The house of cards falls apart
The ongoing Lalit Modi saga is not going to go away anytime soon as many expected, especially with the narrative around the issue changing by the hour. Sure, the issue has manifold angles and not surprisingly it has now blown into a first-rate political crisis. Naturally it has given fodder to an opposition starved of any real issues. There is no doubt that in this current crisis the real target is Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
The epicentre of the massive row was the recent Sunday Times story about India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj helping the controversial ex IPL chief Lalit Modi to obtain travel documents to travel to Portugal, where his wife was undergoing cancer treatment. He fled to London as a fugitive in 2010 with a blue corner notice out against him.
Lalit Modi is hell bent on washing his dirty linen in public. The man in the eye of the controversy has tweeted that “The battle has just begun, watch the fun now.” In another tweet he said he would come up with more bombshells implicating the “erstwhile PMO”. Unfortunately for the Modi government, there are too many loose ends strewn about with some top BJP leaders having long standing connections with Lalit Modi. However, the consolation for the BJP is that Modi also has connections with many leaders from other political parties including the Congress and the NCP.
Although the present crisis began with the debate over the propriety of the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in helping the former IPL chief, the Congress has now widened its scope and demanded an SIT monitored Supreme Court enquiry into the whole issue. “Incontrovertible facts, documents and details of the ‘Modi Gate Scandal’ emerging since yesterday (Sunday) clearly reflect active complicity of not only Swaraj but also point towards the BJP government aiding and abetting a fugitive of the Indian law with tacit approval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” the Congress claimed on Monday. Other political parties have also joined the shrill chorus. The Congress is getting support from an odd quarter- the BJP ally Shiv Sena but for different reasons. Ironically the Shiv Sena also is demanding an enquiry with the stated purpose that those who were trying to destabilize the Modi government would get ultimately get exposed.
The reasons for the Congress blowing up the Lalit Modi controversy are understandable. The party, which was routed in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent Assembly polls, is yet to find its feet. With new found vigour after the Congress Vice president Rahul Gandhi came back from his sabbatical, the Congress is now trying to find issues and the Lalit Modi controversy has come in handy. Therefore, it stands to reason that the party has launched and intensive and aggressive campaign to gain some political space.
Why is the Congress attacking Swaraj? Although she had contested against the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in 1999 from Bellary and lost, and later threatened to shave off her head if Sonia became the Prime Minster, the two women leaders had developed cordial relations over the years. Actually the thaw began when Sushma, as the Parliamentary affairs minister in the Vajpayee government, called on Gandhi for seeking cooperation to run the house. Since then one can see the comfortable relations between the two and Sushma herself had admitted this fact. So what has happened to all that cordiality now?
Insiders say that it was Rahul Gandhi who is keen that this opportunity to attack Prime Minister Modi should not be lost. It’s no accident that Sushma Swaraj happens to be in the firing line. After all, she is one of the top four ministers in Modi’s cabinet and it was not every day you got a chance to corner a minister at that level. To the advantage of the Congress, Swaraj seems to have taken the decision to help Lalit Modi, bypassing the then Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. Moreover, the blame game being played by the relevant ministries in the government to bring back Lalit Modi also has added fuel to the fire. So there was no surprise when Rahul Gandhi demanded the sacking of Swaraj.
To add to the woes of the Modi government, Lalit Modi had dropped another bombshell by revealing some alleged secret documents involving the Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, whom he described as his old family friend. The released document said Vasundhara had stipulated that the Indian authorities should not know her endorsing Lalit’s application to stay on in the United Kingdom. Vasundhara has denied her involvement. No one really knows what other ammunition the fugitive has.
The Lalit Modi episode is only the tip of the iceberg as more dirt is to come. It’s possible that he might spill the beans about leaders from other parties as well. It is quite clear that Prime Minister Modi will not bow down to the pressure of the opposition to sack Swaraj and Raje. The real test will come when the monsoon session of Parliament begins next month. The opposition, although divided in its approach to the issue as some parties like Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party have extended support to Swaraj, will strive to keep the issue alive. It is to be seen how the BJP handles this avoidable crisis faced by the Modi government.