indian media, including yourself, constantly mistake that Lalit Modi is wanted for arrest when you know that to be false? If he is wanted then publish the arrest warrant they claim was issued in 2010.”

Clearly, the claim that Lalit Modi is a fugitive from justice is a piece of fiction generated by the Congress and the media that has no love lost for the NDA government.

Third, Lalit Modi has been hyperactive in trying to name as many names as he can in recent interactions with the media and on Twitter. He has made no bones about his friendships with Vasundhara Raje or other politicians in other parties. The question is: why is he doing this?

The logical answer to me is this: he is essentially trying to say if my friends are unwilling to help me, I have no obligation to protect them. He is also implying that if he is pushed further to the wall, he will not care who goes down with him.

Some conclusions flow from the above three points. One, the government must pursue cases against Lalit Modi if they have merit. Otherwise, there is no point wasting time and money on this. As of now Lalit Modi is not a fugitive. He can become one if some cases against him generate enough evidence to charge-sheet him. Two, there is no point in sacrificing Vasundhara Raje or Sushma Swaraj in the name of probity, for they have at best tried to help a friend in need, and, at worst, made wrong judgment calls by seeking (as in Raje’s case) Lalit’s money for investment. Three, the BCCI needs to be reined in. It is a den of vested interests where corruption can – and does - flourish. Maybe we need a court-appointed administrator to clean up the BCCI before allowing it to continue to run Indian cricket.


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