By Bishal Paul:
On a lazy Sunday morning, the entire nation woke up to a political scandal that sent ripples through the powerful political corridors of Lutyens Delhi. In a major political exposé by Times Now, investigations revealed that Union External Affairs Minister, Smt Sushma Swaraj misused her constitutional authority to help ex-IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi who is absconding from economic offences levelled against him by the Government of India. Copies of documents and email exchanges accessed by Times Now reveal that Sushma Swaraj helped Modi procure travel documents in order to move out of Britain on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. A closer look at the email exchanges shed light on conversations between Lalit Modi, Swaraj Kaushal (Husband of Sushma Swaraj) and Keith Vaiz, a British lawmaker of Indian origin. It is interesting to note that Swaraj Kaushal has been a legal counsel for Lalit Modi for more than 22 years followed by their daughter Bansuri Swaraj becoming a legal counsel for him as well are marked in many copies of these email exchanges.
Let’s try to understand why this is such a big scandal and a case of serious breach of public office and propriety. The conflict of interest could be directly established referring to email exchanges in 2013 where Swaraj went to Modi asking for personal favours to help her nephew get admission to a law program at the Sussex University after charges were filed against him. So the question arises as to why Sushma Swaraj, who was then the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha seek personal favours from a man against who there is a lookout circular issued by the Enforcement Directorate and who is a serious defaulter of major economic offences in the country.
On 27 August 2014, the Delhi High Court set aside the revocation of Modi’s passport. Swaraj should not have made a decision, least of all a discretionary, favourable one that reversed existing policy in a case involving her daughter’s client. To put the records straight, prior to Swaraj’s intervention, the UPA government had told the UK to not grant Modi travel documents. If UK did that, it would affect bilateral ties, the UPA government had said. It should be well noted that in the past even before any allegations against them were proved, UPA Ministers such as Pawan Kumar Bansal, Ashwani Kumar and many more resigned from the cabinet. How can we have separate yardsticks for ministers in NDA?
The big question is that how did Swaraj make a unilateral ‘humanitarian’ decision in favour of a man against who a lookout circular has been issued by India’s law enforcement agencies? Why was it not allotted temporarily for limited travel to Portugal instead of more than two years across the globe? Moreover, when it was such a serious case, did she make a competent assessment of the consequence of the relaxation she was granting the PMO, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Home Affairs? By unilaterally taking a decision she was reversing India’s policy on Lalit Modi and she should have checked with those pursuing him, and indeed the Ministry of Finance, if his international travel could sabotage their case or allow him to tamper with crucial evidence. In an ideal situation, she should have asked him for documents from the hospital to prove that his attendance was necessary to sign the consent papers and got a cursory check done on the claim. It wouldn’t even have taken a day to figure that Portuguese law does not require such papers. What is funnier is the fact that a British Certificate of Travel is not even accepted in Portugal.
However, all these indicate towards a bigger controversy. The Delhi High Court revoked Modi’s passport principally on technical grounds as disproportionate punishment for the crime of non-appearance on Enforcement Directorate summons. The court specifically mentioned in its judgment that it has not gone into the merits of the FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) charges against him. It’s therefore extremely surprising why the government, which came to power promising serious action on black money and money laundering, stood by and watched, and did not appeal in the higher court. Four years of work by officials of ED and other state agencies under the erstwhile UPA government had gone into prosecuting Modi. Now it all seems to be in vain.
This is the same Sushma Swaraj who created an uproar in the Parliament demanding for a JPC owing to the IPL scam. How can she have one position in the Parliament and something else in your private life is beyond anyone’s imagination. Moreover, this could be a serious criminal contempt as she facilitated this exchange on 31st July while the verdict on Mr. Modi’s case came out in 26th August 2014. Ideally she should have waited for the Delhi High Court verdict before helping him but she choose otherwise. There is an unwritten legal rule of propriety that a cabinet minister cannot facilitate an individual under allegations of serious economic offences. And by equating patriotism to propriety, the BJP is doing a big disservice to the nation. After all how many people with charges against them are fortunate enough to call up the External Affairs Minister directly and clear his travel documents?
Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi act against his Minister and demand for her resignation or will the government continue to keep mum?