Lalit storm jolts Modi govt

Cricket&Politics: It has been a week since the controversy and is likely to play out for weeks

Lalit storm jolts Modi govt
The Teflon coat that Prime Minister Narendra Modi thought his government wears has been badly dented. The Lalit Modi revelations have come as a shocker to a government that sought to pride itself as corruption-free. As the first major storm has hit the BJP-led government, the party leadership is scrambling to defend itself. But that defence has been muted, weak, unconvincing. Will the prime minister and the party be able to ride out of the storm?

It was not until June 14 when the Sunday Times of London ran a story titled “Howzat! Vaz name-drops to help tycoon” did anyone realise a disgraced cricket administrator‘s saga of fleeing from India to avoid investigation in money laundering cases was a ticking bomb for our political leaders. 

The story that relied on hacked e-mails, ran thus: “Leaked correspondence revealed how (British Labour MP Keith) Vaz cited Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, to the Home Office in an effort to expedite the case of Lalit Modi, a mutual acquaintance. And, less than 24 hours after Vaz had invoked Swaraj’s name — and that of Sir James Bevan, the British high commissioner to India — Modi, the founder of the IPL (India Premier League) was granted travel papers.”

All hell broke loose in Delhi’s power corridors, forcing Swaraj to tweet to explain her side of the story, which only made matters worse. Around the same time she rendered “humanitarian help” to Modi to travel to Portugal to be with his wife undergoing cancer treatment, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) was yet to lay its hand on the ex-IPL chief, who was wanted for several cases of financial irregularities.

At that time, his Indian passport also stood revoked.  Instead of relying on her ministry to process Modi’s plea through diplomatic channel or allowing temporary Indian papers, Swaraj admitted to asking the British High Commissioner to provide the necessary UK travel papers. Previously, the UPA government had told London that any help for Modi will spoil the Indo-UK ties.

More details tumbled out, particularly of her husband, former Mizoram governor and ex-Rajya Sabha MP Swaraj Kaushal being Lalit Modi’s lawyer for 22 years who enjoyed his hospitality on several occasions and their daughter, Bansuri, being his lawyer in the cases he was facing in India. Ironically, in January 2013, Swaraj’s daughter was a member of a team led by current Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that had argued unsuccessfully before a single judge bench of the Delhi High Court which had upheld the cancellation of Modi’s passport. When Swaraj acted to ensure Modi got the UK travel papers in July 2014, it was a month before the HC division bench upheld his appeal and restored his passport.  There was no appeal against the order.

By the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders recovered from the revelation – that too pertaining  to a period in the first year  when the prime minister was supposed to have kept an eagle eye over his ministers - came Lalit Modi’s decision to release some papers through his media team that brought Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and her son and MP Dushyant Singh into focus. Her willingness to plead for Lalit Modi’s travel papers in an unsigned but yet to be submitted affidavit, and evidences of his financial help for Dushyant caused more damage.

BCCI politics

With this, several questions have propped up.  Who hacked the e-mails of the British MP of Indian origin and Lalit Modi? Was it a fall out of the BCCI’s (Board of Control for Cricket in India) internal dirty politics and part of an email trail led by a spy agency hired by ex-BCCI chief N Srinivasan?

There were no clear answers but the prime minister’s reptutation took a big hit.  Was it a coincidence that two influential women leaders who are not exactly loyalists of the prime minister under scanner? As BJP MP Kirti Azad hinted, was someone in the Modi government behind Swaraj’s troubles? Why did the prime minister, BJP chief Amit Shah and, finally, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who was seen as one of her old rivals, decide to defend her? How long will Swaraj and Raje be allowed to survive? 

There was a bigger problem for the BJP, too, when it came to handling Raje who had led the party to a landslide victory in the Rajasthan polls in 2013. She is not the one who can be easily asked to step aside to clear her name-- without inviting a rebellion among the 100-odd MLAs who owe loyalty to her.  In 2009, when she was asked to quit as Opposition leader for the party’s drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, she held on for a long time, defying the central leadership.

