For almost four years, Lalit Kumar Modi was on the run for alleged violation of Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). But soon after the Narendra Modi government came to power, his achhe din began.
The change in Modi’s fortune under the NaMo sarkar could be just be serendipitous, perhaps mere coincidence. But, it may even be a case of Modi’s friends returning some of his favours, quid pro quo verging on impropriety.
Perhaps the exact sequence of events can help us see things as they are and decide if Modi is just lucky or a beneficiary of the benevolence of friends in high places.
On August 10, 2010, the Enforcement Directorate summoned Modi for a hearing in the ongoing probe against him. “Take notice that, in default of your appearance on the day mentioned here-in-before, you shall be liable to action under Section 13 of the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 and/or Section 32 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908,” an assistant director of the agency warned Modi.
But Modi, who had left India by then, didn’t turn up for the hearing. “I apologize for not being in a position to appear before you, in person, on 10.08.2010 at 11.00 hours. This is because, of serious security concerns. There is a threat perception to my life and I have been advised to stay outside the country until this threat perception alters. Please therefore excuse my absence.”
Since Modi failed to respond to the summons, the ED initiated proceedings against him. On March 3, 2010, the Regional Passport Office, Mumbai revoked Modi‘s passport (No. Z-1784222) in the interest of the general public.
Modi appealed against revocation of his passport in the Delhi high court, but it was rejected by the judge in January 2013 saying there were sufficient reasons to justify the decision of the passport office.
By this time, Modi had become a fugitive and was holing up in England. His friends within the BCCI and the UPA had refused to bail him out and it seemed that Modi’s time was up.
Then things began to change. On December 19, 2013, Modi contested for the post of president of Rajasthan Cricket Association from his hideout in London. Just a few days ago, Modi’s friend Vasundhara Raje had returned as chief minister of Rajasthan. So, Modi won the election without facing too many problems. (He was later ousted by another Vasundhara loyalist for reasons that require a separate story).
Modi also benefitted from the benevolence of External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. According to reports, in July 2014, Swaraj helped Modi get ‘travel documents’ from the British government that helped him get around in the absence of a passport.
In a series of tweets, Swaraj has clarified that she helped Modi on ‘humanitarian grounds’ because his wife was suffering from cancer and had to be operated in Lisbon.
But Modi got permanent relief in August 2014, when a division bench of the Delhi high court reversed the RPO’s order to revoke his passport. The court said, the revocation order is far too wide, excessive and/or disproportionate to the mischief ‘or evil’ of non-compliance of summons issued by the Directorate of Enforcement.
Modi was represented in this case by a battery of lawyers. One of them, according to court documents, was Bansuri Swaraj, daughter of the External Affairs Minister.
Under normal circumstances, the government generally files an appeal in the Supreme Court against decisions that are overturned by a division bench of the high court. But in Modi’s case, no appeal was filed and his passport was handed back to him.
Though his achhe din have returned, Modi is still to return to India. He is still in London, fighting it out with old foes like former BCCI chief N Srinivasan and counting the blessings of his powerful friends.
Updated Date: Jun 14, 2015 20:19 PM