LalitGate gathers momentum

Is LalitGate another Pandora's Box?
Is LalitGate another Pandora's Box?

Navin Upadhyay

New Delhi

  • Started with the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj sending a letter to UK MP Keith Vaz
  • Has dragged in Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in it
  • Lalit Modi has claimed that he met with Robert Vadra and Priyanka Gandhi also
  • More allegations of impropriety against BJP women leaders
  • Every day there is a new leak and new revelations

The Modi government may have decided to make light of serious charges of impropriety faced by its senior leaders -External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Human Resources Minister Smriti Irani, and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, but the standoff between the Government and the Opposition over the demand for their resignation could derail the monsoon session of parliament, and with it a slew of important bills that are crucial for carrying forward Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reform agenda.

Sounding a strong warning that the opposition will not allow the parliament to function when the monsoon session starts on July 21, several senior Congress leaders have reminded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) how it paralyzed both houses of parliament for months over much smaller issues.

“As far the congress is concerned, we will stall both Houses if the Government does not take action against ministers involved in impropriety.”

– Jairam Ramesh, Senior Congress leader and former minister

The controversy surrounding Swaraj’s and Raje’s links with former Commissioner of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is the first major crisis to hit the Modi government since it came to power in May, 2014. On completing one year in office, Prime Minister Modi, his senior minister, and BJP leaders highlighted the fact that the NDA government was completely free from any stain of corruption. But within weeks, Lalitgate has hit them hard, and silenced a Prime Minister (PM) who always derided his predecessor Manmohan Singh for keeping mum on a plethora of scams under his nose.

The scandal could hurt both the perception and functioning of the Modi government. Despite the fact that Lalit Modi has also exposed the murky dealings of several senior Congress leaders including present IPL commissioner Rajeev Shukla, the Congress is ready to take a high moral ground on the entire scandal. The tell-all picture of Lalit Modi, Robert Vadra, Priyanka Vadra, Rahul Gandhi and Arun Jaitley laughing their hearts out over some great moment of an IPL match, captures the incestuous relation between cricket and politics that goes beyond parties.

It also shows that there was a time when the high and mighty of the Indian politics, cutting across party lines, were happy to be seen alongside the then Czar of the India cricket. After Lalit Modi was slapped with a plethora of cases in 2010, allegedly at the behest of his enemies in the Congress and cricket, the same leaders are quick to disown him.

Still, BJP has much more to lose than the Congress by the explosive revelation in the Lalitgate on a daily basis. A party in the opposition can always get away by asking the government to probe any irregularities against its leaders, whereas a party in the government can do so only at the risk of losing its halo. A probe in such cases virtually becomes an admission of guilt and gives more credence to demand for sacking those under the scanner.

At the same time, it has to be admitted that the charges against the three women leaders of the BJP are also pretty serious.

Sushma‘s so called humanitarian gesture in helping Lalit Modi to acquire travel documents from the United Kingdom (UK) authorities in July 2014, when he was facing 15 cases of violation of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) back home, is seen as a poor joke. Few are ready to believe that someone as senior as a foreign minister can just pick up the phone and call up British High commissioner and an influential British MP (Keith Vaz) and tell them that the Indian Government will have no objection if Lalit Modi is granted travel document.

If Lalit Modi was indeed desperate to attend to his ailing wife in Lisbon, Sushma could have taken a legal opinion, asked her officials to complete the required paper work, and should have legally approached the UK authorities. The secretive manner in which she went about the task, and the fact that her husband and daughter benefited from Lalit Modi by providing him legal service does not help her case, either.

Raje’s case is all the more difficult to defend. She signed a ”witness paper” to help Lalit Modi get immigration clearance from UK authorities in 2011. Shockingly, she asked the UK authorities not to disclose about the “Witness paper” to the Indian government. Raje was at that point of time Leader of Opposition in the Rajasthan assembly and enjoyed the status of a Cabinet minister. Raje tried her best to mislead everyone, including her own party and the media, by first feigning ignorance about any such “SIGNED” paper. She was forced to own it up only after the media produced the original paper duly signed by her.

Raje’s financial dealing with Lalit Modi establishes a serious case of quid pro quo. Lalit Modi acquired nearly Rs.7.5 crores ($1.175 million) worth of shares Rs.10 (0.16 pennies) each) at a premium of Rs 96,100 ($1500) in a company floated by Raje’s son Dushyant Singh, also a Member of Parliament. The BJP leaders and the Modi government defended it by saying Raje had nothing to do with her son’s business.

But that defense collapsed after it was shown that as a major shareholder in the company Raje was the principal beneficiary of the investment made by Lalit Modi through the Mauritius route. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is investigating if it is a case of Black Money transactions.

The Human Resources Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani’s case is also causing a lot of embarrassment to the Modi government. A local court in Delhi has held that there was enough evidence to proceed against her for filing contradictory declaration about her educational qualifications in her successive election affidavits.

To cap it all, senior Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde is also in the dock for violating established procedure in passing a Rs.205 crores ($32.2 million) Purchase Order without inviting proper tender.

Prime Minister Modi and the BJP swept the Lok Sabha election largely because the people were fed up with rampant corruption that flourished under the leadership of Manmohan Singh. Narendra Modi had promised that he would make no compromises in dealing with cases of corruption… But in his first test, Modi has not come out with flying colors. The country is watching him, and is also eager to hear his views on these sensitive issues. A man who tweets on everything under the sun, is strangely silent on such a raging controversy which is affecting the image of his government and his personal standing.

The Prime minister can ill afford to ignore the scandal or try to cover it up. A section in the BJP is restive over the party’s support to Swaraj, Raje and Irani. Former Home Secretary R K Singh, a party MP from Bihar, and senior Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) functionary Govindacharya have already called for resignation of those involved in the Lalitgate. Three–time MP and former cricket star, Kirti Azad, has opened another front against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley by virtually accusing him of leaking information against Ms. Swaraj.

Lalit Modi has also targeted Jaitley by revealing that the two had a one-hour meeting in a London hotel when Jaitley enjoyed Cabinet berth as Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Modi faced the same charges of FERA violation. Lalit Modi has also revealed that Jaitley’s daughter Sonali received a whopping Rs.2.4 crores (S377,000) legal fee from Indian Hockey League.

With Lalit Modi dropping “tweet” bombs on the Indian political establishment on daily basis, the Modi government must take effective steps to fight the credibility lost crisis. If the PM has to sacrifice the credibility of his government so early in the innings, both the governance and economic reforms could be major casualties.

The conversion rate used in this article is 1 USD = 63.67 Rupees.

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  1. Good analysis.As for Congress threat of disrupting Parliament sessions the desperate party will do it any way, a valid issue or no issue.


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