The Sushma-Modi-Raje Trio

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The recent controversy of Sushma Swaraj, who heads the Ministry of External Affairs, allegedly helping Mr. Lalit Modi, who has been accused of financial impropriety and has been staying in London since 2010, has garnered quite some attention. The controversy is that the Union Minister has been allegedly helping Mr. Lalit Modi to procure travel documents in order to travel to Portugal from England.  To this, the major opposition parties like the UPA and the BSP have reacted, arguing that the Minister has been ‘favoring’ Modi, which is being considered as an impugned act. The major opposition party like the Indian National Congress has demanded the resignation of the Minister on grounds of ‘gross impropriety’.

Responding to the opposition’s view on this controversy, the Minister has reacted strongly, stating that she had done nothing wrong and had merely acted on “humanitarian” grounds by helping an Indian citizen who needed to visit Portugal for his wife’s treatment, who is a cancer patient. Sushma Swaraj, maintains that the help was extended on compassionate grounds and that no benefit was bestowed on Mr. Modi, as is clearly discernible from her tweet- . “What benefit did I pass on to Lalit Modi – that he could sign consent papers for surgery of his wife suffering from cancer? He was in London. After his wife’s surgery, he came back to London. What is it that I changed?”

On the face of it, the matter seems pretty simple and straight forward that the Minister has merely extended her help to an ‘Indian Citizen’ who was in dire need of it, but from a political point of view, this issue has created quite a stir, especially amidst the role taken up by the opposition, majorly the UPA which appears to leave no stone unturned to sack the Minister. Lalit Modi has been in the headlines, as a controversial figure, ever since the inception of the Indian Premier League, way back in 2008. However, the major controversy pertained to the revocation of his passport, as initiated against him by the Directorate of Enforcement (DoE) for FEMA violation in parking funds in foreign bank. This subsequently led to the revocation of his passport in the year 2010 after the decision in the case of Lalit Modi v. Union of India, ILR (2013) IV Delhi 2484. This order was further challenged by a petition filed at the Delhi High Court where the Court questioned the maintainability of the previous revocation of the passport and gave the direction that the passport must not be revoked. The latest judgment though only talked about the issue of passport and did not deliberate on any opinion with regard to the alleged FEMA violations on the part of the appellant, which are already under the scanner and are being examined separately by the authorities under FEMA. This observation could be found in Lalit Modi v. Union of India, 213 (2014) DLT 504

The Controversy King struck again during the IPL season 3, when he made a  declaration  on the stakeholders of the Kochi IPL Team in his tweet, allegedly in breach of the confidentiality agreements which culminated into the untimely resignation of Dr. Shashi Tharoor, the then Indian Minister of State for External Affairs. A three member Committee was constituted to investigate the series of accusations against Modi. This Committee comprised primarily of Chirayu Amin, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Arun Jaitley, which found Modi guilty of several irregularities. Following the findings of the Committee, the BCCI imposed a life ban on Lalit Modi after a Special General Meeting held at Chennai, in September 2013.

The present issue is that the opposition has said that such ‘facilitation’ by the Indian authorities to Modi, will gradually hamper the India-UK relations. The Britain Sunday Times said: “Leaked correspondence reveals how Vaz cited Sushma Swaraj, India’s Foreign Minister, to the Home Office in an effort to expedite the case of Lalit Modi, a mutual acquaintance.” Responding to this, several Indian politicians from the major opposition have reacted firmly and have demanded the resignation of Sushma Swaraj as the Minister of External Affairs. The Minister’s resignation has been demanded on ‘moral grounds’ as the Minister has backed a person against whom a look-out notice has been issued.

The situation was made even more complex and further politicized when the name of Rajasthan’s Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje, another popular face of the BJP, came into picture. Documents released by Modi’s legal team through a public relations agency contained what purported to be a Witness Statement by Raje, in which she said, “I make this statement in support of any immigration application that Lalit Modi makes, but do so on the strict condition that my assistance will not become known to the Indian authorities.” The documents, however, have not been signed by Raje and no such proof has yet been made by the authorities and the Chief Minister has clearly denied the charges against her. But this was not to be the end of the matter. The noose further tightened around the BJP’s throat when Raje’s son, Dushyant Singh’s company was found to have received a monetary benefit of nearly 9 crores and a further loan of Rs. 3 crores from Lalit Modi’s company. The opposition has finally found its much awaited chance to pounce at the government and grill them in light of the latest unraveling Vasundhara Raje’s son, Dushyant Singh’s financial transactions with Lalit Modi.Even though no irregularity has yet been found in these concerned transactions, which have been well within the scope of the Companies Act and the income tax provisions, the contentious issue refuses to die down

This entire issue has rather been made into a controversy. It is undoubtedly true that though Lalit Modi has been formerly accused for various financial irregularities during his chairmanship of the Indian Premier League, yet, accusing Sushma Swaraj appears to be, strategically, a political move. The involvement of Vasundhara Raje in the entire Modi Gate also seems to be highly questionable. This entire row gives the impression of being a case of clash of interests where a political person in power seems to be favoring an individual rather than supporting the integrity of the institution. These controversies have even emerged previously, wherein people in the past with political backing are known to have supported individuals in their interests. In the famous ‘IPL-Spot fixing’ case, the Supreme Court delved deeply into the conflict of interests of the BCCI president N. Srinivasan and his son in law Gurunath Meiyappan and also as being the owner of the Chennai Super Kings. It is apparent that a more, practical system, with a better enforcement mechanism for dealing with conflict of interest is the need of the hour. Public disclosure of interests – including investments, employment and business ties – for members of both houses would be a constructive and trust-building first step. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Venkaiah Naidu, amidst a recent debate in the Parliament made it clear that any Member of Parliament with a conflict of interest must declare it and submit the declaration to the Parliament. This responsible step will further add to the transparency of the parliamentary business.

This entire row, consisting of the trio of Sushma-Modi-Raje, initially started off as a mere assistance from Sushma Swaraj on humanitarian grounds, as she consistently maintains, whether she has her own political interests embedded in this, is yet not known, but the politicization of this issue mainly by the opposition parties has grabbed the media attention. Further connections of Lalit Modi with Raje have confounded the controversy. The controversy in connection with Lalit Modi, involving two very ‘popular’ faces of the BJP, has given the golden opportunity to the opposition which is raising questions and challenging the genuinity of the present government. But the reality can only be ascertained once there is a formal probe into the matter.

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