Lalit: An Albatross
‘Lalitgate’ has been hung like an albatross round the neck of Narendra Modi. We should then expect continued damning of the two ladies and Modi in the UK until the Modi in Delhi is pulled down from the high pedestal and his reputation ruined. But Modi in Delhi cannot be touched unless he is proved to be protecting a fugitive and an absconder. Is Lalit Modi a criminal who is staying put in the UK?
The Lalit Modi-Raje-Sushma saga goes on courtesy the media, especially Arnab Goswami and a few Gandhis’ chosen ones. They have been braying for the immediate dismissal of Modi’s two lady friends—Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs—without either studying what crime Modi committed! Or they have intentionally chosen to ignore the details.
For these media self-anointed judges, arm-chair intellectuals and the army of Modi-haters, it is enough that the Enforcement Directorate had issued notice to Lalit Modi during the Congress-led UPA. Anything Congress does is above scrutiny.
So ‘Lalitgate’ has been hung like an albatross round the neck of Narendra Modi. And we should then expect continued damning of the two ladies and Modi in the UK until the Modi in Delhi is pulled down from the high pedestal and his reputation ruined.
But Modi in Delhi cannot be touched unless he is proved to be protecting a fugitive and an absconder. Is Lalit Modi a criminal who is staying put in the UK? He, according to reports, is enjoying life there. He gets Paris Hiltons and Naomi Campbells to dance with—thus he no longer needs ladies with large waistline.
Anyway, seriously speaking, how Modi is considered a fugitive? There is no FIR against Lalit Modi, no case has been filed against him nor any inquiry instituted against him. So how does he become an absconder?
Surjit S Bhalla wrote, ‘’There is a serious crisis in the media. This has to do with presentation—sorry, shouting—of biased opinions.’’
Consider the case of Lalit Modi as fugitive, as claimed by the Congress and most sections of the mainstream media. Indulging in a bit of hyperbole, former UPA minister Jairam Ramesh opined: “This has never happened in independent India before, where a former chief minister and leader of opposition has batted for a fugitive.” Even BJP MP R.K. Singh confidently stated (and he should know, he was a former home secretary): “If anybody helps a bhagoda [fugitive], it is wrong. This is wrong legally as well as morally.”
“Leading journalists have joined the politicians in coming to extravagant conclusions. However, both decency and common sense require a prior question to be asked (sorry, but can you keep the stone-throwing till after you have heard the argument?): What is the evidence that Lalit Modi is a fugitive? If he is, then no question that we should stone him and all who have supported him—but if not, should we not stone the opinion-makers?
What is External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s crime? She told the British government that the NDA government would have no objection to Lalit Modi travelling outside England; a clearance from the Indian government was deemed necessary because the UPA had denied Lalit Modi his citizenship rights of travel.
Denial on what grounds? Unknown. Maybe Lalit Modi knows too many VVIPs—one envies him for it—-or he knows too many things. However, the UPA said, Lalit Modi’s travelling outside England would “adversely affect bilateral relations”!
Swaraj had reportedly added that the visa might be given to him according to British rules. This means she did not at all suggest that the British break rules to oblige Modi. Any crime smelled? Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje’s alleged crime was that she signed a letter, in 2011, in support of her family friend’s application for immigration to the UK.
‘’If Lalit Modi is not a fugitive, it is expected that friends would help him out. Even that is not necessary since the state should not be denying citizenship rights to any individual without cause. So was (is) Lalit Modi a fugitive, or is this just a figment of a fertile prime-time imagination? The simple answer, from all available data, is “no”.
In fact Modi, the London-wala, does not come under the legal definition of a fugitive. According to law, a fugitive is “an individual who, after having committed a criminal offence, leaves the jurisdiction of the court where such crime has taken place or hides within such jurisdiction to escape prosecution”. Hence, the two prerequisites to being a fugitive are, one, being charged with committing a criminal offence, and, two, being unlawfully at large in order to avoid prosecution (or arrest or imprisonment).
