Raje And Sushma Rahu-Ketu Of Modi?
The Narendra Modi government hoped to swiftly ride out the Sushma and Lalit Modi storm but before it could ebb, equally important BJP leader, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje was caught up in the already raging Sushma-Lalit storm, or shall it be called twister, for it has the potential of uprooting crucial leaders
It is an old saying that troubles never come singly. Narendra Modi would agree whole-heartedly but not with a smile, but somberly. While Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj was embroiled in the controversy that she recommended to the British Government that Lalit Modi, wanted in India, be given visa, the Narendra Modi government hoped to swiftly ride out the Sushma and Lalit Modi storm, but before it could ebb, equally important BJP leader, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje was caught up in the already raging Sushma-Lalit storm, or shall it be called twister, for it has the potential of uprooting crucial leaders. If they are forced to quit it could hit the image of Modi’s BJP as torch-bearer of anti-corruption campaign.
If Raje did not get dragged in the controversy, the Government could possibly have got over the suddenly aroused suspicion about Swaraj. She had said in her recommendation that it was based on humanitarian grounds—Modi’s wife was suffering from cancer—and she also stressed that visa should be given according to the rules.
But then an unsigned document sucked Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje into the snowballing scandal that has already engulfed Sushma Swaraj. These two ladies, claimed to be close friends of Lalit Modi, are strong pillars of Narendra Modi. The document, which endorsed Lalit’s application in 2011 to stay on in the UK, said Raje’s “assistance” should not “become known” to Indian authorities—a damaging clause that plunged the BJP into stunned silence soon after finance minister Arun Jaitley was fielded to defend Sushma.
Vasundhara, one of the BJP’s most popular regional leaders, distanced herself from the document that was part of papers mailed to the media by a public relations firm engaged by Lalit’s lawyer, Mehmood Abdi. This was done, especially because Lalit Modi and Raje were supposed to be very good friends.
Congress Wants Vasundhara Ousted
Armed with fresh ammunition against Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, congress demands she has no moral and constitutional right to stay in office. Vasundhara Raje helped Lalit stay in the UK and had stated that she is making this statement on the strict condition that her assistance will not be known to Indian authorities. This was done when she was leader of the Opposition in Rajasthan. It was strange that the Rajasthan government had signed an MoU with the hospital where Lalit was being treated and had provided 8.6-acre prime land to it. Raje accompanied Lalit’s wife Menal to Portugal twice in 2012 and 2013 as he could not travel on account of embargo on his travel at that time. Here was nothing wrong in being friends with people, the illegalities must be investigated.
One senior officer had once said that Lalit Modi often sat in front of Raje with his feet on the table. Is Lalit Modi now trying to shift the focus from Swaraj to Raje, because while Sushma tried to help him, Raje withdrew all connection with him on return to power this time?
He might be feeling betrayed. Although Vasundhara and Lalit fell out with each other eventually, his clout in Rajasthan was the stuff of lore when she served her first stint as chief minister. He would strategise, pencil blueprints and bark orders at government officials from the opulent Prince’s Suite at Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace Hotel that had once been occupied by
Prince Jagat Singh, the scion of Maharani Gayatri Devi.
Those were the days when he set up the IPL and presided over the Rajasthan Cricket Association. Critics claim Lalit worked to tweak land-use laws and allegedly ensured that acres of farmland around cities like Jaipur were parcelled out to big builders from Delhi. The real reason for falling out with Vasundhara has never been stated on record. Many in the Rajasthan BJP believe Vasundhara’s proximity to Lalit and the unbridled power he enjoyed brought about her downfall in 2008. But she learnt her lesson and, by the time the next election came in 2013, she had distanced herself from Lalit. A measure of how peeved Lalit was with his mentor was evident in his tweet on March 9 this year, the day he was voted out as president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association by an overwhelming majority at a special general body meeting. “She @Vasundhara BJP has fired the first salvo of ensuring unfair voting—wait and watch this space for my next move. I too can fire missiles,” he had warned, alluding to reports that 12 voters or so, loyal to him, had been denied entry.
Vasundhara said that while she had known Lalit’s family and made no bones about it, she did not know what the “documents” that “you people are talking about” were.
But now Vasundhra Raje seemed to be caught more badly than Swaraj. Lalit, in an interview to the India Today TV channel, claimed Vasun-dhara had indeed agreed to be a witness. He added that Vasundhara had accompanied his wife, Minal, when she went for surgeries in a hospital in Portugal in 2012 and 2013.
