The Modigate is getting murkier than IPL betting scams. After External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, fingers are being pointed at Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. None other than Lalit Modi, the IPL founder commissioner and the kingpin of the IPL betting scam, claims that Raje supported his application for immigration to the UK in 2011 on condition of “strict secrecy” – on condition that her support as witness would not be revealed to the government of India. Why did Lalit Modi reveal it if her support was on condition of strict secrecy? Has relationship between him and Raje gone sour? Or was it an attempt by Lalit Modi to deflect the national outrage against Sushma Swaraj toward another target?
Whatever it be, Raje has been put in the dock by Modi’s revelations. She accompanied Modi’s wife Minal, who was suffering from cancer to the Champalimaud Foundation Centre for the Unknown (cancer research centre) in Lisbon in 2012-13. Two months after Minal received her final treatment in October 2014, the Rajasthan government headed by Raje signed a memorandum of understanding with the Champalimaud Foundation to set up a state-of-the-art cancer institute in Jaipur. A plot of land approximately 35,000 square metres in size, located on the Rajasthan Health Science University premises in Jaipur’s Pratap Nagar, was allotted for the institute right away. These actions of Raje suggest deeper links with Lalit Modi who is known for using his influence to promote deals. It is not difficult to guess that Lalit Modi played a role in helping the Champalimaud Foundation seal the deal with the Rajasthan government using his influence over Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.
All that the BJP has been able to put up as defence of Vasundhara Raje is that the document released by Modi did not have her signature. However, Modi claimed in a TV interview that he has submitted the document with her signature to the British court. There is very little room for Raje to escape the blame. She and Sushma Swaraj are equally guilty. Now facts are coming out that Sushma Swaraj’s husband and daughter had been working for Lalit Modi without taking a single paisa. Why would lawyers work for a filthy rich client like Lalit Modi gratis? This would only suggest that the rewards for their service were given to them in other forms. Perhaps there are more skeletons in the cupboards of the Swarajs than we have seen tumbling out.
That Sushma Swaraj violated all rules of procedure, norms and laws in helping Lalit Modi get travel documents from the British authorities is obvious. She did not even consult the External Affairs secretary. She had no power to go outside the system and circumvent an existing notice. She should have referred the matter to the Enforcement Directorate, the agency investigating the Lalit Modi scam. She did not consult her colleague in the finance ministry Arun Jaitley, whose ministry had issued a ‘light blue corner notice’ to Interpol for tracking down Lalit Modi. She overrode the previous government’s notice to the UK government that issue of travel documents to Lalit Modi could sour bilateral relations. She telephoned the British high commissioner in Delhi to tell him that issuing of travel documents to Modi wouldn’t affect India-UK ties.
The Modi government, the BJP and the RSS have been defending Swaraj’s decision in unison on ‘humanitarian grounds’. The word ‘humanitarian’ raises more questions than it answers. First, did Swaraj ask MEA secretary to find out how many India’s most wanted criminals who had fled to another country been given ‘no-objection’ by past ministers of external affairs on humanitarian grounds? Did she try to recall – the fiery leader of opposition she was before she became External Affairs Minister – if she had ever caught the Congress-led governments in the past extending such favours to fugitive criminals on compassionate grounds and raised objection to it? In government, there are either norms or precedents. She was not following norms. She wasn’t following any precedents because there were no precedents, either.
Second, if it was a humanitarian gesture, what was there to hide from her secretary and other MEA officials, from the Enforcement Directorate, from the ministry of finance and the PMO? Why did she choose to pick up the phone to do the favour? The obvious conclusion that can be drawn is that she did not want anyone else to know what she was doing. And more: she believed that she would get away doing it secretly and nobody would know. Third, if it was a humanitarian gesture, she should have told the UK authorities to issue him travel documents only to go to Lisbon with his wife and come back. But she did not make her humanitarian gesture country-specific. That allowed Lalit Modi to go and have a big party in Ibiza three days after his wife received treatment at the Champalimaud Foundation Centre for the Unknown. There is clearly more than meets the eye in the latest disclosures: The silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who lost no opportunity in beating the BJP drum about his scam-free government, makes it even more intriguing. He is failing to look the no-nonsense man we all thought he was.