Was Lalit Modi charged with any crime? No—but three “fugitive crimes” deserve mention. First, he may have received illegal money; in this regard, he has been sent not one but 15 show-cause notices—but no proof, or judicial decision, to date.
Secondly, one of his companies was involved in investment, loans and overvaluation of shares in Niyant Heritage Hotels, a company owned by Raje’s son, Dushyant Singh. These transactions occurred in 2008. If this was a crime, and Lalit Modi a fugitive, why no action was taken against him? It makes one suspect that the UPA did not want to irk him—possibly he knew too many secrets. Third, there is a cheating case filed against him in Chennai by former BCCI president N. Srinivasan. That case was filed in 2010 and is reportedly lying dormant. So, where’s the fugitive?
Bhalla has rightly observed that the mere action of filing a report does not make a crime, and certainly does not make a fugitive. Future events might “prove” that Lalit Modi did commit these or other crimes—even if that does happen, it does not mean that either Swaraj or Raje did anything wrong, because at the time of their “friendship” acts, Lalit Modi had not been charged with any crime.
So why have the politicians/media concluded that Lalit Modi is a fugitive? It appears that their hasty conclusions rest on two shaky foundations. First, the revocation of his passport on the orders of the Enforcement Directorate (ED); second, the “fact” that a blue corner notice was issued against him. Citing “public interest”, the ED asked the regional passport office to revoke Lalit Modi’s passport in March 2011. While his passport was revoked, it was later reinstated.
In May 2014, a two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court concluded that the public-interest argument of the “importance of cricket” used by the UPA was invalid. Lalit Modi got his Indian passport back in August 2014. (info picked up from Bhalla’s write-up).
But, according to reports no blue corner notice was ever issued, as confirmed by Interpol. Confronted with this fact, the UPA spokespersons have changed colour—it was a light blue notice. The latter is only applicable in India, and, in any case, has to do with the collection of information. The blue notices are just a blue herring—they’re misdirections when it comes to fugitive status.
Another prime-time story is that Lalit Modi refused to be questioned by the ED. This never happened. Lalit Modi contended that he feared for his life if he came back to India but was happy to meet the ED in England or on Skype. There is some truth to the claim that he had reason to fear for his life. The cricket world is murky with several high-profile accidental deaths. Bhalla says Lalit Modi had good reason not to come back to India as per the request. The Delhi HC judgment also demolished the legal basis of the ED’s demand for a personal appearance. “A request for an alternative mode of examination under video conferencing was certainly an option… and should not have been simply shrugged aside,” the court said.
In addition, in Aditya Khanna vs Regional Passport Officer, 2008, the ED had already set a precedent of travelling to London for interviews. Given this, it is surprising that the ED did not travel to London to expedite the “case” against Lalit Modi.
If Lalit Modi is a fugitive, then the champion propagator of this illusion needs to answer a question: What was the Congress doing in not bringing him to justice? The simple conclusion is that he is not a fugitive. …..To conclude otherwise would be to support a witch hunt, says Bhalla.
The sources close to Lalit Modi in India said the family was least bothered. They know there is no case. Secondly, Lalit Modi knows too many VVIPs of all political hues and more crucially their secrets. His weapon, “Don’t make me open my mouth.”
But convincing the people that there was no favour-trading at the heart of this scandal is very difficult. This sort of thing is very common here. Nine out of 10 Indians would have probably done the same if they had been in Lalit Modi’s position. So while the Congress wants to keep up the heat on the other Modi, it can hardly expect a tsunami of public outrage. It’s a good thing that Lalit Modi and his threats of more revelations have bust open the cozy back-scratching nexus between the rich and the powerful with other rich and powerful.
We might be small fry but we come from the same society as the big fish and swim in the same murky waters.”Size badey hai, yeh hi farak hai,” as Azam Khan memorably said once in another context.
We are not a society that is based not upon the kindness of strangers. We are very firmly a society based upon who-you-know. We measure our rise through society often by wealth, especially unexplained wealth. But it should really be measured by our acquisition of connections.
