Why blame BJP: UPA has more to answer for in Lalit Modi affair than Sushma Swaraj

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley says there are 16 cases pending against Lalit Modi, former chief of the Indian Premier League (IPL), for violating the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and its adjunct, the Anti-Money Laundering Act. In 15 of them, showcause notices have been issued by the government.

This is the nub of the issue in which External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has been under harsh media glare. What she did was let the UK government give him travel papers to Portugal to be at the side of his wife, who was being treated for cancer. If there was any money laundering by Lalit Modi, it must have happened in cahoots with politicians across the political spectrum. Most of it may have happened during the 10-year UPA regime. Yet he was allowed to flee the country.

 Why blame BJP: UPA has more to answer for in Lalit Modi affair than Sushma Swaraj

Sushma Swaraj and Lalit Modi.

Modi, who was extremely loquacious in a TV interview yesterday (16 June), has given a lot of spin to his act of fleeing: that he was the target of Islamic terrorists, a situation compounded by the withdrawal of his security cover. What the UPA government seems to have done was warn the British government that if Lalit Modi was given travel papers by it, diplomatic relations with India would sour.

So, effectively after allowing Modi to run, either deliberately or through ineptitude, the UPA government wanted the UK government to do its job. This was a bit better than how it handled the case of Sonia Gandhi’s friend Ottavio Quattrochi. The Bofors payoff money was traced to his bank account, and the government not only allowed him to escape from India to Malaysia, but later unfroze his money. Passive aiding of his escape was compounded by the sin of commission in letting the middleman get his ill-gotten payoff.

To come back to Lalit Modi, after letting him slip through its fingers, the UPA should ideally have launched a rearguard action to get him extradited, but it did not do so. It is now taking the moral high ground along with many other opposition parties and news channels that Sushma Swaraj must resign for her role in enabling Lalit Modi to get travel documents from the British government. The same chorus is now being sung against Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

Swaraj and Raje may not have covered themselves with glory by speaking up for a suspected fugitive, but then most of the travel being done by Lalit Modi from his lair in the UK must have been on the basis of his own passport which was returned by the Delhi High Court a month after he was given a leg up by Swaraj last year. The media is having a ball digging out salacious details about his traipsing across various countries to buttress the charge that the supposed humanitarian help given by Swaraj might have been for merry-making! The known facts on the ground, however, show that she was moved by the plight of his wife undergoing cancer treatment, as indeed she has been on several occasions by the plight of lesser mortals stranded abroad, whether in Iraq or Yemen.

In this context, the impropriety of the External Affairs Minister may be little more than a storm in a tea cup. She can be accused of being too gullible in not gauging the intensity of the storm that was likely to build up in a cacophonic democracy that revels in being judgmental without looking at facts. The bottom line is Swaraj’s action as External Affairs Minister has not in any way diluted any of the charges against Lalit Modi.

A section of the media and participants in panel discussions have gone a step further and pronounced gravely that this is NDA’s 2G moment. 2G was about granting spectrum at throwaway prices to a chosen few, possibly in return for financial favours. Nothing of the sort has been alleged in l’affaire Lalit Modi – at least as far as the Modi government at the centre is concerned.

In the Bofors case, everything possible was done by successive Congress governments and dispensations sympathetic to the Congress to allow one beneficiary of the payoff, Quattrochi, to get away with his loot. Nothing of that sort has been alleged against the Modi government. On the contrary, a huge embarrassment is in store for the UPA if the money laundering case culminates in a conviction, given the fact that it happened under its watch.

To wriggle out of the embarrassing situation, the Modi government must swing into action and carry the cases against Lalit Modi to their logical conclusion by co-opting the G-20 and demonstrating its resolve to give no quarter to crooks. That would effectively silence the criticism against Sushma Swaraj besides stopping the puerile theory that one Modi is helping another Modi.

To be sure, at the end of the day, the case against Lalit Modi may or may not hold, especially if the evidence against him does not add up or fails to stand up in court, but the aggression over Swaraj is clearly overdone. Surely, there was some impropriety, but nothing to justify the media and political brouhaha. The Vasundhara Raje-Lalit Modi linkages may be more worthy of fuss if something more meaty turns up in investigations.

Updated Date: Jun 17, 2015 12:53:54 IST