But, having promised a clean government with oft-repeated slogan “neither will I indulge in corruption or let anyone do it”, the prime minister faced a severe public perception problem.  If he continues to defend Swaraj and Raje, not just Parliament’s monsoon session will go for a toss, his tenure may begin to resemble that of his predecessor, helplessly wobbling through one scandal to another.

With the government under pressure to be seen going after the IPL czar, Lalit Modi may face more heat from the law enforcement agencies even if he threatens more revelations that may be damaging to the BJP.

At the same time, the prime minister cannot afford to be silent or seem helpless in the face of the Opposition onslaught. That is bound to cramp his style. Without any loss of time, the prime minister knows that he must signal that all conflicts of interest will be firmly dealt with, say his aides. The deep cracks of his rule that are visible now can only get wider unless he acts to clean up. But can he? Now?

WHO IS LALIT MODI?

Born into the affluent and industrialist family of KK Modi; KK Modi Group is part of $2.8 bn Modi
Enterprises which has companies like Godfrey Phillips India etc
Studied in Shimla and Duke University, USA; did electrical engineering and management course
1992: Made president and MD of Modi Entertainment Network (MEN)
1992: Appointed Executive Director, Godfrey Philips
1993: Attained broadcasting rights for MEN of Fashion TV
Got distribution rights of ESPN
1999: Became member, Himachal Cricket Association
2004: Joined Rajasthan Cricket Association, became its president later


CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

Swaraj Kaushal, Sushma Swaraj’s husband who was former Mizoram governor and ex-MP, Rajya Sabha, was Lalit Modi’s lawyer for 22 years; enjoyed his hospitality on several occasions

Their daughter, Bansuri, was part of Lalit Modi’s team of lawyers in the cases he was facing in India; was member of a team before
Delhi HC which had upheld the cancellation of Lalit Modi’s passport. No appeal made against the order.


The LalitGate

July 2014
 Lalit Modi speaks to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, tells her about problems in getting travel documents to Portugal from UK government

British lawmaker
Keith Vaz intervenes, speaks to British High Commisioner in India James Bevan, apprises him of UPA government communication that helping Lalit Modi would affect bilateral ties
 Swaraj conveys to Bevan to process Lalit Modi’s papers as per British laws. Also states that the decision will not impact bilateral relations.

June 14, 2015

Sunday Times, London reports on how Vaz helped Lalit Modi get travel documents
Indian media dig out the Swaraj connection raising questions over misuse of office
Swaraj tweets “helped Lalit Modi on humanitarian grounds”

June 15, 2015

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi demands removal of Swaraj
Except CPM, other Opposition parties cautious in their response
Murmurs within the BJP on “insider” role in the controversy

June 16, 2015

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, known in political circles as Swaraj’s detractor, comes out it support of the beleaguered colleague but asserts Lalit Modi was facing probe by ED

June 17, 2015 

Former Finance

Minister P Chidambaram questions Swaraj’s action when Lalit Modi was
facing probe by Indian authorities
 Controversy hits
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje,
documents suggest her “secret” role in supporting his case for immigration
 to Britain
June 18, 2015

Details of Lalit Modi’s “questionable” investments, Raje’s son Dushyant Singh’s companies come to the fore
Congress questions Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the entire issue

Former IPL commissioner under Lens

Remittance of Rs 88.48 crore to International Management Group (IMG) without RBI permission Transaction of Rs 243.45 crore between BCCI and Cricket South Africa without RBI permission
 Accepting Performance Deposit from an NRI investor in Rajasthan Royals without RBI permission
Irregularities in awarding media rights to MSM-WSG
 Violation in giving guarantees to foreign players
ED probe whether $25 mn of $80 mn paid by MSM to WSG was routed to Modi and his associates
Suspicion that some bidders were told by Modi how much to bid for a particular franchise
Probe on whether he used illegal money to buy private jet
 Rs 11.63 cr investment in Vasundhare Raje's son Dushyant’s company
 Made High Value Transactions in 2008-09 without quoting his PAN number

Modi’s brush with law came 30 years ago while studying in Duke
University in the US. He was charged with conspiracy to trafficking cocaine, kidnapping and assault and placed on 5-year probation in 1985. He pleaded ill health later and the court allowed him to return home but ordered to perform 200 hours of community service in India



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