In India everything is based upon relationships. And it has always been. For everything, a landline phone connection, a gas connection, a school admission, connections are searched and they get us our objective. We bypass laws, permits and licenses through connections.
So what was wrong if Lalit Modi turned to his “connections” for help? Tavleen Singh writes: “I would like to say (Lalit Modi’s) decision to ‘abscond’ was what I would have made in his position” and charges that instead of a real case against him “the Enforcement Directorate has hit him with allegations and innuendoes”.
If anything there is probably some unspoken admiration for Lalit Modi about how well he played this game and the breadth of his connections from Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje to Rajiv Shukla and Sharad Pawar. He even tweeted: “Happy to meet the Gandhi family… in London. I had run into Robert and Priyanka separately.” The angry Congress responded that it was not a crime to run into anyone in a restaurant and no social interaction happened. But the point of that tweet was different. How many of us reading that tweet just happen to “run into” Robert and Priyanka in a restaurant? The subtext of Lalit Modi’s tweet was really to remind us that embattled or not, he remains supremely well-connected. And to remind the Congress that people in glass houses should not throw stones.
If anything, what the Indian public has a harder time stomaching about Lalit Modi is, as Indrajit Hazra writes in his column, “His most dastardly crime seems to be that he’s having a good time.” The fugitive allegedly on the run is happy to give interviews from Montenegro with yachts on the Adriatic Sea with blue waters bobbing behind him. The husband who requests favours from top politicians to accompany his cancer-stricken wife to a hospital in Portugal posts pictures of himself partying on his Instagram account. “The fact that Modi was not quietly praying at the Portuguese branch of the Guruvayur Temple pretty much nailed his guilt for many,” writes Hazra.
Chidambaram slams BJP, saying Modi government should ensure Lalit Modi’s return for ED probe. Does that mean nothing wrong happened? Absolutely not. When Tavleen Singh writes “Sushma and Vasundhara were right to help a friend, what they did wrong was to lie about it.” She glosses over the fact that while we might understand why Sushma and Vasundhara might want to “help” a friend, that does not necessarily make it “right”. That depends entirely on the help being sought.
The embarrassing truth is had we been in Lalit Modi’s position, most of us would have wished that our Call-a-Friend helpline had someone like Sushma Swaraj or Vasundhara Raje at the other end. And they would not say “Lock kiyajae?” but “Manage ho jayega”. Now suddenly ED has become hyperactive. Some officials are reportedly on way to Singapore to smell out Lalit Modi money, if any. Every effort is being made to find out some evidence to bring some legal charge against him.
The theory slowly gaining credence is that the ED notice to Lalit Modi was the Congress-controlled BCCI’s ploy to frighten Modi and send him beyond Indian shores so that it could take over Rs 45000 crore pot fom Modi’s IPL earnings. Once it happened the clever manipulator (as party whip he showed this talent) Rajiv Shukla was made Commissioner of IPL. This succession made him in charge of the urn allegedly having Rs 45000 crore.
But beyond deshnikala, even UPA could not irk Lalit Modi anymore. He has too many secrets locked in his chest, somebody called him a great blackmailer. But anyone in his place would become one, if squeezed into a corner.
But everyone except the Modi-led NDA government seems to be happy at the fresh flare-up of Lalitgate. The opposition is ecstatic, it has got a thick broom to browbeat Narendra Modi, ED officials are getting to jet to exotic destinations, Lalit Modi, secure in the fact that money can keep troubles away, has been holidaying in Montenegro, one of the most beautiful regions in the world.
The two ladies are veteran politicians; they must have by now thick enough skin not to feel the pinch.
And the ill-wind (for NDA) wafting through Delhi will pass by soon. It is still four years to General Election. Lalit Modi and the two ladies will cruise again as turbulence is over.
By Vijay Dutt
Is Narendra Modi a loser in Lalitgate?
The Congress seems to believe that the Lalit Modi and friends—Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj— exposure is the weapon to exterminate Narendra Modi. Its friends in the TV channels and print publications are all raving and ranting against
Modi, as if he and not the Modi in London is responsible for any illegal things that happened.
