Lalit Modi Controversy
More than an indiscretion
Editorial in The Hindu, June 16, 2015
(Note: What strikes you more, the silence of Sushma Swaraj and PM Modi who are known for having gift of the gab and quick to tweet to answer questions and express their views or strident shouts of opposition group against both? People keep silent when they have nothing convincing to say. Right or wrong? James Kottoor, editor.)
Regardless of whether External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was only acting on ‘humanitarian grounds’ while recommending the grant of a temporary travel document to Lalit Kumar Modi, the former commissioner of the Indian Premier League now living in exile in Britain, her action will be seen as helping a man wilfully evading investigation in India. The government and the ruling BJP are backing Ms. Swaraj, and have accepted her explanation that she had done nothing wrong and there was no big moral issue involved. She claims she had merely said the Government of India had no objection if Britain chose to allow Mr. Modi to travel to Portugal to sign consent papers for his wife’s surgery for cancer. However, there are doubts whether there was a requirement for such consent from her husband at all. Further, there appears to be a conscious change in the government’s policy towards Mr. Modi, who is wanted by the Enforcement Directorate for suspected involvement in violations of the Foreign Exchange Management Act. The previous UPA government revoked his passport in 2011 on the ground that he was avoiding personal appearance before the authorities and that he had contravened FEMA provisions to the tune of hundreds of crores of rupees and parked money outside India. The cancellation of his passport was a means to bring Mr. Modi, who has been living in London since 2010, back to India. Ms. Swaraj’s communication to the British government, therefore, constituted an unwarranted change of policy and an unacceptable concession to one who has shown no inclination to join the investigation on the specious claim that he faces a threat to his personal safety in India.
There is another dimension to this issue: the clear presence of a conflict of interest in Ms. Swaraj dealing with Mr. Lalit Modi. Her daughter was counsel for the former IPL chief in a case that led to the Delhi High Court, in August 2014, quashing the order revoking his passport. This verdict has not been challenged by the present government. A British MP interceded on his behalf with the immigration authorities there, citing Ms. Swaraj’s name. All this gives the impression that the Narendra Modi government, and not merely Ms. Swaraj, has been soft on Mr. Lalit Modi. It is not surprising, therefore, that the party and government are solidly behind her. However, Opposition criticism is getting strident, and questions are being raised whether the Prime Minister is condoning what appears to be a case of a senior Minister using her discretionary power in favour of a friend. The government cannot remain silent and wait for the storm to pass, but must act to remedy the situation. It also ought to spell out how it intends to pursue the ongoing investigations against Mr. Modi.