“My relationship with Vasun-dhara Raje goes back 30 years. The relationship is known to everybody. She is a close friend of the family and my wife for a long time…. She openly agreed to be (a witness) but, unfortunately, by the time the case went to trial, she was already chief minister. So she did not become a witness. The statement she gave is all on records in the courts,” Lalit said from Montenegro in the Balkans.
“My wife was being taken to Portugal by whom, by Mrs Vasundhara Raje. Nobody knows that, I am putting that on record now,” Lalit said. On August 18, 2011, when Vasundhara was leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly, the document with the description “witness statement” said: “I make this statement in support of any immigration application that Lalit Modi makes, but do so on the strict condition that my assistance will not become known to the Indian authorities.”
The document was part of an application that a legal firm, Gherson, had filed with the UK Border Agency on behalf of Lalit. On top of the document was a declaration titled “confidential notice”: “This witness statement is provided on the strict understanding that its contents and the identity of its maker are treated confidentially and that it is used only for the purposes stated in it.”
The TV channels that put out the documents clarified they had not been independently verified and that the Rajasthan chief minister’s signatures were not on them. Official sources said Vasundhara had not spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the “exposé”. But she did speak to
Amit Shah. Rumours floated that meanwhile Sushma offered to resign, which was not accepted.
The RSS brass seem to be very worried. They held a long meeting and then. Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat is understood to have spoken to Prime Minister Modi. Insiders revealed that the
Sangh felt that each day the BJP spent defending Sushma, and might spend defending Vasundhara, would “irreparably” damage the government and the Prime Minister’s image, belying their promise of a “transparent and incorruptible” regime.
The position had become all the more untenable because of the Prime Minister’s high-decibel statements against corruption both in India and abroad.
During the TV interview, Lalit said: “I know Swaraj Kaushal (Sushma’s husband) for 20 years. He has been my advocate for 20 years… his daughter Bansuri had been my advocate for four years.” He added that their services had been provided “free of cost”. Now it’s a triangle of three equally resourceful people, each pulling the other down. If Lalit wins, it will be extremely bad day for Narendra Modi. His government has to keep a step ahead of statements by Lalit, each of which are damaging. And it must try bring him back to India to stand trial. That will affirm Narendra Modi’s promise of providing a transparent and accountable government. The turbulence that has hit him is likely to shake him severely. His PMO could try to bury the bad news with something that has a major positive impact on the people. Otherwise it would take long to get rid of the damaging row that simply refuses to go away. The UK-based Sunday Times reported a “leaked conversation” between influential Labour MP Keith Vaz and head of UK Visas and Immigration Sarah Rapson that cited Ms Swaraj to facilitate travel documents for Lalit Modi. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have backed Ms Swaraj, saying whatever she had done was in good faith and bona fide.
Asked about the Congress allegation that he had been holidaying in Ibiza three days after the surgery of his wife, Mr Modi said the family decided to celebrate because of the “revolutionary treatment” received at the Portugal medical centre.
The comments of the tainted former IPL Commissioner assume significance because it came hours after it was reported that Raje had given a “witness statement” in August 2011 to British authorities supporting his case for immigration in Britain which he has made his base after fleeing from India where he faces serious charges of money laundering and FEMA violations. Raje’s purported “witness statement” was made public earlier in the day on behalf of the Lalit Modi camp but later the Chief Minister said she was not aware of this document. “Of course I know the family. I have always known them…(But) I do not know what documents they are talking about,” she told reporters in Jaipur. In the interview Modi said, “Raje and Sushma supported me when my wife was sick,” he said.
“It was a family, a legal affairs whatever you may call it. We were very close. But the point is not that…I am very close to a lot of politicians, not only Mrs Swaraj…,” Modi said when asked about his relationship with Sushma Swaraj.
The issue seems to follow the Bofor’s pattern. After every explanation by Narendra Modi Government new statements are issued or a document released, which needs explanation from the government. For instance Swaraj found herself at the centre of a political firestorm after the UK-based Sunday Times reported a “leaked conversation” between influential Labour MP Keith Vaz and head of UK Visas and Immigration Sarah Rapson that cited Swaraj to facilitate travel documents for Lalit Modi. The TV channel also quoted Lalit
Modi having told it that he was also helped by NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel and Congress leader Rajiv Shukla.
Shukla said he had not talked to Lalit Modi for three years while Pawar said he tried to convince the former IPL chief to return to India and face investigations. Lalit Modi said he had done no wrong and has always gone by the book and that he has paid all his dues.The problem has arisen because Lalit Modi is now realizing his dues from the two BJP ladies who are leading faces of
BJP. Narendra Modi is caught between the cross-fire. That could be as disastrous as Bofors was for Rajiv. The only saving grace is that he himself is clean.
By Vijay Dutt