Modi and the Lalit Modi googly

It’s high time the Prime Minister spoke out. Not that anyone is accusing him of complicity in Lalit Modi’s doings. Or even suggesting those doings are shady. But not even the global tamasha of International Yoga Day could distract attention from the deafening silence at the top amidst intense countrywide speculation. A clandestine meshing of powerful interests makes the realization of Lal Krishna Advani’s fear of another Emergency not altogether impossible.

There are two ghosts Narendra Modi must lay to rest. The first is that the Bharatiya Janata Party facilitated Mr Lalit Modi’s travels in Europe when he is wanted at home. The other is of an internal party manoeuvre to discredit unwanted elements. Neither can do any credit to a one-man organisation that lacks even the pretence of a democratic collegium like the high command in the old Congress Party. The public perception is that not a fly crawls in the Bharatiya Janata Party without Mr Narendra Modi’s express permission.

I am not sufficiently interested in cricket and its ancillary activities to fully understand what Mr Lalit Modi is accused of. But I do know that the government in its wisdom decided to cancel his passport. I do know that our government also approached the British government to seek his repatriation to India. These were not private whims of the United Progressive Alliance. They were considered actions of the Government of India, and Mr Narendra Modi and his external affairs minister are bound by them. It might have been understandable if external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj disagreed with those decisions and tried to undo them at home legally. Instead, she made surreptitious approaches to the British authorities on Mr Lalit Modi’s behalf.

Mr Narendra Modi may or may not have been aware of these clandestine moves. That is something he must clarify to re-establish his and his government’s credibility. All we know is that the nation would have been in the dark if a British newspaper had not exposed Ms Swaraj’s actions. She now pleads she acted on “humanitarian” grounds. I can understand home minister Rajnath Singh leaping to her defence for he is a party hack to whom the BJP’s fortunes are paramount, but I am astonished at finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Mr Jaitley is known as a man of probity. He has an intellectual reputation to defend. He must understand the importance of principles and values in governance and know that civilised society rests on the sanctity of institutions and processes. Being a lawyer of unimpeachable professional integrity, he must also know that his colleague in South Block is doubly vulnerable. Reports indicate her husband and daughter have represented Mr Lalit Modi in their capacity as lawyers. Whether or not they charged fees is neither here nor there. An honourable minister would have announced her interest and firmly distanced herself from Mr Lalit Modi.
Ms Swaraj did neither. On the contrary, she demonstrated her utter contempt for propriety and for the institutions and processes of the government of which she is a senior member. She happens to have been caught out.

India wouldn’t be India without conspiracy theories. One suggestion is that the aim of catching her out is to put an end to the political career of someone who was on the wrong side of the BJP’s internal divide before the 2014 general election. A variant of this is that the primary target is Vasundhara Raje Scindia, who is apparently seen as an even greater irritant. By this token, defending only Ms Swaraj amounts to inviting adversaries to attack the Rajasthan Chief Minister who enjoys a popular base and will not be easily dislodged.

Some carry this theory a stage further to argue that once Ms Scindia has been politically eliminated, the external affairs minister’s turn will come. Who knows, but with both women out of the picture, the Prime Minister might feel benign (and confident) enough to invite the veteran Mr Advani, having been deprived of tooth and claw, to reign as the party’s (or the government’s) nominal Bhishma Pitamah until it is his turn, too, to fall on a bed of nails as in the Mahabharata.

Only those who are steeped in the BJP’s by-zantine politicking can hazard any sort of guess about these conspiracy theories. But it may well seem to outsiders that Ms Swaraj’s bosses cannot have been entirely unaware of what she was up to. If she is Caesar in this imbroglio, Mr Narendra Modi is Caesar’s wife. He must be above suspicion, which he is not so long as he remains silent.

The bigger message — bigger because it affects the country and not just a party or a person — concerns Mr Lalit Modi’s position in society. This appears to involve not just the external affairs minister and the Rajasthan chief minister but so many others as well — the President of India, P. Chidambaram, Sharad Pawar, Shashi Tharoor, Mumbai’s police commissioner, and heaven knows who else. Allowance must be made for the man’s bravado but it does seem that money and connections (which amount to the same thing) still matter more than systems and propriety in India that is Bharat.

Indira Gandhi once proposed a social boycott of black marketers. V.P. Singh went further to demand they should be deported. Neither seemed to be at all in touch with Indian reality. By coming clean on the matter Mr Narendra Modi might demonstrate that, unlike them, he doesn’t live in cloud cuckoo land. Otherwise, people might assume he is as complicit as Ms Swaraj and Ms Scindia.

The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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