Explain Sushma's conduct, Mr PM

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has, by all accounts, committed a huge impropriety by recommending to the UK government that travel documents be given to high-profile London-based fugitive, former Indian Premier League (IPL) commissioner Lalit Modi, to visit Portugal July, last year. Swaraj’s excuse that she did it on humanitarian grounds seems a trifle brittle. Modi had said he needed to travel to Portugal to sign his consent for surgery on his wife who was in hospital there for cancer treatment. The Congress says under Portuguese law, there is no need for Modi’s consent. What has stirred the hornet’s nest is that Swaraj’s recommendation came at a time when the Enforcement Directorate (ED) was investigating Modi on serious charges of financial fraud. His passport was revoked by the Indian government in March 2011, and Modi’s status in July 2014 was that of a fugitive, wanted for criminal misdemeanour in India. He could be arrested whenever he enters India. Despite this, Swaraj urged the UK to give him travel documents.

Modi virtually fled to London in 2010 as allegations against him of match-fixing and illegal betting in the IPL cricket tournament emerged. Modi denied any wrongdoing and maintained that he left India for Britain because of death threats. The British government had been warned by the previous Congress-led UPA government that any help for Modi would spoil Indo-UK ties. According to the British media, Indian-origin British MP Keith Vaz used Swaraj’s name to put pressure on UK immigration officials to grant travel papers to Modi.

Two things have clearly emerged. One, the minister has favoured an individual wanted for serious foreign exchange violations and tax evasion. Second, Swaraj’s actions constitute a veritable conflict of interest as her family and that of Modi’s share a close relationship. Swaraj's daughter, Bansuri – an Oxford law graduate and a barrister at law from Inner Temple in the UK – represented Modi for seven years. The minister’s husband, Swaraj Kaushal, gave legal counsel to Modi for 22 years. This is the first serious charge against a senior minister in the Narendra Modi government. For reasons of expediency, along with Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, BJP president Amit Shah and the RSS may defend her action. Swaraj may also argue that she rendered no monetary benefits to Modi but corruption is not just about money. For the people of India, the basic facts of the case have punched a big hole in the BJP government’s claims of a scam-free one year of governance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would do well to break his silence on his minister’s conduct.

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