Targeting Sushma Swaraj over Lalit Modi's travel is much ado about nothing

Yesterday, the Indian news audience spent an entire day watching a belligerent news channel taking on a political heavyweight within the BJP and the Modi government - the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Allegations and insinuations flew left, right and centre on Swaraj helping out Lalit Modi - a "fugitive" and an "absconder" - with his travels.

Swaraj took to the digital space to respond to these allegations. The media once again latched on to her explanation trying to desperately shred her arguments by citing Modi's proximity with Swaraj's family and his assistance with admission of Swaraj's nephew in a law college.

Facts, however, show why much of the hullabaloo on Swaraj's so-called intervention is just really high decibel noise.

Swaraj in a file photo. AFP image

Swaraj in a file photo. AFP image

Firstly, a brief recollection of what led to the issue. Lalit Modi has been in the UK since 2010 on grounds that his return to India is hampered by a threat to his life. He is facing potential investigation by the ED for several alleged violations. As an aside, it is very surprising why no one asks the Congress party how Modi managed to flee to the UK if Congress thought he was such a serious offender.

UPA, back in 2011, revoked his passport. Modi was, therefore, living in the UK without a valid passport. In order for him to travel outside the UK, he had to either fight the revocation of his passport or ask the British Government which has allowed him to stay in the UK for a travel document. He did both.

While the Delhi HC was hearing his appeal to overturn the revocation of his passport, he requested the British authorities for a travel document to be able to travel to Portugal since the surgery of his wife who is suffering from cancer was fixed on 4 August, 2014.

At this stage, it is useful to mention that some doubts were raised by some segments of the media as well as Congress spokespersons on whether Modi's wife was, indeed, admitted to a cancer centre around the time Modi requested travel permit. Whatever hatred or dislike one may have with Modi, one only had to look at his Twitter timeline to confirm.

Here is what he tweeted on August 4, 2014 with photos:

Moreover, the fact that his wife Minal Modi has been suffering from breast cancer has been extensively reported in media in the past. (See reports dating back to 2009 and 2010 here and here, for example).

So, what was the problem?

Modi was informed that although the British Government was prepared to give him the travel documents, UPA had earlier written to the UK that doing so would spoil Indo-UK relations. Therefore, when Swaraj, as Foreign Minister, received such a request, she merely conveyed to the British Government that if it chooses to give a travel document to Modi as per its laws and rules in such a situation, that will not spoil Indo-UK relations.

What, one wonders, is so objectionable about this limited communication on the part of Swaraj to the British? Notably, this isn't the only time Swaraj has intervened for Indian nationals abroad on humanitarian grounds. Her Twitter timeline over the past one year is testament to her proactive assistance on humanitarian grounds to several Indian nationals in emergency-like situations.

Further, even if Portugal laws didn't require Modi's consent for his wife's surgery (as claimed to have been "exposed" by the news channel), does the desire of the husband of a woman undergoing surgery to be beside his wife make it any less humanitarian?

Swaraj then also tweeted that after his wife's surgery, Modi came back to London and there was nothing that her decision changed. To which, the news channel claiming to break the story splashed photos of Modi partying with Paris Hilton and Naomi Campbell around the world raising questions about whether Modi really returned to London and was really beside his ailing wife.

Once again, the channel did poor half-baked research to drive home its pretty deliberate tirade against Swaraj.

Firstly, Modi's wife's surgery happened in August 2014 as evidenced by the tweets reproduced above. Modi's partying photos were from visits much after August 2014 - some as recently as this month. Therefore, to contradict Swaraj's tweet (of Modi returning to London after his wife's surgery) with half-baked facts is irresponsible.

Secondly, if one goes through Modi's timeline over the past few months, one person who features in several of his parties across the world is his wife Minal Modi. Therefore, the moral high ground that how the husband of a wife suffering from cancer could party around the world exemplified some dishonest journalism. Is it the channel's case that Modi cannot take his cancer-stricken wife around the world?

Lastly, and most importantly, between August 2014 and his trips around the world, something significant happened which, both the news channel and the Opposition, chose to conveniently overlook. What was that?

On August 27, 2014 (around a month after his request for a travel document), the Delhi HC gave him back his Indian passport. In a detailed judgement, the Delhi HC stated that the direct consequence of the revocation order (that Modi couldn't travel outside the UK nor attend conferences/meetings nor pursue his business interests) was that it impinged upon his liberty, more particularly "his freedom of speech and expression".

The Delhi HC invalidated the revocation order stating that "extraneous considerations and irrelevant materials" were taken into account in revoking it and his passport was reissued pursuant to that judgement.

Did those alleging that Swaraj's intervention helped Modi party around the world ever think of the possibility that he could have easily traveled on his passport (as opposed to the travel document) which, it must be noted, was restored by an HC judgement and not by Swaraj?

Sure, Modi's proximity to Swaraj's family does make it a juicy story fit for the infotainment that our news channels have become a source of. This proximity, however, is pretty irrelevant to the benefit that Modi got. The high rhetoric and insinuation of a quid pro quo is really subterfuge to some poor research.


Updated Date: Jun 15, 2015 22:40 PM

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