Surviving the Lalit Modi storm: Narendra Modi can pull up Sushma Swaraj, but not Raje
That Lalit Modi is linked to politicians in every major party is something no one wants to discuss - since it does not help put the BJP and Narendra Modi is the dock.
Much nuance, even commonsense, is being sacrificed in the way Narendra Modi's political opponents and even the media are dealing with the fallout of the Lalit Modi affair. As things stand now, Lalit is a fugitive and all those who helped him can be said to have aided someone whom the law enforcement agencies are probing.
That Lalit Modi is linked to politicians in every major party is something no one wants to discuss - since it does not help put the BJP and Narendra Modi is the dock. The unstated goal is to use Lalit Modi to embarrass the PM, and this is why no one wants to talk about all of Lalit Modi's other linkages. The simple fact that no help was sought from Interpol for his arrest and extradition should put us out of any doubt. The only thing the UPA actually did was to warn the UK government that helping Lalit Modi would be seen as an unfriendly act.
This may merely mean that the BCCI bosses who ousted Lalit from the IPL were in cahoots with the Congress so that their control of the world's most cash-rich cricket club can be consolidated by keeping Lalit's hands out of the cookie jar. The chances are the UPA merely wanted Lalit out of India, and not back here to face the music since it would incriminate many others. It is worth noting that the current IPL boss is the Congress' Rajiv Shukla.
The brouhaha about Lalit Modi is thus a godsend for those who want to bring Narendra Modi down several notches - both rivals outside the party and inside it.
But this does not mean all criticism of the Prime Minister is motivated. There are genuine reasons for him to take a stand after the facts are ascertained.
There are three basic things the PM is being pilloried for.
One, he has chosen silence over action so far in the Lalit Modi affair, even though it involves a cabinet colleague (Sushma Swaraj), who facilitated the issue of travel documents by the UK government.
Two, he has not acted against Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje - especially after a document surfaced bearing her signature backing Lalit Modi's residency in the UK - and there is some evidence that Lalit Modi invested in the shares of Raje's son's company at inflated prices.
Three, more recently, Smriti Irani has also got into hot water over her claims in an election affidavit in 2004 that she had completed her BCom, when she had only completed part I - something she seems to have corrected in two later affidavits in 2011 and 2014.
The English language media, which has never asked Sonia or Rahul to speak up on various improprieties and illegalities they are indirectly or directly responsible for, now wants the Prime Minister to speak up everyday.
Sure, Narendra Modi must make his views clear, but premature statements at a time when the facts were far from clear would have been politically foolish. In a 24x7 media news cycle, statements made in the morning can look foolish in the night. So I would certainly not fault the PM for not rushing to make statements. The only statement that could have been made was something that ran like this: "We are ascertaining the facts, but I will assure you that the law will be upheld without question." No one would have been happy with that, and so Modi was right to not speak up earlier.
The time to break the silence is at hand, and Modi should now speak up - and act.
But here nuance is important. The PM can speak and act when it involves his own cabinet colleagues - Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani - but not the Rajasthan CM. In a federal polity, it is not the job of the PM to act against Chief ministers, who are independently elected and accountable to the electorate and the law separately. The fact that Raje belongs to his own party does not over-rule federalism. Just as the PM cannot act against Akhilesh Yadav for the unspeakable things happening in UP, or against Mamata Banerjee for the violence and scams in her state, he cannot do so against Vasundhara Raje either.
Amit Shah as BJP president can ask her to resign, but even he cannot tell the Rajasthan legislature party what to do. It is Rajasthan's BJP MLAs who have to act, if that is what they want to do. The fact that Amit Shah is close to Narendra Modi should not blind us to the reality that the PM cannot be the one to question Raje's actions. His only job is to ensure that the law is followed by his enforcement officials. The battle for Raje's ouster has to be fought in Jaipur, not Delhi.
Prima facie, putting the allegations in perspective, this is what seems plausible: Sushma Swaraj seems to be guilty of an impropriety in helping Lalit Modi; Smriti Irani told the Election Commission a lie about her BCom degree in 2004 but has now corrected herself; and Raje seems likely to be in the dock for questionable dealings involving her son, not to speak of helping Lalit Modi in the UK.
The PM can publicly reprimand Sushma for her eagerness to help Lalit by flouting established norms; he can ask Smriti to stay out of the cabinet till she clears her name with the court. What he cannot do is act against Vasundhara. It is not his job to do that.
The PM is responsible for what happens at the centre, not the states.