Modi’s style of keeping silent is being seen as an admission of guilt. But this is how he wore out his opponents in Gujarat. Yes it is possible that like Bofors this Lalitgate might not go away. In that case either Modi will have to open out or the fact that since so far nothing incriminating has come out against Lalit Modi, the Modi in Delhi cannot be crucified.
Yet Congress leaders are being more loyal than the queen, many are challenging or accusing Modi of trying to cover up. Sachin Pilot challenged Narendra Modi to take action against Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj, for their involvement with Lalit Modi. “Contrary to people’s expectations of taking action against the wrong-doing, there has been a deafening silence from the Prime Minister.” He added that Modi silence over the Lalitgate controversy has undermined his promise of zero-tolerance to corruption.
Jairam Ramesh described the Prime Minister as Swami Maunendra Baba over his silence over the controversy engulfing his two senior leaders Raje and Swaraj. He threw another punch saying the perception now was the PM was allowing his image of a string leader taken a hostage. The true test of the leadership comes when one has take tough decisions against one’s own. “It is an odd moment for Modi sarkar….BJP’s top leadership was wrong to think that the issue will wither away without any action against Raje or Swaraj.”
The Congress leaders say that the allegation is not by the Congress Party. …This is something Lalit Modi put out himself. It is true that Lalit is using the controversy to not only vindicate himself but also to drag in people he wants to avenge. The document in which Raje said she wanted that her must recommending visa for Lalit bequest must not be confided to anyone was put out by Modi’s lawyer. The manner in which something or the other leaks out reminds one of Bofors days. Rajiv Gandhi would make a statement on an earlier leak and pronto something else will appear in Stockholm.
It is said that Lalit Modi was annoyed with Raje because on return to power she has avoided interaction with him. There could be something which has made him spill out the contact with Swaraj.
And while Congress leaders were rejoicing over embarrassment to Narendra Modi, Lalit came out with the leak that he met Priyanka Gandhi and her husband at a London restaurant. This balancing act had Congress leaders running to TV and newspapers’ offices, explaining that Priyanka and her husband ran into Lalit Modi at a London restaurant. There are at least 300 famous restaurants there, it must have been a miraculous coincidence to ‘run’ into Lait Modi. Ravinaar claims that Priyanka and Vadra had separate meetings with Modi but in the same restaurant. A tweet from Madhu Kishwar claimed that Sonia and Rahul met him too, while Lalit Modi tweeted a sort of confirmation.
The Gandhi menage’ was completed with the news that Varun Gandhi met Lalit. He alleged that Varun offered him a deal to “settle everything” in the Congress with Sonia Gandhi.
In a series of tweets, Lalit Modi said the young Gandhi came to see him at his house a few years ago and said he could settle everything in the Congress with his aunt. “He wanted me to meet her sister from Italy. I heard him, next I heard from our common friend who introduced us that Auntie wants 60 million dollars,” he tweeted auntie he refers to is #soniagandhi (sic). The sister is #soniagandhi sister—just for clarity.”
Hours later, Gandhi dismissed the charge and was backed by his party. “This is absolutely baseless and it is beneath my dignity to respond to this nonsense,” he told PTI. But Lalit Modi further tweeted: “Please clarify @varungandhi80 did u or did u not come to my house in london. Whilst staying at the Ritz hotel in lon a few years ago.”
“Please mr @varungandhi80—let the world know what you told about what auntie wants—witness is our good friend world reno-wned astrologer.
Whatever be the game plan of Lalit Modi but we do need the likes of him to fix our politicians. And in the end it is the Gandhi family that has lost whatever credibility was left.
Narendra Modi, amidst the swirl of Lalit controversy and exposures, has been busy overseeing agreement between NMDC and Jharkhand government to set up a steel plant and in Hazaribagh he laid foundation stone for Indian Agriculture Research Council. Then back in Delhi he opened the Digital India week. He has not lost out but gained because all his opponents were caught in the Lalit cobweb. (VD)